As schools throughout California tiptoe toward reopening, decisions about whether to routinely test teachers, staff and even students for the COVID-19 virus are proving controversial – and potentially costly.
In addition to prevention measures like mandatory masks, handwashing and social distancing on campus, regular testing of school employees could help prevent new outbreaks if the virus is still circulating in the community, public health experts say.
California public health officials largely have left testing choices to individual counties, suggesting only that school districts work with county health officers to periodically test teachers and staff, depending on community transmission levels and “as lab capacity allows.”
In its guidance for schools, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the usefulness of routine testing of school employees and students is unknown and declined to recommend it. But some U.S. lawmakers are investigating whether the CDC’s guidance was compromised by political interference from the Trump administration, which has pushed for schools to reopen quickly, the Washington Post reported.
California recently contracted with a Massachusetts diagnostics company to double the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity, allowing “our schools, not just to open, but to stay open and with some confidence,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a Sept. 15 news conference.
But so many questions remain: Should testing be mandatory for teachers and staffers to return to school? Should students be tested? What about school volunteers? Who will pay for the testing? How often should it take place, if at all?
“I think regular testing would make me feel a little bit safer, but only if it was part of a full set of precautions and only entered into at a point where community transmission was low enough,” said Sarah Ciccarello, who remotely teaches third grade at James Franklin Smith Elementary School in San Jose and is secretary of her local teacher’s union.
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