Feds to ship ‘millions of tests per week’ to help schools stay open, official says

Dive Brief:

  • During a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing Wednesday, Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the federal government will ship “millions of tests per week” to help schools reopen and stay open in the coming weeks.
  • Robert Redfield, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also said during the hearing that about 90% of U.S. residents are still susceptible to the coronavirus, and that young adults, even though they are unlikely to get seriously sick from the virus, are “major contributors” to the spread of COVID-19.
  • Nevertheless, health experts have cautioned that testing for COVID-19 should be paired with public action to limit spread of the disease, like wearing masks and staying home if needed.

Dive Insight:

Quick and accurate testing has been a key obstacle as schools nationwide push to reopen this fall or later in the academic year. In New York City, for example, the United Federation of Teachers has made testing, with results available within 48 hours, a requirement before it agrees to reopening schools for in-person instruction. 

Under an agreement between New York City teachers and the city’s Department of Education that set reopening for Sept. 21, a date that has since been moved and staggered for older students, the school system has to establish random and repeated testing, free of charge, for both adults and students. 

District leaders elsewhere have also voiced the importance of testing for a smooth reopening process.

In California’s La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District, school board president Mary Windram told Education Dive “the best thing that could happen” for her district, which has faced both wildfires and the pandemic, is affordable testing.

We don’t have the resources that we need to test,” she said. “I would like to see a state or national testing program with contact tracing because that could help us plan better so you know when something is cropping up.” 

Meanwhile, a September report from the Government Accountability Office found a lack of coherent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education for state and local education leaders. A separate analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) shows 23 states and the District of Columbia failed to provide clear public health guidance to districts making reopening decisions.

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