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Testing at Schools

The Importance of Testing for COVID-19 in Schools

Regular testing of unvaccinated students and staff who have no symptoms is an important layer to help protect school communities, especially when paired with important prevention measures such as masking and ventilation. Regular screening testing allows cases to be caught early before they can lead to the spread of COVID-19. Regular testing (such as testing a percentage of the population or testing at less frequent intervals) can reassure the school community and inform policies based on comparison of school case rates as compared to the community. Testing symptomatic children can help them return to school faster. Learn more about different testing strategies your school can use in CDPH K-12 Testing Strategies.

Although vaccines are now widely available and vaccinated individuals are less likely to be infected with or transmit COVID-19, not all students and staff who are eligible for vaccination have been vaccinated. This highlights the continued need for proven COVID-19 prevention strategies, including testing people in school communities. Therefore, COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools remains a powerful tool for preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

All school-based testing in K-12 schools is at no cost to schools through State of California testing programs. To learn more, please review information on different PCR and Antigen Testing programs offered by the state. Please reach out to SchoolTesting@cdph.ca.gov for additional questions or to join office hours hosted by the state’s school testing team.

The State Supports…

Information contained in this file is confidential, preliminary, and pre-decisional.

Operational Support

The State of California endeavors to create equity in access to testing across K-12 schools in the state. Recognizing this, the state is offering free training support through the school year for the Individual PCR and Antigen Testing Programs. One-time operational training for Individual PCR through the state’s Individual PCR Testing vendor, Color, is available to any school or school district participating in the Individual PCR Testing Program to help train on-site personnel in running operations smoothly. One-time operational training for antigen testing is provided virtually by CDPH staff and is available to any school or school district participating in the Antigen Testing Program.

For more details on training support for the Individual PCR Testing Program email schooltesting@cdph.ca.gov and for more details on training support for the Antigen Testing Program email schoolbinax@cdph.ca.gov.

Outbreak Response

When a school COVID-19 outbreak is detected or reported to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) by a local health jurisdiction (LHJ) or site, an Outbreak Response Team can be rapidly deployed to manage and monitor the outbreak for schools. CDPH and the Testing Task Force (TTF) have identified a potential operating model for outbreak response during an outbreak and outbreak-related consultation or support to LHJs or sites.

More details on the Outbreak Response Teams can be found here. Schools and districts can also email COVID19OutbreakResponse@cdph.ca.gov to receive more information.

CDPH has recommended testing strategies for schools

Testing Types

CDPH offers multiple different test types. All testing types can be self-administered with supervised self-swabbing (please see video for reference).

Test TypeDefinitionPros ConsState-contracted service provider
Individual PCR Test A molecular test that detects specific fragments of viral nucleic acid in a lab. The most sensitive test.

Quick test administration, low amount of personnel time needed.

Can be used for symptomatic individuals and in outbreaks.
Must be sent to a laboratory.

Turnaround time is variable and results can take 24-48 hours. Testing turnaround times may exceed 24-48 hours during periods of high testing volume.

The test is highly sensitive; Positive results may be observed for several weeks after the onset of infection.
Color and CDPH Valencia Branch Laboratory

Learn More about Color

Learn more about the individual PCR program
Antigen TestAn antigen test detects a viral protein and is typically performed as a point of care test.Fast test results (within 15-20 minutes of collection).

Good for high throughput testing.

Very low rate of false positives observed.
Requires additional personnel time to perform testing and record results.

Higher frequency of testing recommended.
Abbott BinaxNOW with Primary.Health

Learn More about Primary

Learn more about the antigen program
Pooled PCR Test with a reflex rapid antigen test Same as PCR above, but with a different sampling strategy: specimens from all students in one group (up to 25) are combined and tested with a single test.

If a pool is positive, a reflex rapid antigen test is administered to identify a positive individual.
Comes with additional personnel support to conduct all aspects of pooled and reflex testing.

The lowest amount of time for participating students needed (one classroom tested in 5-7 minutes).

If a pooled test is negative, it reassures that all children in the classroom are negative and reduces the amount of time spent on testing.
Pooled PCR turnaround time is similar to PCR, 1-3 days. Ginkgo Bioworks
and Color


Learn More about Concentric by Ginkgo

Learn more about the Pooled PCR program

Schools Testing Guidance

Step 1

Prepare to Test Your School Community

1. Start learning about test types and testing options for your school by visiting Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools.

2. Prepare to test by getting ready to:

    • Enroll and on-board with a testing program
    • Obtain parental or student consent for testing as needed
    • Train staff to implement testing
    • Order test kits

For those who are unsure which test type or testing option is suitable for your community, consider consulting with a local public health department school liaison, using the state technical assistance (TA) portal, or access resources from the testing task force California K-12 Schools Testing Program (schooltesting@cdph.ca.gov) for assistance in decision-making.

