According to a January 12 fact sheet form the Biden-Harris administration, the White House is taking new action to increase access to COVID-19 testing in schools which will increase the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month.
According to the White House’s fact sheet, the major points of the new plan include:
- Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools. The Administration will distribute 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month to help K-12 schools stay open and to implement and sustain screening testing and test to stay programs in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month: The Administration is making available lab capacity to support an additional 5 million PCR tests per month for schools to perform individual and pooled testing in classrooms nationwide. The additional testing will be delivered through the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Operation Expanded Testing (ET) program, funded by the American Rescue Plan to provide free PCR testing at schools nationwide. Three federally funded regional providers offer testing materials, supplies, and lab results and reporting at no direct cost to recipients through four regional hubs. Schools can immediately gain access to this free lab-based testing.
- Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites. HHS and FEMA are working with state, territorial, and tribal partners to address testing needs in communities and stand up federal testing sites. These surge testing sites are focused on ensuring hardest-hit and highest-risk communities have equitable access to free and convenient testing. Effective immediately, as the agencies review state, territorial, and tribal requests, they will consider how these sites can support the safe operations of K-12 schools.
- Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds. In addition to $10 billion for states to set up K-12 testing programs in the ELC program, the American Rescue Plan included $130 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund to safely reopen schools, which may be used to support school-based COVID-19 testing. To support schools that want to set up COVID-19 testing programs, the Department of Education and CDC will work with states and outside organizations to help schools make connections to testing providers that are available in their state. Schools should contact their jurisdiction to join existing state efforts funded by ELC.
- New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools. [The] CDC will release additional materials for schools on how to implement test to stay programs, including a school checklist and frequently asked questions and answers. Additionally, ED and CDC will continue to provide additional opportunities for states and school districts to learn about test to stay and how to effectively implement test to stay approaches in school.
According to the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) analysis of this new plan, there are additional resources for local school districts as outline below:
Local school districts can use resources from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) to support COVID-19 testing and mitigation measures. First authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Support (CARES) Act of 2020 to help K-12 schools respond to the pandemic, the ESSERF most recently received an additional $130 billion in funds under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Additionally, through the FEMA Public Assistance Program, K-12 schools and localities can continue to receive full federal reimbursement for diagnostic and screening testing programs.