WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is directing $10 billion from the recently passed stimulus package toward increased Covid-19 testing in schools, as the White House grapples with the difficult task of getting the nation's school children back into classrooms.
The funding will go out in April and be awarded directly to states, the administration said Wednesday. Because the funding will be allocated proportionally, large states such as California and Texas will receive more than $800 million each, the administration said.
The administration is also designating $2.25 billion for Covid-19 testing to address health disparities among underserved populations and a $150 million to help get Covid treatments to underserved communities.
The testing funds are the latest efforts by the Biden administration to push schools to reopen.
This month, President Joe Biden directed states to prioritize teachers for vaccinations, and all states now include teachers as a priority group. The administration also allocated $650 million this month for testing in K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings, like homeless shelters.
The administration is encouraging schools to use the testing to help identify symptomatic and asymptomatic students, and to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments to set up those programs.
"We know that school districts want to reopen, but up to this point, many lack the resources to set up Covid screening programs for students, teachers and staff to help keep Covid out of our schools," said Carole Johnson, the White House COVID-19 testing coordinator. "Today that all changes."
“Covid-19 testing is critical to saving lives and restoring economic activity,” acting Health and Human Services Secretary Norris Cochran said in a statement. “As part of the Biden Administration’s National Strategy, HHS will continue to expand our capacity to get testing to the individuals and the places that need it most, so we can prevent transmission of the virus and defeat the pandemic.”
Even with a growing number of teachers vaccinated, testing will remain crucial because younger students may not be eligible to get the vaccine until early next year while vaccine makers wait for expanded safety trials.
Educators have been pushing for expanded testing in schools, particularly with less expensive, rapid tests for asymptomatic students. Currently, schools are required to get a waiver before using a rapid test on a student not displaying symptoms. Administration. Johnson said the administration is continuing to work on that process.
"Today's announcement is another step forward to use frequent rapid testing as a way to make our schools and communities safer," said Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Screening programs for asymptomatic individuals can stop outbreaks before they start when testing is conducted multiple times per week with rapid results."