Biden administration invests $10B in school COVID-19 testing program

The Biden administration is investing $10 billion to ramp up COVID-19 testing in schools in an effort to increase testing across the country and help schools reopen for in-person learning.

The funding comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and will be distributed to states and certain cities next month by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) as part of a strategy to help get schools open in the remaining months of this school year.

The CDC and state and local health departments will provide technical assistance to states and schools setting up and implementing these programs.

The money will be used to provide diagnostic tests to symptomatic teachers, staff and students, as well as “serial screening” for those who don’t have symptoms but might have been exposed to an infectious person. The idea behind serial screening testing is to help schools identify asymptomatic people who may be contagious so that prompt action can be taken to prevent transmission

Backstory: Biden has put a major focus on reopening schools this year. He urged states to prioritize teachers for vaccinations and school staff to get at least one shot by the end of March.

Questions raised: But the guidance from CDC about reopening schools does not say testing or screening is a priority. CDC says schools should offer referrals to diagnostic testing for symptomatic students and staff at all levels of community spread, but there’s not a whole lot of data showing the benefits of screening. CDC recommends it as a complementary strategy to other mitigation measures.

What does it mean? With some teachers’ unions still resisting in-person learning even after being prioritized for vaccinations, it’s not clear these extra steps will help.