March 17 (UPI) — The Biden administration announced the allocation of $10 billion to expand COVID-19 testing at schools, in an effort to return children to in-class learning.
The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement on Wednesday the funds will come from the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill President Joe Biden signed into law last week, and go toward screening teachers, staff and students for COVID-19 to aid schools to reopen and to keep them open.
“With this funding for testing, every state in America will have access to millions of dollars to set up screening testing programs to add a layer of protection for schools, teachers and students,” Carole Johnson, the White House COVID-19 testing coordinator, said during a press conference Wednesday.
The funding can be used to test teachers and staff, students with symptoms and those who have been exposed as well as to establish programs across school districts to conduct regular testing, she said, adding the CDC will work with state and local education officials to get those programs running.
“We know that testing works,” she said. “We know that it works to identify cases and slow the spread of COVID. And we look forward to working with schools to implement this exciting program.”
The CDC allocation for states and territories ranges from $1.4 million for American Samoa to $803 million for Texas and more than $887 million for California.
“With this funding from the American Rescue Plan, we hope more schools will reopen across the country and more kids will be back in the classroom soon,” Johnson said.
The announcement came as the CDC unveiled new guidance for testing in specific settings, including of asymptotic persons who have come into contact with a known or suspected case in K-12 schools.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during the press conference that up until now limited test capacity has caused for tests to be largely used for diagnostic purposes and only in selected locations have they been able to use testing as a way to identify asymptomatic cases to prevent disease clusters from forming.
She said the new guidelines allow for the use of tests as a “surveillance tool” to monitor the coronavirus within communities.
“Our newly released set of guidances offers a comprehensive approach to testing and helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the rapid identification and isolation of people who are infected, including those who do not know they are infected because they do not have symptoms,” she said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement urging schools to use the funds to implement testing programs.
“With this investment, help truly is on the way to aid school systems in implementing a testing system that will help keep students, educators and staff safe inside school buildings,” Weingarten said.
Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, which is affiliated with the AFT, said being able to identify asymptomatic spread is “critical” to bolstering school safety.
“Today, the Biden administration is sending [educators] a clear signal about what it takes to reopen safely, and we’re thankful for their commitment to helping schools do this the right way,” he said.
Along with the funding for schools, an additional $2.25 billion in grants to public health departments was announced to address COVID-19 health disparities and advance health equity among those considered high risk and underserved.
The grants to health departments will improve testing and contact tracing capabilities as well as improve data collection and reporting and develop mitigation and prevention resources and services, the Department of Health and Human Services said.
It is the largest investment to date by the CDC to support communities affected by COVID-19-related health disparities, Walensky said.
“This is truly a historic investment for CDC and an important step forward to help hard-hit communities turn the corner on this pandemic,” she said.