Testing students to stay in school gets a big safety endorsement

Massachusetts districts have saved more than 208,000 in-person school days thanks to the test-to-stay policy.
By: | December 20, 2021
Two studies show that test-to-stay, which supports in-person instruction, is as effective at blocking COVID in schools as is quarantine.Two studies show that test-to-stay, which supports in-person instruction, is as effective as quarantine at blocking COVID in schools.

COVID test-to-stay policies meant to reduce school closures and quarantines have been endorsed by the CDC as an effective and safe way to keep students in classrooms as the pandemic continues to disrupt daily life.

The widely adopted approach, also known as TTS, allows close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to continue in-person learning if they are testing daily rather than quarantining at home. A CDC study in Los Angeles County, Calif., found COVID transmission rates were similar between districts using test-to-stay and districts using quarantines between August and October. “TTS does not appear to increase transmission risk in public schools and might greatly reduce loss of in-person school days,” the study said. However, implementing TTS requires resources that might be currently unavailable for some schools, the study noted.

In another CDC study, secondary COVID transmission remained low, at 1.5%, among more than 1,0oo students and staff members enrolled in test-to-stay and wearing masks at 90 K-12 schools in Lake County, Illinois this fall.

Vaccination remains the best way to prevent the spread of COVID, the CDC reiterated in both studies.

Test-to-stay is being adopted in a growing number of states. More than 80% of schools in Connecticut are participating in the state’s “Screen and Stay” initiative. “The rates of COVID with in-class masked transmission among students and faculty are extremely low,” Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said. “Aside from COVID, there are a lot of things children growing up today have to face, and being in the classroom is exquisitely important to keep their education on track.”

In Vermont, 48 out of 52 districts are using test-to-stay, WCAX.com reported. Massachusetts, one of the first states to adopt the method, has saved more than 208,000 in-person school days with test-to-stay as neighboring New York works to expand the approach.

School closures are also mounting

With cases rising nationwide, many districts are either closing or shifting to remote instruction for the rest of the year and into early 2022.

Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland is one of the largest districts to close completely this fall. Chief Executive Officer Monica Goldson announced Friday that all students will shift to virtual learning through Dec. 24, when winter break begins. Virtual learning will continue after the break, through Jan. 14.

“Educators, administrators and support staff must be able to deliver in-person instruction and other activities in conditions that prioritize their own health, as well as the wellbeing of the school community,” Goldson said in a statement. “The increased positivity rates have significantly challenged the ability to do so, causing anxiety among many school communities and disruption to the school day.”

In New York City, Eagle Academy for Young Men II in Brooklyn, PS 18 in the Bronx and Robert E. Peary School in Queens were closed on Dec. 16 for 10 days by the New York City Department of Education, the New York Post reported.

And in Washington, D.C., McKinley Technology High School, Turner Elementary School, Bard High School Early College DC and  Whittier Elementary School in District of Columbia Public Schools are on virtual learning for the rest of the year.