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Funding for COVID-19 testing is available for schools, but not all are taking advantage

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Posted at 8:13 AM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 11:16:49-04

The first day of school is right around the corner in many places and educators are preparing for another challenging year. Testing for COVID-19 will be a part of some schools' plans.

"It’s a once-a-week test they would just be pulled quickly to the side, and like I said, it takes less than five minutes and students would return to class right after,” said Nicole Rodriguez, the community outreach coordinator for Madison School District in Phoenix, Arizona.

Last year, that district ran a pilot program for the state’s new COVID-19 testing protocols for schools.

“The batch test consists of the non-invasive nasal swab. So, quick, easy, painless,” said Rodriguez.

Testing is a part of the multi-pronged approach recommended by the CDC that includes wearing masks, physical distancing, and ventilation.

“With delta and so many people who have not been vaccinated yet and community transmission rates still quite high, I think testing is going to be really important and probably will give parents and guardians a lot of peace of mind,” said Gigi Gronvall.

Gronvall is an immunology expert with John Hopkins University and has studied the different types of COVID-19 tests during the pandemic. She says with many more schools open this year, there is more to be concerned about when it comes to COVID-19 and kids.

“Out of 1,000 infections, you have a case of long COVID-19 in kids, there have been several hundred kids that have died of COVID and it’s now a top 10 killer of children,” said Gronvall.

All these measures, especially testing, cost money. Congress set aside $10 billion for COVID-19 testing in schools in the last coronavirus relief bill.

“We need to make sure that the money is there so that school systems can educate children and that they’re not permanently hurt by the pandemic,” said Congressman Bobby Scott, (D) Virginia.

Scott is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. He wants schools to use every tool available to them, including testing.

But districts still have to make the decision to test students themselves. A February survey from EdWeek found that 16% of districts were testing students for COVID-19, which was up from 7% in October and before the funding for testing was available.

“We’ve also in previous bills provided enough funding so testing can be free, no co-pays, no deductibles,” said Scott.

And health experts say COVID-19 testing should be just one part of schools' plan to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and keep kids safe.

"Administrators for schools right now should be thinking about not only testing but encouraging vaccinations of 12 and up," said Gronvall. "I am a little concerned that people are going to be well, 'kids don't suffer so much when it comes to COVID, so it's not really that big of a concern.' But it is a big concern."