school testing header banner.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the California Testing Task Force (TTF) are offering two PCR testing programs, Individual PCR and Pooled PCR, to support COVID-19 testing in California K-12 schools.

PCR Testing Overview

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is a type of molecular test that offers highly sensitive results within 24-48 hours. Testing turnaround times may exceed 24-48 hours during periods of high testing volume. PCR tests detect RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19 within days of infection, even in those who are asymptomatic (have no symptoms).

Individual PCR Testing

Partners

CDPH Valencia Branch Laboratory (VBL)

The CDPH Valencia Branch Laboratory (VBL) is a public health lab managed by CDPH with the help of various partners. It provides affordable COVID-19 testing support with result turnaround time within 24-48 hours of the specimen being received by the laboratory. Testing turnaround times may exceed 24-48 hours during periods of high testing volume. Schools partnering with the VBL are provided COVID-19 test kits, test processing, and test management and results through the state IT platform Color and may utilize the state’s transportation network at no additional charge to return the specimen to VBL.

Getting Started

New to Individual PCR COVID-19 testing and not sure where to start? The Testing Task Force will walk you through the basics, so you know what to expect along the way.

How to partner with VBL for Individual PCR Testing

1. Fill out the onboarding form for the Individual PCR testing program.

6. Ship collected samples for processing

3. Set up your IT platform

7. What to do after testing

4. Order and receive kits

Alternative Individual PCR testing methods (non-state supported commercial laboratories)

There are many other commercial laboratories in California that provide COVID-19 testing support. The support these labs provide may include full service (lab can provide onsite/offsite sample collection), enhanced sample service (lab can provide test kits, manage inbound logistics and conduct testing) or testing service only (lab can conduct testing, the school will provide their own collection kits). Please note that should your school or school district set up testing in partnership with a commercial lab, testing services will not be financially supported by the state.

You can find a list of commercial labs here.

Pooled PCR Testing

Pooled PCR Testing employs the same PCR technology as Individual PCR Testing. However, instead of processing each tested person’s sample individually, the Pooled PCR Testing approach combines and tests the specimens from all students in one group (up to 25) with a single PCR test. This approach substantially reduces time spent on testing because students do not need to be registered individually. If the test for all the specimens is negative, all students in that pool have a negative test result. If the test for all specimens is positive, students undergo a reflex rapid antigen test to identify which individual or individuals from the pool are positive, allowing for isolation of those infected people. In general, the pooled approach works well in naturally stable groups in elementary school testing, but the approach can also be used in middle and high schools.

 

 

Partners

Concentric by Ginkgo

Concentric by Ginkgo is the designated program for pooled PCR Testing in K-12 schools. Concentric by Ginkgo is an end-to-end pooled testing solution that allows schools to regularly test students for COVID-19 within classrooms or cohorts. For public school districts, this service is free and fully staffed to help ensure all California K-12 public schools include testing in their COVID-19 prevention strategies. For independent schools not associated with a school district, all testing costs (e.g., testing kits, processing) are no-cost, but the school will be responsible for arranging required personnel and consumables.

Getting Started

New to Pooled PCR COVID-19 testing and not sure where to start? The Testing Task Force will walk you through the basics, so you know what to expect along the way.

How to Partner with Ginkgo for Pooled PCR Testing

1. Identify Testing Needs

Please review the CDPH K-12 School-Based Testing Strategies to identify the best testing modality for your site. Review the CDPH Pooled PCR Testing Playbook (PDF) to learn more about the Pooled PCR Testing program.

3. On-boarding a Pooled PCR Testing Program

In this phase, schools will begin working with Concentric by Ginkgo to stand up their Pooled PCR testing program. Public K-12 schools are eligible for free and full testing and personnel support. Testing costs are free for independent schools, but such schools are responsible for arranging personnel and consumables. Independent schools may need to identify staffing and logistical needs and determine how those needs will be met.

a. Staffing concerns: Schools will need to identify their School Testing Team and discuss their roles and responsibilities with Test Supervisors, Test Observers, and Test Takers.

b. Training and information materials: School personnel will need to attend a brief Onboarding session to set up access to the Concentric website and receive instructions for the parental consent process.

c. Consent and registration: Schools will need to distribute and collect consent forms using the Concentric platform, match consented individuals to pooling groups, and generate a list of consented individuals by pooling groups for Test Supervisors.

d. Preparation for test day: Schools will need to gather required supplies, communicate with parents about the pooled testing program and the purpose of pooled testing results, and prepare students for testing day.

2. Apply for Pooled PCR Testing

Once a district or school decides that Pooled PCR Testing is an appropriate option, complete the Pooled PCR Testing Interest and Application Form.

4. Begin Testing

Schools begin pooled or “cohort” testing and convene pools of students for testing at a central testing site or collect samples from students in classrooms. Consented students will swab their noses with a short swab and the swabs will be collected in a single tube. The tube is then delivered to a laboratory to be tested. If a pooled sample returns a positive result, individual reflex antigen tests will be administered to each member of the pool for diagnosis. Concentric by Ginkgo will provide schools with transportation of samples to laboratories and administrative support.

For any additional questions, please reach out to schooltesting@cdph.ca.gov

Interested in learning more about other CDPH programs?