As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surges, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday it will provide schools with 10 million tests every month to help them stay open.
Educators, working in schools with significant staff shortages resulting from the surge, welcomed the announcement.
“We applaud the Biden administration for heeding the call of educators across the nation to center our school communities in the pandemic response strategy and providing even more resources to keep our students, educators, and all their families safe,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “The National Education Association is already mobilizing its members and leaders to work with schools as well as state and local governments to take advantage of the new testing resources.”
The administration will distribute five million free rapid tests and five million free PCR tests to schools each month, according to an administration fact sheet.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up "surge" testing sites in communities with high transmission while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will work with the US Education Department to connect school districts with testing providers in their states.
Students need to be in their classrooms, said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and the announcement shows the administration’s commitment to helping schools stay open.
Many schools have switched to remote learning as Omicron has led to spikes in infection and left schools with too few staff to hold classes.
“Omicron has brought a wave of cases to our school communities, and this increase in testing capacity will go a long way in slowing the spread and keeping our students and educators healthy,” Pringle said.
Still, she added, it is paramount that states use available American Rescue Plan funds for all the safety measures we know work, the personnel needed to implement them, and for paid leave when staff is required to isolate and quarantine.
“We must continue to focus on a layered strategy of vaccinations and boosters, masks, proper ventilation, and testing policies to save lives and help ensure the well-being of students and educators as they continue to safely learn and work in person together.”