Keeping Track of COVID

Preventing Outbreaks

Responding to Outbreaks

Helping Keep Kids in School

Step 2

Prepare to Test Your School Community

Schools may use one or multiple testing options at any time. Schools may also choose to use a different combination of one or more testing options as situations change and the school year progresses. Below is a summary of the testing options.

 Tracking of COVID-19Preventing Outbreaks of New Cases via ScreeningResponding to School OutbreaksHelping Keep Kids in School
DefinitionPeriodic testing of a portion of unvaccinated individuals to understand school rates of COVID-19Regular screening testing in all unvaccinated students and staffTesting unvaccinated close contacts in a school outbreak to find any potentially asymptomatic infectionsTesting students and staff with symptoms and testing to modify quarantine for unvaccinated close contacts
PurposeUsed to reassure and support members of the school community and to track case rates in schoolsTo limit in-school transmission and decrease outbreaks on campusTo find asymptomatic cases who should isolate at homeTo provide on-site access to testing to limit missed school days
Rates of COVID-19Lower Community TransmissionHigher Community TransmissionAny Community TransmissionAny Community Transmission
Types of TestsPooled PCR, Antigen, Lab-based PCR Pooled PCR, Antigen, Lab-based PCR Lab-based PCR, Antigen, Rapid molecular tests (PCR-Like)Lab-based PCR, Antigen, Rapid molecular tests (PCR-Like)
Population10% of elementary classrooms and/or 10% of unvaccinated staff and students
OR different frequency of testing of all unvaccinated students and staff
All unvaccinated students and staffAll exposed unvaccinated students and staff, all symptomatic students regardless of vaccination statusStaff or students with symptoms, regardless of vaccination status and/or unvaccinated students or staff who are close contacts, to remain in school for a modified quarantine (per CDPH guidelines)
FrequencyOnce at the start of the school year and then either biweekly or monthly1x/week for PCR/Pooled PCR, 2x/week for AntigenTesting at the beginning of quarantine and to modify quarantine if appropriateAs Needed

Universal Pre-entry Testing

  • Can be used with any of the testing strategies
  • Test all unvaccinated individuals prior to starting school
  • Understand the baseline rates in schools
  • Identify potentially infectious people prior to opening schools
  • Can help get testing personnel trained and comfortable with testing

School 1 Lower Community Transmission

School 2 Higher Community Transmission

School 3 Any Community Transmission

Step 3

 

Choose One or More Testing Method(s) for Your School

There are 3 state-sponsored testing programs for schools:

 Individual PCR testing program through Valencia Branch LaboratoryRapid testing programsPooled PCR with response antigen
DescriptionThe Valencia Branch Laboratory (VBL) is a public health laboratory 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 VBL will be provided COVID-19 test kits, test processing, and test management and results through the Color platform and
may utilize the state’s transportation network at no additional charge to return the specimen to VBL for processing.
This program provides free antigen and molecular point of care tests, as well as reflex PCR.

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). Due to the requirement of a CLIA-waiver to perform point of care tests on school campuses, there are
additional requirements for this testing platform
such as training of school personnel to conduct testing and
regulatory requirements for schools to use the CDPH State CLIA Waiver.
Pooled testing is an approach where specimens from all students in one group (up to 25) are combined and tested with a single test. If the pool is negative, all students have a negative test result; if the pool is positive, a response antigen is conducted to identify positives. It reduces the time spent on testing with turnaround time similar to individual PCR testing.
ConsiderationsRequires set up of collection site and staffing. Turnaround time for test results is 1-2 days.Requires set up of collection site and higher staffing needs than the individual or pooled PCR testing programs.

Turnaround time for test results is 15-30 minutes.
Teachers or staff can collect tests in the classroom. Response tests for a positive pool require set up of a collection site.
Turnaround time for pooled test results is 1-2 days. In the event of a positive pool, all members will take an individual diagnostic rapid antigen test.
Learn more and establish at your schoolIndividual PCR Rapid Testing Pooled PCR Testing

CDPH Testing Guidance

The State of California has issued revised testing guidance which details the different types of testing, including differences between diagnostic testing, screening testing, post-exposure testing and pre-entry testing. The revised guidance can be found here.

 

Testing for K-12 School-Based Extracurricular Activities

The CDPH Guidance for K-12 Schools 2021-2022 issued public health guidance for some school-based extracurricular activities that cannot be done with a face covering due to heavy exertion or the use of wind-based musical instruments. In these instances, the guidance strongly suggests performing weekly screening testing, which can be done using Individual PCR, pooled PCR, or antigen testing.