Can Joe Biden test every student for COVID every week?

One plan calls for 300 million tests per month for students, teachers and staff
By: | January 13, 2021
A number ofl districts have been regular COVID testig of students and staff as administrators attempt to reopen classrooms for the rest of the school year. (GettyImages/Images By Tang Ming Tung)A number ofl districts have been regular COVID testig of students and staff as administrators attempt to reopen classrooms for the rest of the school year. (GettyImages/Images By Tang Ming Tung)

Wide-scale, school-site COVID testing of students and staff appears to be a key part of Joe Biden’s hope of reopening classrooms within the first 100 days of his presidency.

The Biden-Harris transition team is formulating a plan to fund rapid, weekly testing of all students and school staff, Politico has reported.

The administration may be working on the initiative with the nonprofit Rockfeller Foundation, according to Politico. The organization has a developed a plan for massive COVID testing to reopen schools by March.

“Since it will take some time for vaccines to be widespread and ubiquitous, this new plan represents the most practical, pragmatic, and achievable plan to reopen K-12 education in America using the tools and tests we have to make public school classrooms the safest place to be outside of the home,” Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, said in a statement.

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The Rockefeller Foundation’s plan, “Taking Back Control: A Resetting of America’s Response to Covid-19,” calls on the U.S. government to scale up testing to 300 million per month for students, teachers, and staff to reopen and keep open America’s nearly 100,000 public schools by March.

Testing all U.S. public K-12 public schools would cost $42.5 billion, or $8.5 billion per month for the remainder of the school year, the Foundation says.

The plan envisions testing students at least once a week and teachers and staff twice a week, with schools reopening in three phases:

  • Public elementary schools opening first by February 1;
  • Public middle schools opening about two weeks later; and
  • Public high schools opening in March.

Nearly 86% of adults said they would get tested for Covid-19 if offered at work, and just slightly fewer said they would let their child  get tested routinely at school, a Rockefeller Foundation survey found.

Several districts have already begun testing students and staff.

On Monday, the City School District of Albany in New York began testing in-person students and staff on a voluntary basis due to a surge in COVID cases since the holiday break, the district said in a press release.

The district has invited students in prekindergarten through grade 6, and those in special education at all grade levels to return to school buildings.

About 10% of all in-person students and employees will be tested through Jan. 22 using using a non-invasive nasal swab.

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On the other side of the country, Spokane Public Schools in Washington also launched a testing program Monday that will focus initially on students and staff showing symptoms, Spokane Public Radio reported.

The district intends to transition to regular surveillance testing for all students and staff members, the station reported.

The Rockfeller Foundation plan would also require the federal government to ensure a sufficient supply of easy-to-administer tests and that results will be provided in a timely manner.

“PCR tests with 24-hour time to results are already being used by a growing number of school districts as a key part of their safe reopening strategies,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, director, Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University.