The two largest school districts in the United States are rolling out ambitious and costly plans to test students and staff for the novel coronavirus, bidding to help keep school buildings open amid a rise in infections among the nation’s school-age children.
New York City is set to begin testing 10-20 percent of students and staff in every building once a month starting Thursday, the same day the final wave of the district’s more than one million students began returning to brick-and-mortar classrooms for the first time in six months.
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“Every single school will have testing. It will be done every single month. It will be rigorous,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in announcing the plan as part of an agreement with the teachers union to avert a strike. At least 79 Department of Education employees have died from the virus.
With an estimated 100,000-120,000 tests expected every month, each costing between $78 and $90, New York City’s school-based testing plan goes well beyond safety protocols seen in most other districts.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a similarly comprehensive, $150m testing programme to help determine when it will be safe to resume in-person instruction. The district began the school year remotely in August for all 600,000 students.
The New York and Los Angeles systems are respectively the nation’s largest and second-largest school districts.
Leaders in both cities say regular testing is needed in districts of their size and in areas of the country that previously witnessed unnerving surges of the virus.
The coronavirus struck hard at the elderly early in the pandemic and is now increasingly infecting American children and teens in a trend authorities say appears to be fueled by school reopenings and other activities.
Children of all ages now make up 10 percent of the 7.2 million cases in the US, up from 2 percent of the country’s total infections in April, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many returned to classrooms.
Its recommendations emphasise physical distancing, cleaning and face coverings for most reopening plans – though no requirement for universal testing of students and staff.