Since day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken every step available to keep schools safely open for full-time, in-person instruction. These efforts have resulted in 96% of schools open in-person in January 2022, up from 46% of schools in January 2021. 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.
Today the Biden-Harris Administration is doubling down on our commitment to keeping all schools safely open for full-time in-person learning by taking new action to increase access to COVID-19 testing in schools. Through these new initiatives, the Administration will increase the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month. These additional tests will help schools safely remain open and implement screening testing and test to stay programs. With the additional ten million tests per month, we will make available to schools more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the nation in November 2021 (the most recent data available).
We know how to keep students and staff safely in school—including through vaccinations and boosters, implementing universal indoor masking, maintaining physical distancing, improving ventilation, and performing COVID-19 screening testing. Over the past year, the Biden-Harris Administration has provided historic funding and extensive resources to states and school districts across the country to make sure schools reopen and remain open – including $130 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund to safely reopen schools and address students’ academic and mental health needs, and $10 billion in the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) cooperative agreement to support COVID-19 testing for students and staff.
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is increasing COVID-19 testing for schools by:
- 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). This new allocation builds on the CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program, which distributed $10 billion in resources to states to support COVID-19 testing in schools. CDC will work with states who can submit requests to receive additional tests for high-need school districts that can put these tests immediately to use. After states submit initial requests, the first shipments will be delivered later this month.
- 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. Opportunities to support K-12 schools may include locating federal testing units on or near school grounds; establishing specific operating hours for students, their families, and school staff; or dedicating a specific portion of daily testing to school communities. By incorporating school needs, state leaders can more effectively build school testing into their requests and planning while surge test sites continue to provide robust access to communities with greatest need.
- 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. This includes connecting local school districts with the testing providers contracted by their states to set up COVID-19 testing in school using ELC funding. While programs vary by state, these arrangements allow schools to access testing resources quickly and coordinated with statewide activities, including accessing test supply and administration. Schools should contact their jurisdiction to join existing state efforts funded by ELC. CDC and ED will also engage school to help them learn how to set up testing programs and how they can use their American Rescue Plan funds to support them.
- New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools. Last month, CDC released guidance on “test to stay,” an approach that allows students to remain safely in the classroom during their quarantine period as long as they wear masks and test at least two times in the seven days following an exposure. Test to stay programs are an effective approach for identifying and containing infection at school, and help enable schools to minimize and avoid interruptions to in-person instruction. Later this week, 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.
The actions announced today builds on more than $10 billion in investments that the Biden-Harris Administration has made in setting up testing programs in K-12 schools. School districts can also take advantage of the below resources immediately, as outlined in a letter Secretary Cardona is sending this week to school officials demonstrating available resources to support COVID-19 testing and urging them to get started today. Supports also include:
- Free Community COVID-19 Testing Sites. Schools may consider referring students, teachers, and staff to community-based testing sites that are supported by federal funding. HHS continues to work with pharmacies and retail companies to accelerate testing for more Americans in communities across the country.
- Full Reimbursement for COVID-19 Testing Programs. FEMA’s Public Assistance Program continues to provide federal funding to states, tribal nations, territories and localities to support COVID-19 testing. This includes testing needed to safely open and operate public facilities, including K-12 schools. 100% reimbursement is available for schools and localities to set up diagnostic and screening testing programs. This provides an important way for communities to expand upon federal surge testing sites by providing resources for state and local leaders to open and operate additional testing sites in partnership with schools.