Why We Need Classroom Testing During Vaccine Rollout

Testing is crucial to responsibly reopening schools

February 10, 2021

Two vaccines, one from Pfizer and another from Moderna, have been FDA-authorized for emergency use in the U.S. For the first time in months, getting back to our everyday lives feels within reach. 

While the vaccine rollout is certainly a reason for hope, public distribution is still months away—or more—from completion. In the meantime, cases are rising significantly across the nation. The U.S. saw record-breaking hospitalization rates in early January, and many schools and businesses remain closed. In order to reopen our communities without risking uncontrolled outbreaks, widespread testing is crucial. 

Testing Helps Schools Reopen and Stay Open

K-12 schools are a vital part of our communities. Their continued closure disrupts students’ education and mental wellbeing, while posing serious challenges for families. At the same time, we have a responsibility to safeguard the health of students, teachers, staff, and at-risk family members. Frequent, routine testing can help us to alleviate these concerns: providing the benefits of in-person learning and reducing the risk to our loved ones.

How to Provide Testing to Every School Every Week

The major barrier to testing in K-12 schools is cost. Testing every student, teacher, and staff member on a routine basis is well out of reach for many cash-strapped school districts. But using Concentric’s testing method, called “pooled testing,” we can dramatically reduce costs without sacrificing accuracy. A low-cost, simple test is a powerful tool to help students and teachers everywhere return to school with peace of mind. 

Pooled Testing

Pooled testing works by testing everyone in a classroom using a single test. In short: you can test dozens of people for the price and speed of just one test. If the test result is negative, it’s assumed no one in the classroom has the virus, and the school’s routine continues. If the result is positive, at least one person in the class is very likely infected, and the school takes its normal next steps when responding to a positive case.

For example, the state of Massachusetts adopted pooled testing for schools and follows up positives with individual rapid tests to locate infected individuals.  This combination is powerful: pooled testing can be used week in and week out thanks to its low cost. Follow-up diagnostic tests can then find the affected individuals, identifying outbreaks and preventing further spread. The result is far less disruption to the school environment and a better routine for students and families.

Concentric’s Pooled Testing Program

One of the benefits of using pooled testing nationwide is that local labs—the ones that already run your community’s PCR tests—can also run pooled samples. That’s because pooled testing uses the same PCR test, just redesigned to run many swabs together. That means that pooling (which, with our test, groups up to 25 people in one sample) could increase our national testing capacity by up to 25 times—overnight.

Watch our video from one of our pilot schools to see what pooled testing looks like in practice:

The Community Fight Against COVID-19

The true power of pooled testing is how it puts the fight against COVID-19 into the hands of individuals. Teachers and students can take an active role in safeguarding the health of their communities. Community leaders and local labs continue to play an important role in local health efforts but with even greater impact. Testing can empower more informed decision-making in service of keeping the doors open. 

If you’re interested in bringing COVID-19 testing to your school, get in touch with us here.