CDC Unveils 'Test-to-Stay' COVID-19 School Strategy to Limit Quarantines


Children in the United States will be able to avoid potentially millions of hours of at-home quarantining under a testing program unveiled by the CDC today.

kids sitting in a classroom with hands raised

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Schools should use testing to ensure that children do not have to miss days because of having to be quarantined after exposure to COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this afternoon. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a White House briefing this afternoon that the program, called test-to-stay, “allows unvaccinated children to stay in school even if they’ve been exposed to the virus.”

Walensky cited 2 studies published today in the CDC’s Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report that demonstrate how well the program worked in Los Angeles and Lake County, Ill. In the program, children that who’ve been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 can stay in school if they test negative twice within 7 days after exposure. The Los Angeles study compared 1635 schools that did not use test-to-stay to 432 that did use the program. “Non-TTS [test-to-stay] districts lost an estimated 92,455 in-person school days during September 20–October 31 while students were in quarantine,” the study states. Meanwhile in the schools that did use test-to-stay “no in-person school days were lost…,” the study states.

The study about Lake County states that “implementation of TTS in coordination with other concurrent prevention strategies, including masking and physical distancing, allowed transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to remain low among K–12 schools in Lake County, Illinois, and saved up to 8,152 in-person learning days. Although vaccination remains the leading public health recommendation to protect against COVID-19 for those aged ≥5 years, schools might consider TTS as an option for allowing close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to remain in the classroom as an alternative to home quarantine.”

Walensky said that “these studies demonstrate that test-to-stay works to keep unvaccinated students in school safely.”

Walensky noted that in order for test-to-stay to work, “key prevention measures” need to be included.

“In both studies, masks were worn consistently and correctly,” Walensky said. “Close contacts of positive cases were monitored for symptoms and stayed home if they became ill.”

Walensky added that the CDC will be offering information to both schools and parents on how best to implement the test-to-stay program.

At the briefing, Walensky also urged parents to get their children vaccinated. “We now have experience vaccinating children under the age of 17 and over 5 million of whom are under the age of 11,” Walensky said. “Looking specifically at vaccine safety data of over 50,000 children 5 to 11 years old, we found no evidence of serious safety concerns. The most common reported side effects include pain at the injection site, fever, tiredness and headaches and muscle aches, which we know are normal and are signs that the body is building immunity to the virus.”

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