COVID-19 school closures have caused disruption in the lives of children and youth. On average, worldwide two-thirds of the academic year has been lost from full or partial closures due to the pandemic.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is here for the long-haul and we need to be prepared to avoid future outbreaks, combat fluctuating transmission rates, and keep kids engaged in school. Today, we discuss how to create COVID-19 testing plans for schools.
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Why schools should test for COVID
Keeping youth engaged in school is critical for their success. In-person instruction supports academic and interpersonal development, while providing hands-on learning and fewer distractions (compared to online learning). According to a Gallup poll, nearly three in ten parents said their child has “experienced harm to their emotional or mental health,” claiming that separation from teachers and classmates is the main cause.
On the other hand, studies show that children are more commonly asymptomatic, and it’s estimated that over 50% of COVID-19 cases are transmitted by people without symptoms. Even without symptoms, testing identifies infected people—making regular screenings an important strategy for teachers, staff, and students in areas of moderate to high transmission.
In-person learning is safe when accompanied by stringent protocols and continuous monitoring. Case studies have demonstrated that in-person learning is not associated with an increased spread of COVID-19 when community transmission is low. However, cases in schools did increase at moderate-to-high levels of community transmission rates.
Although the rate of severe outcomes (e.g. hospitalization, mortality) amongst K-12 age groups are lower, youth who belong to some racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected.
For example, a higher proportion of COVID-19 cases amongst BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color) children resulted in hospitalization than among White children. Therefore, school sponsored COVID-19 testing programs create equitable access that builds confidence within communities.
Viruses constantly mutate and variants are expected. To date, there are variants of concern of COVID-19, some stronger and more transmissible than others. The first variant to raise expert alarm was Delta, and more recently Omicron.
COVID-19 variants increase danger, especially for at-risk populations. To slow the emergence of new variants, reducing the spread is critical, which will be far more difficult if animal populations are now an increased concern.
To learn more about the COVID-19 variants, check out our blog article, What you need to know about new COVID variants.
Most people who contract COVID-19 recover within weeks of illness, but some experience post-COVID conditions. As more people in the U.S. recover from COVID-19, researchers and physicians observed that some survivors, including children, experience prolonged after effects such as: long-lasting fatigue, decreased exercise tolerance, lung problems, joint pain, brain fog and other symptoms. See the full list of reported post-COVID conditions thus far.
Post-COVID symptoms and conditions include a wide range of ongoing health problems experienced for weeks after first becoming infected, even in asymptomatic carriers. It’s not clear how many children are affected in the U.S. by long-COVID syndrome, but studies show that up to 40 percent of children in Italy, and 15-20 percent of children in England are affected.
Setting a COVID-19 Testing Plan
Before introducing COVID-19 testing in your school, administrators should coordinate with health officials to develop a testing plan and ensure screening is administered with proper consent and in accordance with laws.
Ensure your COVID testing plan covers:
- Screening protocols based on transmission rates and vaccination levels
- Prevention strategies
- Protocols for possible exposures and contract tracing
- Testing information
- Test reporting
- Confidentiality of results
- Ways to obtain parental consent for minor students and consent from the student
- Result reporting that is applicable with state, federal, or local laws
- Team member roles clearly identified
Testing plans will vary depending on the in-person learning model and local transmission rate. Regular (ie. weekly) screening for teachers, staff, and students is recommended for areas of moderate, substantial, or high transmission. In areas with low transmission rates, weekly screening of teachers is recommended.
Thankfully, organizations like SalivaDirect™ provide numerous toolkits and templates to support your strategic planning. These free templates help you with anything from obtaining consent, to determining an optimal testing schedule.
Another resource to support your testing strategy is The When To Test Calculator. This calculator is designed to support granular testing strategies for individual organizations, and configures how much COVID-19 testing you'll need based on your mitigation strategies.
To learn more about renegade.bio’s school testing programs, visit our COVID-19 testing for schools, universities, & athletic programs page.
Funding for COVID Testing
The federal government created a number of funding opportunities to support school testing. The most recent collaboration entails a partnership between the US Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and The Rockefeller Foundation to expand availability.
There are many funding opportunities for school systems and eligibility requirements vary between programs. Visit SalivaDirect’s federal funding page for more details.
Ongoing testing combined with other preventative measures are essential to sustainable in-person learning. Because COVID-19 is here for the long-haul and K-12 age groups tend to experience more asymptomatic illness, schools should be equipped with the right tools to combat fluctuating COVID-19 transmission rates in their community.