While vaccinations continue to help put the worst of COVID-19 behind us, that does not mean that public health measures can relax yet. The critical vaccination threshold for herd immunity, 70%, has not yet been reached in the United States, which means that infected people can still spread the virus. This group of people who can become infected creates space for new variants to emerge, with increasing transmissibility and even the possibility of eluding the protection offered by current vaccines. Worse, this type of coronavirus is too new for us to know whether the protection offered by previous infection or vaccines is lifelong or requires periodic boosting. Because of these realities, COVID-19 testing remains an important public health measure, and schools are a particularly important site for that testing.
As vaccination rates rise for adults, mitigation strategies such as masking, distancing, and limitations on indoor activities are becoming less prevalent, which increases the transmission risk for unvaccinated people. With children under 12 not yet eligible for vaccination, schools are particularly dense with those who cannot yet be vaccinated. This is raising the profile of schools as sites of disease transmission. Children are proving to be vulnerable to new and old variants of concern (VOCs), with 98% of cases identified at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) between November 2020 and April 2021 being the B.1.429/B.1.427 “California” variant.
3 reasons we need to test in K-12 schools
- With children under 12 not yet eligible for vaccination, schools are particularly dense with those who cannot yet be vaccinated.
- The delta variant seems to be predominant among young people.
- Children are proving vulnerable to “long COVID,” or persistent health effects and debilitation following recovery from COVID-19.
Perhaps most distressingly, children are proving vulnerable to “long COVID,” or persistent health effects and debilitation following recovery from COVID-19. The best way to keep children from experiencing “long COVID” is to keep them from getting infected in the first place, and the best way to keep children from getting infected is to limit their exposure to contagious people through testing and quarantining. Testing in K-12 schools is supported by government funds to help limit costs, is less invasive than traditional long-swab tests, and is the most effective way to monitor the spread and prevalence of COVID-19. Preventing COVID-19 from appearing in a school’s population is an even greater concern as more transmissible variants continue to replace earlier, less transmissible versions of coronavirus.
“Schools are now a major point of concern as centers for COVID-19 transmission, particularly with the new variants. Testing provides a critical early warning system and should be considered an essential part of every school’s prevention strategy.”
– Manoj Gandhi, Senior Medical Director, Genetic Testing Division, Thermo Fisher Scientific
As Governor J. B. Pritzker of Illinois noted when interviewed on this topic, “What I’m concerned about is that we don’t yet have a vaccine for kids under 12 years old, and the delta variant seems to have been predominant among people who are unvaccinated.” He continues, “And so those kids are who I’m focused on. 25% of the cases I’ve now read, of the new cases of COVID, are coming from that age group, under 12, and so we’re keeping a close eye on it.” This latter worry has already come true in the UK, where young people test positive for SARS-CoV-2 at five times the rate of older people and the highly transmissible delta variant is already especially prevalent in that age group.
For all of these reasons, it is important to maintain rigorous and frequent coronavirus testing programs in community settings, and schools may prove to be among the most important sites for regular testing. By identifying infected people in this vulnerable population, testing enables schools to remain open and focus on educating our youth.
Comprehensive K-12 coronavirus testing can be quickly implemented with the Thermo Fisher Scientific ReadyCheckGo testing program. With pooled sampling to keep costs more efficient, swabbing done quickly by students themselves, and prepaid return shipping to the testing facility, this program is designed to make in-school coronavirus testing an easy reality for students, educators and parents alike. Learn more about our ReadyCheckGo program, click here or watch our instructional video.