CDC Endorses Testing Over Quarantine For Kids Exposed To Covid At School

by Kristina Johnson

The CDC says “test-to-stay” could prevent pandemic learning loss

Seeing an email, phone call, or Class Dojo message pop up from your kid’s school is always a little nerve-wracking — assuming that like me, your first thought is generally OH MY GOD WHAT’S WRONG?! That’s even more true during the pandemic that just won’t seem to end, when way too many of those messages are alerting moms and dads about positive cases, Covid exposure, and quarantine requirements. Kids all over the country have missed a lot of school thanks to quarantine, but the CDC is now saying there’s a better way to handle things.

Instead of sitting at home, waiting to see whether an exposure will turn into a positive case and missing out on valuable instruction time, the CDC endorsed the so-called “test-to-stay” strategy on Friday. Instead of automatically being sent home for remote learning, kids who are exposed to positive cases can stay in school — as long as they regularly test negative for the virus (which translates to at least twice in the week following an exposure, according the Washington Post).

The new recommendation is backed up by two separate studies, one of which looked at schools in Los Angeles and the other in Lake County, Illinois. The Lake County study followed 250 positives cases among students in the first few months of the school year, which resulted in more than 1,000 close contacts being exposed to the virus. The vast majority of those exposed students were eligible for the test-to-stay program, which eventually turned up just 16 more cases, per CBS News. Without testing, literally hundreds of students would have been stuck at home unnecessarily.

“These studies demonstrate that test-to-stay works to keep unvaccinated children in school safely,” CDC Director Rachelle Walensky said, per the Post. “Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to help keep kids in school.”

As one doctor pointed out on Twitter, however, the test-to-stay policy only works if schools and students have enough tests to go round, and qualified health professionals to administer them. The demand for tests has been rising, and with the winter settling — not to mention Omicron surging — in they could be increasingly harder to come by. Walensky said the CDC would do its best to help schools manage.

Every week since the school year began has seen at least 100,000 cases among kids, and the week between 12/2 and 12/9 saw an almost 25% increase in positives over the previous week. But with test-to-stay may not yet feasible in all school districts — getting your child vaccinated remains the best way to keep them safe, keep them in class, and give yourself some peace of mind the next time you get one of the inevitable Covid alerts from school.