Pooled testing provides an early warning system for potential COVID-19 outbreaks and helps to identify where individual diagnostic follow-up might be needed.
December 23, 2021
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released two reports evaluating the effectiveness of test to stay (TTS) strategies for K-12 schools in two cases. These reports affirm the continued importance of testing as a critical component of layered prevention strategies to help mitigate the spread and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents and teachers across the country have formed a chorus of voices saying the same thing: kids belong in classrooms. This isn’t just anecdotal. Study after study have underlined the unfortunate reality: kids suffer when they can’t make it to school. Having students in the classroom not only improves learning outcomes, but also promotes well-being among children. As President Biden stated yesterday, “We can keep our K-12 schools open, and that’s exactly what we should be doing.”
At Concentric, we care deeply about keeping kids in school safely. We want kids to benefit from in-person learning and also be protected from COVID-19. Since we first launched in 2020, we’ve built an enormous multi-state effort around this goal.
To accomplish this, Concentric’s teams work with federal and state public health authorities to empower schools to conduct pooled testing of classrooms, proactively testing every student whose parents or guardians have consented, even when they’re not showing any symptoms. Pooled testing provides an early warning system for potential COVID-19 outbreaks and helps to identify where individual diagnostic follow-up might be needed.
TTS strategies leverage regular testing to allow students who come into close contact with a peer infected with COVID-19 to stay in school and avoid quarantine, as long as they continue to test negative, show no symptoms, and take other preventive measures in accordance with public health guidelines. The new CDC reports on TTS examine evidence from K-12 programs in Lake County, Illinois and Los Angeles County, California, between August and October of 2021. According to the CDC, “Implementation of a TTS strategy with multiple prevention components, including masking and physical distancing, resulted in low secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K–12 schools in Lake County, Illinois. These findings highlight the usefulness of TTS to limit school-based transmission and sustain in-person learning.” The CDC estimated that implementation of TTS saved over 8,000 in-person learning days in Lake County in under three months. The study from California reinforced that, “TTS does not appear to increase transmission risk in public schools and might greatly reduce loss of in-person school days,” relative to non-TTS schools.
On their own, routine testing programs help to prevent potential COVID-19 outbreaks and associated mass quarantines and school shutdowns. As we’ve seen in some of our own programs, implementing TTS strategies alongside regular testing further enables schools to minimize quarantines for individual students even after potential COVID-19 exposure.
The CDC reports give us additional confidence in these results from several states and districts and the ability of such programs to help keep kids in school and COVID-19 out. While TTS programs vary in their specific policies and practices, they share a common goal of maximizing the amount of time students can stay in school safely while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
We know that large-scale testing may seem daunting to schools and districts, who are already feeling the strain of staffing shortages during the pandemic. We also know from experience that testing takes resources. As the CDC reports highlighted, because the TTS programs can be resource-intensive, some schools, particularly those that are in disadvantaged areas, may be discouraged from participating. This is the case even in the many areas where large, statewide programs have made testing free for schools.
This staffing and resource issue is why we’ve designed our programs with communities’ needs front and center, providing support every step of the way to help ensure that our testing programs are an easy and flexible solution for schools. These programs are working for thousands of schools and hundreds of thousands of students already, and we stand ready to partner across the nation with schools, families, and communities to provide the tools to help us all mitigate the disruption to in-person learning caused by the pandemic.
Concentric is a biosecurity and public health platform with enough contracted and validated labs in its network to serve tens of millions of individuals with pooled tests every week—and we are prepared to further expand this partner capacity as needed. Concentric’s K-12 testing programs are active in classrooms across the country, from California to Maine, with statewide programs in 10 states and active testing across 18 states (including the District of Columbia). Across all of our offerings, including those in correctional facilities, airports, and other congregate settings in addition to schools, we serve over 220,000 individuals per week and have processed millions of swabs to date.
The CDC’s research reports have provided all of us with much-needed insights about the efficacy and practicality of TTS programs. As schools and districts prepare for 2022 and consider how best to promote the health and well-being of the kids in their communities, it will be increasingly important to recognize the power of large-scale testing as a public health tool.