The White House announced on Wednesday that the administration is making a dedicated stream of 5 million rapid tests and 5 million laboratory PCR tests available to schools starting this month to alleviate supply shortages and promote reopening in safe schools. This is in addition to the more than $ 10 billion spent on school-based testing allowed in the COVID-19 relief law and the roughly $ 130 billion set aside in that law to keep children in school.
The new initiative comes as the White House faces mounting criticism of long lines and shortages of test supplies and after the nation’s third-largest public school system in Chicago was shut down for days after a standoff between teachers and officials over reopening policies. The closure has been a black eye for Biden, who has made reopening schools – and keeping them open – a priority.
“We have been very clear, publicly and privately, that we want to see schools open,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. She cited the massive funding of schools as proof that the administration was making sure that “we were prepared and had the resources to deal with anything that might arise during the pandemic.”
The new round of tests is enough to cover only a small fraction of the more than 50 million students and educators in schools nationwide. The administration hopes the testing will fill critical gaps in schools that are struggling to get tests with existing federal funding or are facing outbreaks of the more transmissible COVID-19 variant.
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The White House says states will be able to request the tests immediately and that the tests will be available for use by the end of the month.
The administration is also working to target other federally-backed testing sites to support school testing programs, including locating Federal Emergency Management Agency sites in schools.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to issue new guidelines later this week to help schools implement “test-to-stay” policies, in which schools use rapid tests to keep close contact with those who test positive in class.
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