A growing number of California K-12 school districts are using state and federal resources to do on-campus COVID-19 testing as a way of preventing transmission and hopefully, to keep kids in the classroom without interruption.
In the Sacramento region, several school districts are offering tests for students, including the San Juan, Elk Grove and Sacramento City Unified school districts, as well as others in Yolo County.
Roughly 35% of California’s schools are either offering COVID-19 testing right now or are gearing up to offer testing in the near future through California’s Safe Schools for All initiative within the state Health and Human Services agency.
“We have many, many, many people coming to us,” said Dr. Naomi Bardach, testing lead on the Safe Schools for All team. “When delta hit for schools — everybody was like, ‘Oh my God, we really have to get this testing program going.’”
Bardach said it’s not easy for schools to pivot to offering services usually performed by health facilities, but the state program offers free consulting and testing resources to the ones that choose to.
As of the last week of September, 3,325 public, charter and private schools in California are actively testing using the state health department resources. That’s up from 2,542 schools that were testing less than two weeks prior.
“It's just become salient and important and people are seeing how helpful and useful it is,” she said.
As of 2019-2020, there were 11,891 public and charter schools in California, according to the California Department of Education.
Bardach said the federal government gave California schools $887 million for school-based testing last April, and Los Angeles county received a separate grant of $300 million for COVID-19 testing at schools.
Bardach says there is wide variation in how the 700 school districts involved in school-based testing are providing the service. Some may offer it at one particular school site, at other districts, every school may offer the testing.
In the Sacramento metro region, several school districts have made COVID tests available on campus.
At Elk Grove Unified schools, every school campus has a “cozy room,” where students can isolate and get a rapid antigen test if they’re symptomatic.
“We’re able to act much more quickly in terms of contact tracing and exposure notification,” said Xanthi Soriano, Director of Communications for the Elk Grove Unified School District.
She said doing in-house testing has helped the district calculate its own 7-day average case positivity rate. The district is getting ready to start offering PCR tests starting the middle of October.
The Sacramento Unified School District is offering routine testing for students and staff “for any reason” to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Both rapid and PCR tests are available at school sites, through testing events and at the district office, the Serna Center, Monday through Friday.
The San Juan Unified School District has been offering bi-weekly routine testing at different locations on Tuesdays, and testing Fridays at their district office. District officials plan to expand testing to almost all schools by Oct. 18.
Several school districts in Yolo County have teamed up with UC Davis’ Healthy Yolo Together to make testing available to their students.
Bardach with the state Safe Schools for All initiative says getting tested at schools, rather than through a doctor’s office or a county-run site, can be a quicker and more convenient way for parents, students and teachers to make sure they’re free of the virus.
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