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The case for testing

Depending on where you’re located, school stakeholders may be banging down your door for testing, or it may still be evolving as a recognized need in your community. Regardless of your situation, communication with staff and families will be critical to your program’s success.

Why should schools do COVID-19 testing?

Ongoing testing is part of the layered approach to COVID-19 mitigation known as the Swiss Cheese Model of Pandemic Defense. Until all staff and students are vaccinated and community prevalence rates are low, testing will continue to be needed. The Rockefeller Foundation’s K-12 National Testing Action Plan is another great place to find conversation starters that could help keep your community safe.

  • The CDC recommends it.

    The CDC recommends that schools test at least once a week in areas with moderate community transmission (they define the transmission levels on the page linked above). For areas with higher rates of community transmission, the CDC suggests increasing testing to twice a week.

    Check out the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker for up-to-date information on the rates in your area.

  • Testing shows that schools’ COVID-mitigation strategies work.

    Research has shown that using several strategies in combination - masking, ventilation, hand hygiene, and distancing - helps make schools safer for in-person learning. Ongoing testing can offer proof that the measures you’re taking are working. In addition, it offers reassurance to your community.
  • Testing helps maximize in-person learning.

    We all want to as many kids as possible to get the educational benefit of being in school in person. Lost learning days have taken a toll on student academics, especially in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color that were hit hardest by the pandemic.

    Testing helps you keep kids in school by allowing you to make data-driven decisions about quarantining and transitioning to remote learning. It helps you avoid having to make broad-based responses to COVID-19 cases while keeping more kids in school safely.

How much testing do schools need?

CDC guidelines

The CDC’s recommendation regarding testing frequency in schools depends on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community. Regardless of that level, they note that “schools should offer referrals to diagnostic testing to any student, teacher, or staff member who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 at school.”

In areas with moderate community transmission (10 - 49 cases per 100,000 persons, or 5.0 - 7.9% test positivity rate over the past 7 days) the CDC suggests testing at least once a week. For areas with higher rates of community transmission, they suggest testing twice a week. (Note that twice-a-week testing may be very difficult for schools to accomplish due to the burden it places on staff.) Even in areas of low transmission, the CDC recommends testing all students who participate in sports at least once a week.

Regardless of local disease prevalence, testing gives peace of mind.

Some low-prevalence communities may still want to perform weekly testing, as it helps families feel secure about sending their children to school in person. In areas where prevalence has been extremely high in the past, testing may help encourage families to switch from remote to in-person schooling.

Participation needs will vary depending on schools’ goals.

At this time there is no definitive answer to the question of how much participation in testing is “needed” at any given school. In part, the level of testing participation needed depends on the community’s goals.

Goal: Prevent Outbreaks

The level of participation needed to achieve this goal depends on a number of factors, including the community prevalence of disease, the transmissibility of the most prevalent variants in the area, and the COVID-mitigation factors in place in the school, including vaccination. Online calculators such as RADx’s When to Test and Color Health’s Testing and Vaccines Modeling Tool use mathematical models that take these factors into account and provide recommendations regarding testing frequency.

Goal: Reassure Stakeholders

It’s harder to gauge what level of participation is required to achieve this goal, because community opinions will inevitably vary. Ultimately, it’s safe to say that any testing is helpful, and the more participation there is, the better.

Why pooled testing

Most folks in the education space have never heard of pooled testing. Here’s how to explain it.
  • What is pooled testing?

    In pooled testing, samples from multiple individuals are combined into a pool and run as one test in the lab, dramatically reducing costs. If a pool tests negative, all individuals in the pool are negative, and no additional testing is needed. If a pool tests positive, additional testing is required to identify the COVID-positive individual in the pool.
  • Why is pooled testing a great choice for schools?

    Pooling dramatically reduces the cost of testing while maintaining the sensitivity associated with PCR - the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.

Helping schools plan their communication strategy

Unless you’re working with a school system that either requires testing as a condition for in-person learning or that opts all students into the program by default, excellent communication with stakeholders is essential to ensure high levels of participation.

Before testing begins, schools must communicate clearly with families and staff about how testing works and what its goals are. Staff, families, and guardians must have the opportunity to ask questions about testing in a variety of formats (such as emails, calling a phone line, or participating in an online meeting or webinar). All communications materials should be easy to understand and offered in the languages that reflect the community.

Depending on the size and makeup of the district, communications may work better at the school level rather than the district level. Knowing your audience, and how they might vary across campus communities, is a key consideration. Individual schools have a deep knowledge of their community and should be empowered to identify barriers to participation and adjust strategies as needed (so long as these changes remain compliant with the overall testing program).

Transparent, up-to-date information must continue even after testing has begun.

For detailed information on planning and executing a communications strategy, see the Communications and Consent section of our website for schools, Every School Safe and Open .

Important Regulatory Information about SalivaDirect™

SalivaDirect™has not been FDA cleared or approved. It has been authorized by the FDA under an emergency use authorization for use by authorized laboratories. The test has been authorized only for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, not for any other viruses or pathogens. This test is only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of in vitro diagnostic tests for detection and/or diagnosis of COVID-19 under Section 564(b)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(b)(1), unless the authorization is terminated or revoked sooner.