The California Department of Public Health, through a partnership with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks, is providing a free, fully staffed COVID-19 pooled testing program to all K-12 public schools in the state.
With the delta variant causing case numbers to rise, this tool to safeguard staff and students as they return to full, in-person instruction in fall has already been used by more than 1,000 schools throughout 18 states.
Along with other mitigation strategies, the administration of regular, asymptomatic testing can help to prevent classrooms from having to close by giving school leaders the information needed to stop the unchecked spread of COVID-19.
The testing program is meant to be easy for schools and includes on-site clinical support on test days and administrative support; regular testing that works with your school schedule; courier logistics and lab processing through labs in California; and fun educational content for students.
With a mission of testing every student at every school, “we’re using pooled testing to make testing accessible for every school. Our program is seamless and easy; if a student can pick their nose, they can take this test,” the Concentric website states.
The starting point is obviously signing up for the service. Individual schools or entire districts can do this. Next up is communicating the plan within the school community:
“Build support and participation by listening, responding, and adapting to the concerns of families. You’ll need to gather consents so students can participate. Use your program to empower your school to become advocates of community wellbeing,” Concentric says.
The third step is ordering and receiving supplies from Concentric before throwing a “pool party.” An entire classroom can be tested in just minutes as students and staff swab each of their nostrils four times before placing the swab in a tube (the pooling step). Twenty-five swabs can be pooled per tube.
Once tests are registered and shipped, samples are tested within 48 hours of them being received. Schools can decide how to share results with those involved. “A positive pooled test result helps you stop or mitigate potential outbreaks — powerful information that enables you to act and protect your community,” Concentric states.
Follow-up testing is the final component. “When a positive pooled test result occurs, a pod can use diagnostic tests to help confirm who is sick. The decision to do follow-up testing is up to each school,” Concentric says. “We can also provide access to these diagnostic tests and all of the necessary logistical support.”
There are a few ways local educational agencies can prepare now to get ready for testing in the weeks ahead, the first being learning more about this program by visiting www.concentricbyginkgo.com.
Interested parties can also set up a time to connect one-on-one with Concentric team who is managing the program in close coordination with CDPH by visiting www.concentricbyginkgo.com/schedule/.