CDC releases new school guidance, does not recommended universal COVID-19 testing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on June 30 released new guidance, “Interim Considerations for K-12 School Administrators for SARS-CoV-2 Testing.” The document notes that testing for COVID-19, along with symptom screening and contact tracing, are effective strategies to mitigate the spread of the virus. “Schools should determine, in collaboration with state, tribal, territorial, and local health officials … whether to implement any testing strategy, and if so, how to best do so,” the document reads.

The guidance, however, recognizes that most schools will not have the resources or expertise to use testing as a mitigation strategy, and the CDC does not recommend universal testing of students and staff.

While schools play a role in identifying students, faculty and staff who have COVID-19 symptoms or who have had recent known or potential exposure to the virus, the document says that school staff, in most cases, are not expected to directly administer COVID-19 tests. The guidance cites that tests may be administered by school nurses or other qualified individuals in schools that provide on-site health clinics, noting that not every school with a health clinic will have the resources to test for the virus and not are obligated to do so. It is recommended that health clinic staff help connect students, their families and staff to other opportunities for testing in their community.

Reinforcing state guidance, the document recommends that schools screen students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms as they school grounds. Such screenings include temperature checks and asking questions related to COVID-19 symptoms. The screenings should be conducted safely and respectfully, in accordance with any applicable privacy laws and regulations, and with the awareness that they will not identify asymptomatic individuals.

The guidance goes on to address procedures that should be enacted when an individual with COVID-19 symptoms is identified:

  • Schools should immediately separate students and staff with COVID-19 symptoms at school by identifying an isolation room or area.
  • Individuals who are sick should go home or to a healthcare facility, depending on how severe their symptoms are, and they or their caregivers (in the case of minors) should follow CDC guidance for caring for oneself.

Procedures if a student or staff member test positive for COVID-19

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the following procedures should be adhered to as quickly as possible:

  • Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of the virus, it is important that contacts of students or staff with COVID-19 be quickly identified and tested. This is particularly vital for protecting people who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Additionally, in accordance with state, tribal, territorial, and local laws and regulations, school administrators should work with local health officials to inform those who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms.
  • Healthcare providers or health officials will determine when viral testing of asymptomatic students or staff for COVID-19 is appropriate.