3 ways COVID testing is speeding up to keep students out of quarantine

Districts are opening drive-though testing clinics as states make more funding available to block transmission
By: | October 4, 2021
A student undergoes a COVID test in the City School District of Albany in the 2020-21 school year.A student undergoes a COVID test in the City School District of Albany in the 2020-21 school year.

With fewer schools closing because of COVID outbreaks in recent weeks, administrators are ramping up testing of students and staff to keep in-person instruction rolling.

In Iowa, Des Moines Public Schools just opened two drive-through COVID testing sites—one at a high school and the other at the headquarters of a virtual school—in partnership with a local health care provider.

“Our priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been to meet the educational needs of our students while doing everything we can to keep them and our staff healthy and safe,” Superintendent Thomas Ahart said. The initiative “will allow us to take one more important step in that effort by making testing more accessible to our students, staff and families. This is another piece to our mitigation efforts to make sure COVID-19 impacts this school year as little as possible,” he said.

The free clinics, which require an appointment, are open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Districts in Minnesota now have more time to apply for COVID testing grants from the state’s department of education. The state had previously dedicated $55 million in American Rescue Plan funds toward school COVID testing in efforts to stymie transmission of the virus.

Public and tribal schools now have until mid-October to apply for grant funding.

“Our school buildings are the very best place for our students to receive an education and to develop the important social-emotional skills that will serve them throughout their lives,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a statement. “Regular COVID-19 testing can help identify new cases early, slowing the spread of the virus, which is critical as many of our youngest Minnesotans are still ineligible for vaccines.”

As of the end of September, 44% of Minnesota’s public and tribal schools had applied for grants funds, which can be used for staffing or to purchase any necessary supplies to conduct COVID testing.

Minnesota schools also have access to individual PCR tests, pooled PCR tests and rapid tests at no cost.

Vermont on Friday offered more free resources to its schools to expand COVID response testing, which includes rapid testing and the “test-to-stay” model. Response testing, which uses both PCR and rapid antigen tests, is designed to reduce the amount of time students have to quarantine outside of the classroom due to cases at their school.

Students who are close contacts of a classmate or teacher who tests positive for COVID can test out of quarantine more easily and continue attending school as long as they have no symptoms.

“We all know how important it is to keep kids in school—doing so is a public health imperative,” Gov. Scott Phil Scott said in a news release. “But what we have seen so far is that many students have had to quarantine after a possible exposure and then don’t ever become a case. This is valuable classroom time that is lost for the student, and challenging for parents and schools to manage.”

Under test to Stay, unvaccinated students who are close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case to take a daily test at the beginning of the school day, rather than staying home. Students who test negative can to class and participate in school extracurricular activities as long as they have no symptoms.

Schools can also now distribute take-home PCR tests that let families collect samples for lab testing.

“Right now, the most important thing we can do for students’ long-term success is to keep them in the classroom as much as possible,” Secretary of Education Dan French said. “Together with the current surveillance testing program, these new tools will help make sure that students are present, learning and engaged in the other essential pursuits that Vermont education provides.”