It’s the time of year that all parents traditionally look forward to and all children dread: back-to-school season. Of course, as children go back to school in states across the country, this coming fall is shaping up to be drastically different from years’ past again as the pandemic evolves to the endemic.
As a result of the COVID-19 health crisis, many students started the last school year learning virtually. By springtime, progress with vaccination campaigns led to hope that we might see a COVID-free school year after summer’s end. However, the rise of new coronavirus variants, the vaccine not available to children under 12 and COVID cases and asymptomatic transmission still present a significant risk for students, faculty and their families. Fortunately, advancements in testing mean that virtual learning can possibly remain a thing of the past; however, there are several important factors to consider in order to get students and teachers back to school safely.
Testing and digital passes that prove vaccination status represent a critical aspect of most return-to-school approaches. For example, a recent analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that regular, strategic COVID-19 testing led to more than a dozen Utah high schools saving over 100,000 days of in-person learning and likely helped reduce spread of the virus.
But testing poses its own set of challenges. It can be expensive, sometimes costing $200 or more per test. Testing can also be hard to find, hard to get without a referral, and above all, suffer from delays in receiving results that can exceed the dormancy period of the virus, rending them moot. As school districts consider testing strategies to help bring classroom and sports activities back this fall, there are a few key components that are critical to confirm testing is done in a way that prioritizes safety without draining resources or being unnecessarily burdensome.
- Scalability. Testing must be able to account for every student and every employee in your district, no matter how big or small the district is. Schools must consider the breadth of services needed and ensure that any testing program can be scaled to accommodate the maximum number of tests needed each testing period.
- Comprehensive Testing. There are a wide array of testing options for your school to consider in determining what’s right for you, including both rapid COVID-19 PCR antibody and antigen tests, as well as the lengthier PCR testing. Testing should be independently managed by properly licensed professionals.
- Rapid Testing. Comprehensive testing on its own doesn’t work without speed. The testing needs to take place in real time, with results provided within minutes, before your employee or student gains access to a facility or sporting event. And it needs to be repeated frequently – at least on a weekly basis.
- Project Management. Your operation is most likely not staffed with the specialized professionals you will need for secure testing, solution design and installation, project management, and logistics. However, the right partner can provide you with project management specialists to help you manage the logistics, installation and assurance of support and test kit supplies.
- Cost. Testing must be set up with simple pricing in mind, and often times can help meet government funding requirements, such as the CARES Act and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
The country again finds itself at a critical juncture. As students, teachers and staff return to schools and resume fall sports, having the right testing strategy in place is critical. It’s why Unisys, as part of its relationship with Inspire Health Alliance, is proud to offer U-Pass™, a comprehensive COVID-19 testing and digital management solution that can help any public or private operation control who can access their environment, while also supporting regulatory compliance and patient privacy. Launched in 2020, Inspire and Unisys brought one of the earliest testing services to market, and are already working with more than 120 high schools in California and more than 500 schools nationwide. Inspire and Unisys recently announced a testing program with the Georgia Federation of Teachers to make self-administered COVID-19 tests available to 75,000 public education employees at zero out-of-pocket cost.
A comprehensive testing program can allow schools to resume school and sports activities with minimal disruption. This not only gives faculty, staff, students and their parents’ peace-of-mind knowing that entire teams, students and staff are being tested regularly, but it makes everyone safer, while protecting privacy and confidentiality.