A study funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by a team of researchers from the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University took a good look at how testing rates are affecting the impact of COVID-19 around the country, looking to find the optimal screening strategy to make serious reductions to transmission. They looked most specifically at high-transmission events, like the recent surge of school reopening.
What they found was not encouraging.
Currently, according to their report, the United States has access to about 21 million COVID-19 tests a month, spread across the entire country. Those tests are, as of September, finding over 30,000 new positive cases per day. But we know that many, many positive cases with few or no symptoms are slipping through the cracks, untested and undetected but still infectious.
Currently, very few K-12 schools have any manner of COVID testing regimen in place at all. Using every test available in the nation would screen fewer than half the students just once a month, making it difficult or impossible to spot early outbreaks before entire schools are exposed.
According to the Rockefeller study, 176 million COVID-19 tests per month would approach a “safe” amount of testing in public K-12 schools. With 55 million students and 3.8 million teachers, that’s approximately three tests a month for everyone. If community compliance with masks, social distancing, and other anti-spread measures were significantly better, the report also reads, that could be dropped to a single test a month.
“The goal is to give schools, businesses, and other critical institutions a pathway toward operating safely even for higher-risk populations and with continuing community spread,” the report reads. “It is critical that schools reopen for a more complete learning experience as well as social supports for many children and enable many parents to return to regular work.”
So, when are our schools going to get those 176 million COVID-19 tests they need?