Reports show how journalists can cover school-based COVID-19 testing

Reports Show How Journalists Can Cover School-based Covid-19 Testing




Burbio, a firm that gathers and publishes data on school closings and other community events, created the K-12 School Opening Tracker.

Based on local media reports and website audits, the map depicts where schools are closed. Longer closings are indicated by larger circles. With permission, this article has been reprinted.

Staying rid of COVID-19 infections has become a struggle for teachers and kids across the country now that schools have reopened, raising doubts among journalists about whether schools can implement the lessons acquired last year.

COVID infections forced more than 1,400 in-person schools to close (an increase from 698 the week before) in 278 districts (an increase from 158 the week before) in 35 states, according to Burbio, a company that collects and reports data on school closures from 1,200 U.S. districts, including the 200 largest (up from 25 the week previous).

According to Yoree Koh of The Wall Street Journal, “the shutdowns are hitting classrooms most hard in the Deep South, where most schools were among the first to begin, a possible foreshadowing of what’s to come as the rest of the nation’s pupils resume school this month.” Koh used Burbio data in her article.

According to Paul Flahive of Houston Public Media, schools in Texas have confirmed more than 50,000 coronavirus illnesses among children in just a few weeks. “As a result of the disease, more than a dozen school districts have temporarily closed, and Texas leads the nation in child mortality from COVID-19, with 59 as of Sept. 3,” he said.

Vaccinations, masks, social separation, and enhanced ventilation were among the best strategies to stop the spread of diseases last year, according to teachers, students, and school administrators. COVID testing is another excellent technique to prevent infections.

A report released in July by Mathematica, a health care consulting firm, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization, on school-based coronavirus testing received little attention. However, the lessons gathered from that report and another from the RAND Corporation may be useful to journalists in understanding how schools may employ testing to limit infections even while the Delta strain spreads rapidly.

“Delta has profoundly changed the game,” Mara Aspinall, a diagnostic testing expert at the foundation, told me. “Children had some limited immunity to the initial COVID strain last year, but with Delta, that cloak of invincibility appears to have vanished.”

Divya Vohra, an epidemiologist at Mathematica who was the lead author on the report Implementing Covid-19 Routine Testing in K-12 Schools: Lessons and Recommendations from Pilot Sites, said, “Testing can really pay off if schools can be provided with that kind of support, coordination, and guidance to make it happen.”

According to the findings, routine testing can considerably limit or prevent the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 infection among students. Pooled molecular testing using polymerase chain reaction and repeated antigen testing were the most effective in high-risk scenarios.

However, journalists should be aware that such testing can result in additional issues, posing a trade-off for teachers, parents, and school officials to consider. When test results reveal that any children are infected, they must be quarantined or sent home, which increases the amount of missed in-person school days, according to the article.

Furthermore, as Missouri schools discovered last year, COVID testing in schools is not only difficult, but also stressful for teachers, students, staff, and administrators. As Rachana Pradhan of Kaiser Health News reported last month, “Delta’s spread has engulfed communities in emotional battles over how to safely send children — who are mostly unvaccinated — back to classrooms, particularly in states like Missouri, bedeviled by a high aversion to mask mandates and low vaccination rates.” “As classes begin, schools must evaluate testing and other tactics to contain Covid’s spread — maybe without a large supply of test kits on hand.”

Patrick Wall, a reporter for NJ Spotlight News who covers education, noted in February that while testing can detect both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, it is pricey and logistically difficult.

According to the CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention, there may be legal and regulatory considerations with onsite school-based testing, such as who will prescribe, administer, and pay for such testing, as well as how the results would be reported. “The costs, difficulty, and viability of such programs for both schools and families must be balanced against the advantages of school-based testing,” the CDC stated.

What the research shows

Brianna Abbott of The Wall Street Journal observed in her coverage of the Mathematica and Rockefeller report that testing adds a layer of safety and can make staff and families feel more confident in returning to the school. “Such extensive, frequent testing enabled many schools and universities to remain open for the fall semester,” she continued.

From September 2020 to June 2021, Mathematica and the foundation worked together to implement the K–12 Testing Protocol Demonstration Project in 335 schools in six cities: Louisville, Ky., Los Angeles, New Orleans, Tulsa, Okla., the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island.

The percentage of children that participated in routine testing initiatives ranged from less than 1% to 68%. The research recommended that schools make testing as simple as possible for pupils in order to maximize participation.

  • collecting specimens in classrooms
  • making testing programs consistent, meaning who’s tested and how and how often they’re tested
  • having respected school and community leaders explain the value of routine testing
  • using a simple process for parents to provide informed consent (such as by making consent forms available electronically).

“Consistency is important because people are already scared and concerned about COVID testing, and change can erode trust,” said Vohra.

Apart from the lessons learned, the foundation and Mathematica have developed the Covid-19 K-12 School Testing Impact Estimator to help schools and public health authorities determine when and how often to test in various settings.

COVID-19 The RAND Corporation published Testing in K–12 Schools in March. The testing landscape as of December was documented in Insights from Early Adopters, which examined the benefits and costs of early adopters’ testing programs and offered recommendations for school administrators tasked with implementing testing programs. The authors also talked about some of the various school testing systems they came across, as well as the issues they ran into and the factors that contributed to their success.




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