Washington, DC | April 23, 2021 – The Rockefeller Foundation announces a $1.49 million grant to the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area to expand access to rapid-result Covid-19 testing to support K-12 schools reopening in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Developed by scientists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, this innovative, but easy-to-implement saliva-based Covid-19 testing program, led by a coalition of Consortium universities, has been up and running in all 26 high schools in the Baltimore City Public Schools system since March 15.
The grant from The Rockefeller Foundation will support the Consortium testing program in Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) and DC Public Charter Schools. Initial results of the weekly asymptomatic testing program in use in City Schools have found a .95% test positivity rate – well below the 5.6% positivity rate in Baltimore City overall – while increasing confidence among teachers, parents, and students to return to the classroom.
“Widespread, regular Covid-19 testing remains critical to safely reopening schools, but standing up a program is challenging for many school districts with limited resources,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “Baltimore City Public Schools serves as a model for how other school districts in the Washington-Baltimore corridor can leverage the Consortium testing program to safely reopen America’s schools. We are pleased to support the Consortium to ensure that public schools in the area have access to Covid-19 tests, giving schools with limited resources an equal opportunity to keep students, staff, and families safe.”
Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) has been a leader in leveraging breakthroughs in Covid-19 testing technology to help reopen K-12 schools. Since December 2020, City Schools has successfully offered daily, on-site symptomatic testing of all in-person students, teachers, and staff. In March 2021, City Schools added weekly, asymptomatic testing in all its schools, aligning with The Rockefeller Foundation’s K-12 National Testing Action Program (NTAP), a critical roadmap that operationalizes the funds from the Biden administration’s recent $10 billion allocation from the American Rescue Plan. Recognizing that the Consortium testing program is a vital part of reopening plans for Baltimore’s 26 public high schools, The Rockefeller Foundation grant supports the purchase of Shield T3 tests and supplies through the Consortium testing program. The high school testing program began testing ninth grade students and staff on March 15 and twelfth grade students on April 12 for those who have opted into in-person learning. Initial results are promising:
To date, 2,007 high school students and staff have been tested with only 19 positive cases confirmed. Students and staff who tested positive and their close contacts were quickly identified through testing and contract tracing and were required to quarantine. Identifying and isolating these asymptomatic individuals early has allowed schools to continue to stay open while avoiding onward transmission.
“City Schools is proud of the robust health and safety procedures we have implemented to keep students and staff safe,” said Dr. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools. “These measures, supported by the extensive Consortium testing program, have resulted in ongoing growth in the number of students and families returning to the classroom.”
In October 2020, the Consortium assembled medical and research experts from across member institutions to explore ways to expand access to testing. After a detailed review of options, the Consortium selected covidSHIELD, a successful saliva-based Covid-19 test-and-trace system created by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that offers accurate, affordable, and convenient saliva-based tests with quick results. More than two million covidSHIELD tests have been administered across the University of Illinois System, keeping in-person classes open at its universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield since August 2020.
In February 2021, a coalition of Consortium members, led by American University President and former Obama HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, initiated the program, which includes tests, equipment, rapid results, and on-site support. Launched with a laboratory at Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington, American, Catholic, Marymount, and Gallaudet Universities have tested over 18,500 students, faculty, and staff to protect campuses and the broader communities since March 8, 2021.
“American University is proud to work with our Consortium partners to spearhead Covid-19 testing across the DMV region,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President of American University and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “By working together with the DC community, which is a priority of our strategic plan, we developed an innovative and collaborative solution to advance in-person activity on our campuses and in our schools while keeping our communities safe and healthy.”
The Consortium’s saliva-based testing program replicates the approach taken in Illinois with individuals (students, faculty, and staff) filling a test tube with saliva, which is then analyzed at a laboratory at Gallaudet University, and provides results in under 12 hours. Because it does not require medical personnel to collect samples, the test costs significantly less than ones using nasal swab tests. The test is sensitive enough to detect even small amounts of genetic material, including new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that originated in other countries, and was shown to be highly accurate in a clinical study. In addition, the University of Illinois’ ShieldT3 laboratory at Gallaudet University allows schools to test onsite, eliminating the time-consuming commute to various testing locations. The samples are then transported to the laboratory for rapid processing.
With the capacity to process more than 50,000 Covid-19 tests per week with results under 12 hours, more organizations across the region can participate in the testing program. Washington, DC-area schools, and institutions are invited to join the Consortium testing program. Participating organizations determine the frequency of testing for their communities.
Based on the success of the testing program in university settings, The Rockefeller Foundation is supporting efforts of both the Consortium and the University of Illinois system to expand the testing program to K-12 settings to support reopening efforts. Through an additional $1.4 million grant, The Rockefeller Foundation also supports this testing program in four schools in Illinois.
“The colleges and universities of the Consortium are grateful to The Rockefeller Foundation for providing the support to allow our region’s secondary schools to take advantage of this tremendous resource,” said Andrew Flagel, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. “Our collaborative efforts mean many of our region’s students can safely return to school.”
School reopening amidst a global pandemic is a challenging issue that requires an unprecedented number of resources and cross-sector collaboration. The Rockefeller Foundation has spent the past year supporting cities, suburbs, and rural communities alike in their effort to reopen schools safely and equitably, including:
- In December 2020, the Foundation released a landmark report, which reflected the research and recommendations of 150 experts, that recommended twice-a-week testing for teachers and staff and once-a-week testing for students alongside vaccination and other mitigation measures to safely get students and teachers back to in-person instruction.
- In February 2021, the Foundation released commissioned research finding that that weekly testing of all students, teachers, and staff can reduce in-school infections by an estimated 50 percent and would give teachers the peace of mind to return to the classroom.
- In March 2021, the Foundation launched the National Testing Action Program, a partnership with 21 leading testing companies, to help operationalize the American Rescue Plan’s $10 billion allocation for school-based testing.
About The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation advances new frontiers of science, data, and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power, and economic mobility. As a science-driven philanthropy focused on building collaborative relationships with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation seeks to inspire and foster large-scale human impact that promotes the well-being of humanity throughout the world by identifying and accelerating breakthrough solutions, ideas, and conversations. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.
The Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area
Established in 1964, the Consortium is one of the largest and most diverse educational alliances in the nation, providing channels for innovation, efficiency, and advocacy for its members. The global reputation of Consortium members, made up of the 17 regionally accredited colleges and universities based in the National Capital Area, is a focal point for promoting access, social mobility, and equitable economic development. The Consortium fosters transformative collaborative opportunities for its members, the Washington region, and more than 300,000 students. Additional resources, including content and panels on COVID-19 vaccines from Consortium researchers, are at Consortium.org.
The Rockefeller Foundation