On March 17th, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced an investment of over $12 billion to expand COVID-19 testing in our nation's schools. The investment came as part of the Biden Administration's National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, designed to help schools safely reopen by regularly screening students for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
With that news, some may be asking the question: "What comes next?"
Understanding that it takes more than money to provide COVID-19 testing to the nation's students, the Rockefeller Foundation announced an ambitious plan, called the K-12 National Testing Action Program, or NTAP, at schools nationwide.
One of the primary goals of NTAP is to connect schools with partner testing companies and laboratories that are endorsed to build these types of programs across the country.
The NTAP plan was assembled by school and public health leaders, providing step-by-step instructions on the best practices for identifying a testing partner, designing a testing program, and addressing the considerations that accompany the launch of a schoolwide program.
Testing programs take time and effort to get off the ground. Following the instructions and choosing the right partner for your school will greatly facilitate the implementation of a program.
Fortunately, companies have been hard at work implementing COVID-19 testing programs in many different settings, including schools, throughout the pandemic.
When COVID-19 testing surveillance programs are deployed at K-12 schools, the statistics speak for themselves. For example, since October 2020, New York City has been conducting weekly COVID-19 tests for students and staff at all public schools. The positivity rate has remained below 0.5% despite a positivity rate of 5.6% in the neighboring communities throughout the same period.
Similarly, in the state of Colorado, the positivity rate among tested teachers sits at 0.5%. For the general population, the rate is 4% across the state.
Furthermore, research conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation estimates that weekly COVID-19 testing at schools reduced the total number of infections by over 50%.
In addition to keeping positivity rates low and the potential benefit of identifying asymptomatic and possible breakthrough cases of COVID-19, regular testing provides the added benefit of much-needed peace of mind for teachers, staff, children, and parents.
However, despite the facts and benefits, testing programs remain under-utilized as a tool to bring students back to the classroom.
With all eyes on a return to in-person learning for the fall semester, COVID-19 testing surveillance programs will be key part of the equation. As you consider potential testing partners to spearhead your school's COVID-19 testing program, be on the look-out for a few important factors:
- Can they support "Pooled PCR" testing? Pooled PCR is a strategy in which test samples from the same classroom or student group are processed simultaneously, saving time and money in the process. If a test does turn up positive, laboratories should then be able to run the previously-collected samples individually to isolate the positive case.
- What is the turnaround time? In the event of a positive case, you need to act quickly before the virus spreads. The lower the turnaround time between test collection and result delivery, the better.
- How are test results reported? Test results must be delivered safely, securely, and to the right people. Students and their families should be getting individual results, but high-level program administrators also need to monitor for positivity.
- How will the program be integrated at my school? It is important to understand the logistics of how your program will work. A partner company should be able to work with school leaders to oversee the program, establish an on-site testing location, train site staff for sample collection, etc.
These are some of the important factors to consider when embarking on a COVID-19 testing program for your school.
Fortunately, Affinity Empowering is well equipped to meet your testing needs. We have over 20 years of experience in occupational health, providing on-site health and testing services across the country, and have mobilized our network of laboratories for COVID-19 testing throughout the pandemic. Furthermore, our company and our labs are endorsed by the Rockefeller Foundation to provide COVID-19 testing for schools.
As the fall semester inches closer, we want you to be prepared for a return to in-person learning. We want your students and their families, your teachers, your principals, and your entire staff to feel safe coming back to the school. There is no substitute for this peace of mind.
With HHS funding available for COVID-19 surveillance programs that reduce infections and bring peace of mind, do not hesitate. Head to AffinitySchools.com to learn more about how to set up a testing program at your school today.