The Biden administration is advocating for a “test-to-stay” policy in schools, aiming to reduce the number of absences and quarantines among students exposed to COVID-19.
The strategy, announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday, will permit close contacts of those with confirmed COVID-19 to stay in classrooms if they test negative at least twice in the week after interacting with an infected person.
“If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test negative, they can stay in school, instead of quarantining at home,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing.
The CDC cited two studies showing decreased absences in schools that implemented test-to-stay policies. Research involving 90 Lake County, Ill., schools predicted that the strategy eliminated more than 8,000 missed school days. In Los Angeles County schools, test-to-stay protocol prevented about 92,000 absences.
“These studies demonstrate that test-to-stay works to keep unvaccinated children in school safely,” Walensky said.
Schools in both studies required masks, monitored those who tested positive for symptoms and conducted regular testing among close contacts.
Walensky noted that the test-to-stay strategy operates as an additional protection for children, while encouraging parents to get all children ages 5 and older vaccinated for the best protection.
The policy comes as several schools across the country are going virtual again ahead of holiday breaks amid spikes in cases, sparking concerns that students might have to undergo remote learning again and risk falling behind academically.
The country is also bracing for a wave caused by the omicron variant that scientists expect to overtake the delta strain in the coming weeks.
With the vaccine only recently becoming available to children ages 5 to 11, schools are likely to have a high concentration of unvaccinated attendees.
Almost 7.2 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with children making up 17.2 percent of all cases as of Monday, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
While COVID-19 is generally less severe in children, thousands of children have been hospitalized, and hundreds have died from the virus.
As of last week, 18 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds and 61 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated.