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This COVID-19 Testing Task Force School Testing page offers California school districts information on COVID-19 testing for students and staff in partnership with the California Department of Public Health’s Valencia Branch Laboratory. For more information and resources about COVID-19 and schools, visit the State of California’s Safe for All Schools Hub.

CDPH K-12 School-based COVID-19 Testing Strategies

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released K-12 school-based COVID-19 testing strategies for school year 2021-22 on July 12, 2021. COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools remains a powerful tool for preventing transmission of COVID-19. This document outlines testing options and approaches for schools to consider implementing with their school communities:

Updated CDPH Testing Guidance

CDPH issued revised testing guidance on June 16, 2021:

Key highlights of the guidance and specific relevance to schools is listed below. The guidance recommends different types of testing.

A) Diagnostic testing

  • Considered for all individuals with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19.

B) Diagnostic screening testing

  • Recurrent testing of asymptomatic individuals in certain high-risk non-healthcare and healthcare settings to detect COVID-19 early and stop transmission quickly.
  • Schools are not considered a high-risk setting, but residential schools will be considered congregate residential settings.
  • Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to undergo diagnostic screening testing in non-healthcare setting workplaces.

Screening testing frequency with molecular tests

  • The recommended minimum molecular test screening frequency is once weekly.  Molecular testing as a screening tool is most effective when turnaround times are short (<2 days).

Screening testing frequency with antigen tests

  • The recommended minimum antigen test screening frequency is twice weekly. Antigen tests conducted serially can be used to screen asymptomatic individuals for COVID-19 and reduce infections.
  • In some settings (e.g., K-12 schools), screening testing can be used at a cadence of every 2 weeks or less frequently, to understand whether the settings have higher or lower rates of COVID-19 than the community, to guide decisions about safety, and to inform Local Health Departments (LHDs).
  • Asymptomatic testing at a higher cadence (weekly or twice weekly) can be conducted to identify asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases early, in order to exclude cases that might otherwise contribute to transmission.
  • Screening testing is indicated for situations associated with higher risk (higher community transmission, individuals at higher risk of transmission, etc.).

C) Post exposure testing

  • Testing of people who are asymptomatic, but have been exposed to a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
  • Most fully vaccinated people who are asymptomatic do not need to be tested following an exposure to someone who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.

D) Response testing

  • Repeat testing performed following an exposure that has occurred in high-risk residential congregate settings and high-risk/high-density workplaces, in accordance with CDC guidance.

E) Pre-entry Testing

  • Testing performed prior to someone entering an event, competition, congregate setting, or other venue or business which can reduce the risk of spreading infection for people who are entering these settings.
  • Pre-entry testing should be considered for those competing in high risk sports, or other events in crowded or poorly ventilated settings
  • Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to undergo pre-entry testing.

Testing and Partnership Options

After understanding your COVID-19 testing requirements, the next step is choosing a type of testing and a lab partner. CDPH has a state sponsored program for both PCR and antigen testing. For PCR testing, CDPH has set up the Valencia Branch Laboratory to help provide access to free COVID-19 testing. CDPH also provides a list of labs in California with additional testing capacity as well as guidance for antigen testing.

Type of testPartner modelsDescriptionHelpful Links
PCR Testing

Valencia Branch
Lab (VBL)

The VBL is a public health lab managed and
operated by PerkinElmer 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. Schools partnering with the VBL
will be provided COVID-19 test kits, test
processing, and test management and resulting
through the Color platform and may utilize the
state’s transportation network at no additional
charge to return specimen to the VBL.
Learn More


VBL Schools Financing



PCR Testing

Commercial labs
in California

There are many other commercial labs 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, school will
provide their own collection kits).
Commercial lab list



Antigen Testing

State of California,
Commercial
and Philanthropic
Partners

COVID-19 antigen tests are considered to be
‘point of care’ tests and thus are processed on
site (e.g., school). Results are available almost
immediately (within 15-20 minutes). There are
additional requirements for this testing platform
such as training of personnel for the testing and
regulatory requirements. If you are interested
in learning more, please email
TTFSchoolInquiry@cdph.ca.gov. This program
provides free antigen and molecular point of care
tests, as well as reflex PCR.
Interest form

Antigen test guidance

Partnering with Valencia Branch Laboratory

The Valencia Branch Laboratory (VBL) is a public health laboratory managed and operated by PerkinElmer with the help of various partners. It provides affordable COVID-19 testing support with result turn around time within 24-48 hours of the specimen being received by the laboratory.

How to partner with VBL*

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1: Fill out the onboarding form you received from Color**

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2: Set up your test site

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3: Start testing!

*For independent charter or private schools, please refer to the Playbook to learn about your specific onboarding process. The first step in that process is to compete the VBL Interest Form. **Color provides the software interface for processing test results. If you are a district that did not receive an onboarding form from Color, please visit Color’s support page and submit a request using the support form under “Contact our Support team.” 

The Playbook to Stand Up School-Based Collection Sites

The Playbook offers a step-by-step guide to districts and Local Education Agencies on how to partner with VBL to ramp up capacity of COVID-19 Testing

Helpful Starting Materials

Review the testing overview one-pager to learn the basics

Sign-up for our weekly introductory webinar

Learn about Valencia Branch Laboratory financing options

View video demonstrating how students can self-swab

Youth Sports Testing

CDPH guidance recommends that pre-entry testing be performed prior to someone entering an event, competition, congregate setting, or other venue or business to reduce the risk of spreading infection for people who are entering these settings. Individuals should have pre-entry testing performed if they have not been fully vaccinated and will be taking part in activities that put them or others at higher risk for COVID-19 exposure. Pre-entry testing should be considered for those attending large indoor social or mass gatherings (such as large private events, live performance events, sporting events, theme parks, etc.), competing in high risk sports, or other events in crowded or poorly-ventilated settings. Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to undergo pre-entry testing.

School Antigen Testing

The State of California and the CDPH Testing Task Force have developed a program for antigen testing in California K-12 schools. If you are a school or district interested in partnering with the state for antigen testing, please use the following links to access an interest form, the K-12 School Antigen Testing Program Playbook, and antigen testing guidance.

Getting Started

Find out more about our program. Review our one-page flyer, our playbook and sign up for a FAQ session by filling out our interest form.

Next Steps

After completing our interest form and attending the FAQ session, review our detailed Next Steps Checklist. If your school or district is ready to participate, sign and return the MOU which was provided after the FAQ Session, then order antigen tests for your hands-on training session. Visit the Primary.Health CDPH website for more guidance on the process of enrolling in our program.

Training Requirements

Please complete the pre-training preparatory work below prior to your Hands-On training. Your school / district lead will schedule the hands-on training for you via a Zoom link on their Primary.Health account or by emailing schoolbinax@cdph.ca.gov. For Binax Leads, please see the materials needed for hands-on training. Everyone who completes the training needs to complete the training attestation form below, which should be stored in your Binax binder.

More information on Antigen Testing

The Abbott BinaxNow Antigen test is a simple test to run. We have included answers to common questions about running the test in our Troubleshooting section, as well as reference materials to print out for the testing site. Each site/school must identify a Binax Lead via the Binax Lead Form below. Please use the links below to access the CDPH Antigen Testing Guidance, the Binax Expiration Extensions 1 and 2.

Communications for the School Community

Communicating with the school community around testing is important to the success of your program. Prepare to communicate with the school community with our sample FAQs. Review our consent form and our video of how children self-swab. Find more resources such as sample communication emails on our partner’s website Safely Opening Schools.

State and Federal Funding Sources for School Testing Plans

The state and federal government have allocated funding to support school testing. The below table outlines a few options for schools to explore:

Potential funding
sources
Available fundsDescriptionHelpful Links
Elementary and
Secondary School
Emergency Relief III
(American Rescue Plan)

TBDAdditional federal funds allocated
to the State of California for
Elementary and Secondary School
Emergency Relief that K-12 schools
can access for health and safety
purposes, among other purposes.
TBD
State of California – In-
Person Instruction
Grants

$2 billion

Funding for schools offering in-person
instruction in the 2020-21 school year
to support the costs associated with
providing that instruction including
health and safety purposes.
AB 86



2020 Budget Act –
Elementary and
Secondary School
Emergency Relief

$1.5 billion

Federal funds allocated to the State
of California for Elementary and
Secondary School Emergency Relief
that K-12 schools can access for
health and safety purposes.
2020 Budget Act Info




2020 Budget Act –
Learning Loss
Mitigation

$5.3 billion

Funding for learning loss mitigation
that may also be used for health and
safety purposes.
2020 Budget Act Info




Elementary and
Secondary School
Emergency Relief II

$6 billion

Additional federal funds allocated
to the State of California for
Elementary and Secondary School
Emergency Relief that K-12 schools
can access for health and safety
purposes.
Emergency Relief Info

Furthermore, the Department of Managed Health Care has issued emergency regulations regarding testing requirements for health plans. All Plan Letter 20-20 provides insurance guidance for the testing of essential workers. Please also see their FAQs for more information.

Resources

Questions about Testing or the Task Force?      

Learn more about Valencia Branch Laboratory