As we enter the second year of the pandemic and schools continue to reopen for in-person learning across the country, testing remains a critical – yet underutilized – tool for communities seeking to take control and return kids to classrooms. Routine testing of students, teachers, and staff empowers school leaders and communities with the knowledge they need to safely operate in person learning. A successful testing program provides information about local prevalence, reassures school communities that other public health mitigation measures are effective, and works to identify asymptomatic infections and interrupt the chain of transmission.
Schools are central to the health and wellbeing of communities, but they are not medical centers; schools can become overwhelmed by the sheer number of public health decisions they have to make in the absence of clear guidance. The direct benefits of routine testing can only be realized if testing is easy, accessible, and affordable to every school.
The K-12 National Testing Action Program: Connecting Schools with the Nation’s Leading Testing Companies to Safely Reopen (NTAP) synthesizes findings from school leaders, parents, advocates, labs and manufacturers who have come together to build, pilot, and run a variety of different programs for regular testing of students in school. This report highlights two strategies that enable schools to work with the nation’s testing vendors to test teachers and staff twice a week and students once week: PCR testing of all students in groups, pooled by classroom or other cohort, and on-site rapid antigen testing, including as a tool for follow-up testing of positive PCR pools.
Pooled PCR and on-site rapid antigen testing strategies have successfully allowed students and teachers across the country to return to the classroom. NTAP reviews case studies from early adopters of school-based testing programs and includes step-by-step guidance to operationalize a testing strategy. In addition, in order for schools to identify and evaluate vendors operating in their area, NTAP includes a contact list of testing vendors – testing labs and test manufacturers – and a complementary worksheet that outlines key considerations for selecting a vendor. The list of vendors includes a subset of companies that have experience with K-12 school-based testing but does not represent all vendors with school testing experience. Schools should consider reaching out directly to the contacts provided at these vendors or other vendors for more information and to begin implementing a test program. It is important to note that schools can work with any testing vendor that meets their needs. Together, these resources help to empower all schools to rapidly take advantage of the benefits of testing for their communities.