WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is increasing federal support for COVID-19 testing for schools in a bid to keep them open amid the omicron surge.
The White House announced Wednesday that a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests will be made available to schools starting this month to ease supply shortages and promote the safe reopening of schools. That’s on top of more than $10 billion devoted to school-based tests authorized in the COVID-19 relief law and about $130 billion earmarked in that law to keep kids in school.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said students need to be in their classrooms and the announcement shows the administration’s commitment to helping schools stay open.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that our children have an opportunity to stay in school,” Cardona said Wednesday on CBS’ “CBS Mornings.” “That’s where they need to be, and we know we can do it safely.”
States are applying to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the tests, Cardona said, adding that he expected distribution to begin as early as next week.
“We recognize that schools are the hubs of the community” and they should be open for instruction, the secretary added, saying it is “vital for our students.”
The initiative announced Wednesday comes as the White House faces mounting criticism over long lines and supply shortages for testing and after the nation’s third-largest public school system, in Chicago, closed for days after an impasse between teachers and officials over reopening policies. The closure was a black eye for President Joe Biden, who made reopening schools — and keeping them open — a priority.
“We have been very clear, publicly and privately, that we want to see schools open,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. She cited the massive amount of funding for schools as evidence of the administration ensuring “we were prepared and had resources needed to address whatever may come up in the pandemic.”
The new crop of tests is enough to cover only a small fraction of the more than 50 million students and educators in the nation’s schools. The administration hopes the tests will fill critical shortfalls in schools that are having difficulty securing tests through existing federal funding or are facing outbreaks of the more transmissible COVID-19 variant.
The administration also is working to target other federally backed testing sites to support school testing programs, including locating Federal Emergency Management Agency sites at schools.
Additionally, the CDC is set to release new guidance later this week to help schools implement “test-to-stay” policies, in which schools use rapid tests to keep close contacts of those who test positive in the classroom.