Why virus tests at one elite school ran afoul of regulators (subscription)

By: | March 31, 2021

It was supposed to be a pandemic triumph, a way for a prestigious school to keep its doors open when many others could not. Instead, the coronavirus testing program at New Trier High School, outside Chicago, offers a cautionary lesson about what happens when educators are asked to take on public health responsibilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged school administrators to implement regular testing of students in order to identify coronavirus outbreaks before they become more widespread. Late last year, New Trier, which serves families from some of Chicago’s most affluent suburbs, rolled out a $1.3 million testing campaign, part of an ambitious plan to keep classrooms open for the school year regardless of rising infection rates in the community.

Administrators made testing mandatory for all 4,000 students on the school’s two campuses. But the school chose a lab that had not been certified to run a testing program of its kind, led by a scientist who was not qualified under federal guidelines to run a diagnostic lab. The saliva test the lab used was neither vetted nor authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

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