The Rockefeller Foundation is calling on the US government to ensure COVID-19 testing for 300 million students, teachers, and staff per month in an effort to reopen — and keep open — 100,000 public schools by March 2021.
The foundation published a report entitled “Taking Back Control: A Resetting of America’s Response to COVID-19” on Wednesday in an effort to lay out a new plan “for the largest domestic testing scale-up to date.”
It outlines 14 executive actions for the current and incoming administrations to take that would quickly tackle the pandemic in the US — with a renewed focus on teachers and students.
“Over the last 11 months, Americans have been reminded again how essential teachers are to our children, our communities, and our economy. To open our schools faster, they need to be prioritized in the next round of vaccinations,” President of the Rockefeller Foundation Dr. Rajiv J. Shah said in a statement. “Since it will take some time for vaccines to be widespread and ubiquitous, this new plan represents the most practical, pragmatic, and achievable plan to reopen K-12 education in America using the tools and tests we have to make public school classrooms the safest place to be outside of the home.”
At the peak of worldwide lockdowns, approximately 1.5 billion children were impacted by school closures, UNICEF reported.
In the summer months and those following, some schools in the US reopened fully, while others provided remote learning or hybrid options for students that allowed them to sometimes attend school in person, but also learn online. This meant that education was out of reach for some of the more vulnerable populations in the US — data from USAFacts revealed that 4.4 million households with children don’t have consistent access to computers.
As we outline in our new #Covid19 testing plan, students should be tested weekly & teachers twice weekly in order to safely reopen US public schools by March.— The Rockefeller Foundation (@RockefellerFdn) December 16, 2020
Frequent and rapid testing works to stop outbreaks & keep schools safe.
And, in cases where schools did reopen, there was the added issue of spikes in virus transmission. More than 97,000 children in the US tested positive for COVID-19 in just two weeks in July.
Knowing the importance of a quality education, the Rockefeller Foundation’s plan suggests testing students at least one a week and staff twice a week, with public elementary schools opening by Feb. 1; public middle schools opening about two weeks later; and public high schools opening in March.
Testing all K-12 public schools from February to June 2021 would cost $42.5 billion, according to the report.
For this to work — and for 300 million COVID-19 tests to be available every month as of February — testing capacity in the US would need a significant overhaul. The report argues that US manufacturers will soon be ready to meet this demand.
“In the coming months, we expect an avalanche of pooled, rapid, and point-of-care COVID-19 tests that will help allow this type of proactive testing to routinely take place,” said Mara Aspinall, co-founder and professor of practice, biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. “By the end of January, the country will likely be able to conduct almost 100 million tests each week, a number that is expected to double to 200 million tests per week by April.”
It’s not just a supply issue that would need to be addressed. The Rockefeller report also suggests that centralizing procurement and payment for all tests and their supplies is necessary, which they highlight could be done through an expansion of their State and Territory Alliance for Testing (STAT), which currently works to buy and deliver rapid-result tests and supplies across 21 states and the District of Columbia.
The plan also calls for faster turnaround times for testing, as well as financial support for training and deployment of the workers needed to successfully implement the new testing measures.
Finally, the foundation sets out a list of actions that would help combat the added crisis of misinformation that is plaguing efforts to bring an end to his pandemic. It recommends things like regularly scheduled press conferences with top scientific advisers, social media campaigns, and finding ways to shut down inaccurate information.
“Like all new disease outbreaks, scientific understanding of COVID-19 is evolving, public health advice changes as more is learned, and misinformation (unintentional or malicious) endangers students and teachers alike,” said Dr. Jonathan Quick, managing director of pandemic response, preparedness, and prevention at the Rockefeller Foundation. “Clear, coordinated, and consistent communication at all levels is vital.”