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Schools weigh plans for rapid COVID-19 tests

By Mary Ellen McIntire, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — White House officials hoped that sending states rapid COVID-19 tests would encourage their use in reopening schools, and while that's one way states are using the shipments, they say they need more resources and better data about how to best deploy testing.

Health officials in some states say they are beginning to offer testing to students and teachers, but they are still finessing how to determine who should be tested and how frequently that should occur.

The Trump administration last month announced that it would provide 150 million rapid antigen tests to detect COVID-19, two-thirds of which would go to states and territories to help reopen schools and their economies.

When announcing the tests, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir, who oversees the administration's testing strategy, named schools as one of several settings in which states may use the tests.

Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said states face several challenges in trying to establish testing systems in schools and that many had not yet decided how to roll out the tests.

Most schools don't have the sort of in-house health system with the capacity to conduct wide-scale testing. Few have the financial resources to hire an outside pharmacy or other provider to help conduct the tests and determine results.

 

States also aren't sure whether additional rounds of free tests will come in the future and may not want to quickly deplete the tests they receive, which means they need to develop more targeted plans.

"They don't want to go down this path and commit to doing this and then not be able to do it a year down the road," he said, noting schools may not be able to pay for additional tests since many state and local governments are strapped for cash because of the pandemic.

Extracurricular activities may be a more targeted way of using tests in academic settings, Plescia said.

So far, classrooms have not appeared to have caused significant spreading of the coronavirus, according to the limited data available. Students often are able to physically distance from each other and wear masks. But incorporating tests into extracurricular activities, where preventive steps may not be as routine, could help, Plescia said.

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