The Biden administration on Wednesday announced new initiatives to provide an additional 10 million Covid-19 tests per month to schools and students in an effort to keep classrooms open.
The administration will distribute 5 million free rapid tests and 5 million free PCR tests to schools each month, according to an administration fact sheet.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up “surge” testing sites in communities with high transmission. And the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will work with the US Education Department to help connect school districts with testing providers that their states have already contracted with to set up Covid-19 testing in schools.
“Students have sacrificed so much over the course of the pandemic, and the President has been clear in his words and his actions that his Administration will do all that it can to keep schools safely open for all students,” the fact sheet said.
The announcement comes as the number of US patients hospitalized with Covid-19 reaches record highs, with many parents wondering about their children’s safety. Public health experts have repeatedly stressed the need for expanded Covid-19 testing in schools, but it’s unclear what impact the administration’s latest effort will have given the volume of students back in the classroom. About 53 million students attended K-12 public schools in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau.
According to the CDC, Covid-19 screening testing should be offered for students at least once per week when community transmission is at moderate, substantial or high levels.
Some cities and school districts are already taking aggressive action as the Omicron variant sweeps the country.
Several Atlanta-area school districts are delaying in-person classes and starting 2022 with remote learning. In Washington, DC, public school students and staff must show proof of negative Covid-19 tests before returning from winter break.
And in New York City, public school students who test positive will get a week’s worth of at-home tests so they can know when it’s safer to return to school.
Aligning with its latest quarantine and isolation recommendations, the CDC earlier this month updated guidance for Covid-19 prevention in K-12 schools. Students, teachers and staff with Covid-19 should stay home and isolate away from others for at least five days, the guidance said. Day 0 is considered the first day of symptoms or the day of a positive viral test for people who do not have symptoms.
People whose symptoms are improving can leave isolation after five full days if they are fever-free for 24 hours, the CDC said. They should wear masks around others for an additional five days.
CNN’s Holly Yan and John Bonifield contributed to this report.