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New Analysis Demonstrates Routine Testing In K-12 Schools May Significantly Reduce or Eliminate Covid-19 Transmission

Mathematica and The Rockefeller Foundation release new guidance for schools, based on lessons learned from testing programs at 335 school-based sites nationwide

NEW YORK | July 26, 2021—As more than 56 million children prepare to return to U.S. schools this fall, a new analysis provides evidence that implementing routine Covid-19 testing can significantly reduce—and in some cases eliminate—in-school transmission of the virus. The report from Mathematica, a leading policy research firm, and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, offers critical guidance and considerations for schools and districts as they prepare to offer school-based routine testing in the fall to safely reopen.

The report, Implementing Covid-19 Routine Testing in K-12 Schools: Lessons and Recommendations from Pilot Sites, is based on the experiences of education and public health leaders who implemented school-based testing through The Rockefeller Foundation’s K-12 Testing Protocol Demonstration Project. Testing was implemented in 335 schools and affiliated locations during the 2020-2021 school year across six sites: Louisville, Ky.; Los Angeles; New Orleans; Tulsa, Okla.; the District of Columbia; and State of Rhode Island.

“Even with all the progress our country has made on Covid-19 vaccinations, the reality is that not one kid under age 12 will be vaccinated when schools reopen in the fall,” said Andrew Sweet, Managing Director of Covid-19 Response and Recovery at The Rockefeller Foundation. “Today’s report confirms that routine testing can eliminate Covid-19 infections in schools and be integrated into reopening plans to keep students, teachers, and staff safe despite the ongoing and evolving challenges posed by this pandemic.”

The on-the-ground experiences from the six pilot sites led to the creation of an interactive impact estimator that informed the report and will help school districts and public health partners evaluate different testing strategies based on their unique context.

“School leaders have been working overtime to protect our children in this constantly-evolving pandemic,” said Divya Vohra, Senior Researcher at Mathematica, which served as the lead learning partner for the demonstration project. “Sharing what they’ve learned and their best practices will ensure our schools are even safer this fall.”

The report also captures and offers contextualized detail on key findings based on interviews and data provided by the pilot sites, including:

  • Routine and robust testing programs are highly effective at reducing within-school Covid-19 transmission, but most schools will require considerable support from federal and state authorities, including detailed operational guidance, practical assistance, and resources to navigate logistical, regulatory, and procurement needs.
  • Community engagement and buy-in from key stakeholders are critical to the success of a testing program. Effective communication and simplified processes went a long way in building and maintaining trust in the program.
  • Pooled PCR testing is generally the most effective testing strategy for higher-risk schools relying on testing to reduce within-school transmission. Serial antigen testing is a close second.

Launched in October 2020, The Rockefeller Foundation’s K-12 Testing Protocol Demonstration Project aimed to test the feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness of school-based testing protocols developed by the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The six pilot sites, which represent a diverse group of states, cities, and school districts from across the country, administered nearly 200,000 Covid-19 tests. These included many of the 140,000 rapid antigen tests provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (facilitated through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Foundation), as well as additional rapid antigen and PCR tests procured by state officials or school districts.

“On every Friendship campus across the District, we have a robust, highly-attended in-person learning program. Weekly asymptomatic Covid-19 testing has been key to successfully reopening and remaining open,” said Patricia A. Brantley, Chief Executive Officer at Friendship Public Charter Schools in Washington, D.C. “Routine testing—deeply integrated into our proactive Covid-19 response strategy and school safety program—continues to be critical to maintaining a remarkably low positivity rate. Because of our partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, over 9,000 tests have been administered to students and staff since January. We strongly encourage every school to consider a routine Covid-19 testing program.”

“We’re not epidemiologists or Covid-19 testing experts—we’re educators. It’s understandable for administrators to feel overwhelmed with setting up routine testing. Schools need all the help they can get, so I’m hopeful that our peers use what we learned last year to keep kids safe this year,” said Dina Hasiotis, Chief School Support and Improvement Officer at New Orleans Public Schools.

Early insights and recommendations from the K-12 Testing Protocol Demonstration Project, published in January 2021, contributed to the Biden Administration’s decision to allocate $10 billion to support in-school testing programs more widely. The refined testing protocols were released in March 2021 as part of a playbook that offers step-by-step guidance for how to implement school-based testing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites the playbook as part of its guidance for Covid-19 prevention in K-12 schools released in July 2021.

Today’s report is the latest in The Rockefeller Foundation and its partners’ ongoing efforts to support America’s educators and public health partners as they reopen schools safely. Previously, the Foundation released research by RAND Corporation on the reassuring and motivating effects in-school testing programs have on teachers and on parents; practical planning workbooks and tabletop exercises created by Chiefs for Change for schools developing testing programs; and testing protocol guides used for the demonstration project evaluated in today’s report. Find the report here.

About The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation to enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to healthy and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

About Mathematica

Mathematica applies expertise at the intersection of data, methods, policy, and practice to improve well-being around the world. We collaborate closely with public- and private-sector partners to translate big questions into deep insights that improve programs, refine strategies, and enhance understanding.

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