The Biden Administration is planning to distribute 10 million COVID-19 tests per month to schools around the country in a bid to keep them open amid the record-breaking surge in cases related to the Omicron variant.
The White House will send out 5 million free rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests to perform individual and pooled classroom testing. The PCR tests are immediately accessible, while the rapid test will be delivered this month.
The new testing initiative comes in addition to $10 billion of previous funding devoted to school testing passed in a Covid-19 relief law and $130 billion set aside by law passed to reopen schools safety.
“With the additional 10 million tests per month, we will make available to schools more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the nation in November 2021,” the White House said in a statement.
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 Morning.” “That’s where they need to be, and we know we can do it safely.”
Cardona said that states are applying to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the tests, adding that he expected distribution to begin as early as next week.
“We recognize that the schools are the hubs of the community,” and they should be open for instruction, the secretary added, saying it is “vital for our student.”
The new crop of tests is enough to cover only a tiny fraction of more than 50 million students and educators in the nation’s schools. The administration hopes the tests will fill critical shortfalls within schools having difficulty securing tests through existing federal funding or are facing outbreaks of the more transmissible COVID-19 variant.
Additionally, the administration will work with federally backed testing sites across the country to support testing in schools. Later this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release guidance to help schools implement “test to stay” programs.
Biden and the CDC have faced criticism over the handling of the current Omicron wave, which has brought a new wave of testing shortages, rising hospitalizations, and renewed debate over whether schools should be reopened.