Schools want more rapid COVID tests but supply chain stands in the way

And in some states, officials are having trouble getting families to participate in testing
By: | November 2, 2021
Many districts now use a test-to-stay approach that allows unvaccinated students who are close contacts of a positive COVID case to remain in class if they receive a negative test result at the each day.Many districts now use a test-to-stay approach that allows unvaccinated students who are close contacts of a positive COVID case to remain in class if they receive a negative test result at the each day.

Supply chain snags and production issues are hampering schools’ ambitious plans to screen students and staff more widely for COVID as rapid test kits remain scarce in some places.

In New Hampshire, where COVID cases are climbing and schools are grappling with outbreaks, elected officials are urging the Biden Administration to assist manufacturers to immediately ramp up the supply of rapid test kits.

“New Hampshire schools have experienced numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 cases among students and teachers,” the state’s U.S. senator, Jeanne Shaheen, wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra at the Department of Health and Human Services. “Rapid testing ensures that students can receive their results quickly and return to in-person learning without significant gaps in their education.”

Adding to the urgency is that many districts are now following a test-to-stay approach. This allows unvaccinated students who are close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case to stay in class if they receive a negative test result at the beginning of the school day.

New Hampshire’s Concord School District launched pool testing at its middle school last week as it copes with a COVID cluster but it may not able to sustainable, Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said in a message to families.

“Regretfully, supplies of rapid tests are dwindling in the state, and we will be curtailing our testing program until we can secure test kits,” Murphy wrote. “I would be remiss if I did not express my disappointment that testing supplies are not available to the schools. The district has reached out to anyone who may have access to test kits but have come up short.”

In Oregon, Portland Public Schools’ efforts to conduct weekly COVID testing have also been slowed by supply shortages. The district’s plan to provide all interested students with at-home test kits has been delayed by a month, until mid-November, OregonLive.com reported.

Schools across the state are experiencing capacity issues, both in the supply of tests and the personnel available to administer them, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. “Some schools have expressed interest, but the majority of Oregon’s K-12 schools have expressed concerns about staffing and implementing such a program with the resources they have,” state health officials told OPB.

In Colorado, officials appear to have the capacity but have not yet convinced enough parents to opt into a federally funded statewide testing program, The Colorado Sun reported.

Students can earn ongoing incentives for participating in the program—$25 for the first test taken and $10 for each subsequent test, according to The Colorado Sun. 

Minnesota and Virginia are two of the states that have rolled out programs to send rapid test kids with students.