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COVID Testing

Students are required to participate in COVID testing. City Schools has three free, convenient, and effective in-school testing programs to monitor and respond to coronavirus infections and help keep school communities safe. 

- Diagnostic tests for staff and eligible students with symptoms
- Screening tests for staff and eligible students without symptoms
- Testing for individuals exposed to COVID (close contacts)

Important: Parents/guardians must complete and return a consent form for all students.

Download the consent form, and submit it to your school. (English l Spanish)

Note: Please complete this form and email it to your student's school principal or Health and Safety Coordinator or print it out and submit it to the front office. 

Diagnostic tests

If a staff member or student starts to feel sick at school with symptoms* that may mean a COVID infection, trained school staff will do a test. Staff or students with symptoms will receive a rapid antigen test that involves swiping a small swab (like a Q-tip) just inside the nose. Results take about 15 minutes. If it’s positive, the student/staff member will be sent home to isolate for at least five days. See Quarantine and Isolation Guidance for more details. 

* Symptoms that prompt an in-school test for COVID include fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), chills, or shaking chills, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, new loss of taste or smell, muscle aches or body aches, cough (not due to other known cause, such as chronic cough), sore throat (when in combination with other symptoms), nausea, vomiting (when in combination with other symptoms), Headache (when in combination with other symptoms), fatigue (when in combination with other symptoms), nasal congestion or runny nose (not due to other known causes, such as allergies & when in combination with other symptoms). Please note that the parent/guardian of a student with these symptoms will be contacted to pick up their child.

Screening tests

These in-school tests are designed to find infections early, before symptoms develop. This is key to reducing infection for everyone, including students and staff but also their families and others in our community.

City Schools will provide screening testing approximately every other week during the 2022- 2023 school year. 

City Schools requires all students (unvaccinated and vaccinated) to participate in testing, either at no cost in school or by arranging access to your own testing in line with City Schools policies. Note that anyone who has had COVID in the past 90 days does not take part in screening tests. This is because traces of infection can linger, giving a positive PCR test result after the person has recovered and isn't contagious. 

Also, as with diagnostic tests, only students whose parents/guardians have agreed to testing on the consent form are eligible to participate in free, in-school screening tests. (Note that students whose parents/guardians have not agreed to in-school testing must continue to provide documentation of screening tests at home.)

Download, complete, and return the consent form to your school: English | Spanish

In elementary and elementary/middle schools, screening is done with “pool” testing. Groups of staff and eligible students in classroom pods swipe the inside edges of their own noses with short swabs. The samples collected on the swabs for each group are tested together, with results available in about 24 hours. A negative pool test means that no one in the group has coronavirus infection; a positive test means that at least one member of the group has COVID. 

When there is a positive result from a pool test, everyone in the group is tested individually with a rapid antigen test. Anyone who tests positive must isolate at home for at least five days. 

If a pool comes back positive, the whole class will be asked to mask for 10 days following the positive pool tests. 

In middle, middle/high, and high schools, each staff member and eligible student provides a weekly saliva (spit) sample for PCR testing. Results are available in about 24 hours. Anyone who tests positive must isolate at home for at least five days. Individuals who have been identified as close contacts should wear a mask for ten days.

Watch how the screening tests work

Watch the video

Elementary School

Nasal swipe

Watch the video

Middle and High School

Spit test

Watch the video

Middle and High School (in Spanish)

Spit test

Testing for individuals exposed to COVID

Based on the most up-to-date guidance from federal, state, and local health authorities, students or staff who have had close contact with a COVID-positive person will no longer have to miss important time in school. 

Students and staff staff will receive an in-school rapid antigen tests if they are part of a pool that tests positive or if they believe they have been exposed to COVID inside or outside of school. Anyone who tests negative can stay in school. 

Testing for exposed individuals is now available for  ALL COVID exposures, inside and outside of school. If you believe that your student was exposed to COVID, simply call your school and request "test to stay" testing at your school. Your child will be provided with in-school or take-home rapid tests so they can remain in school. Please note, your child will be required to mask for 10 days after exposure. 

* A student is a close contact if they have been within three feet of a person with COVID for 15 minutes or more. An adult is a close contact if they have been within six feet of a person with COVID for 15 minutes or more.

FAQs about COVID testing at City Schools

Browse below to find more detail about COVID testing requirements and practices, as well as recent updates to in-school testing. Can’t find the answer to your specific question? Email

Who has to be tested for COVID?

All students must take part in screening testing and take a COVID test if they are a known close contact of someone who is COVID positive. City Schools also provides tests free at school for anyone who develops COVID symptoms during the school day.  

If you do not want your child to get tested at school, you can opt out. In this case, you will be required to get COVID testing for your child in line with City Schools’ policies and submit proof of testing to your school. If you do not do so, your child can be excluded from school activities (like playing on sports teams). Keep in mind that if you opt out, you must arrange to get your child tested any time they have COVID symptoms or are a close contact of a confirmed COVID case. Also, they must get screening tests in line with their school's testing schedule. These COVID tests may be done by a medical provider or you may use at-home testing with a rapid test kit to meet the "opt-out" requirements. 

What if my child feels sick at home, and I think they might have COVID?

Please call your medical provider to ask about an appointment for a COVID test for your child or use an at-home testing kit. (These kits are available at many pharmacies and are given out free at libraries and other community locations at scheduled times). You can also visit the City of Baltimore’s website to find a location for COVID testing. 

Important: Do not send your child to school if he or she has symptoms. City Schools only provides in-school diagnostic testing if symptoms develop at school.

What if a staff member or student had COVID already? Do they need to take part in testing?

Individuals who have had a confirmed case of COVID do not take part in screening testing for 90 days. This is because traces of the virus can linger for that long and result in a positive test, even when the person has fully recovered and has no symptoms. 

However, they may access rapid testing if symptomatic or recently exposed to COVID. Rapid tests are more accurate at identifying new infections in those recently recovered from COVID. 

How often will my student be tested?

Screening testing (either in-school, or through backpacking home at-home tests) will be offered about once every other week.  (This may change in future based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and conditions in the community, and availability of federal funding for our testing program) 

City Schools also tests students if they have COVID symptoms in school. Finally, students can get a rapid test if they are a close contact of someone with COVID (and their parent/guardian has agreed to in-school testing on the consent form). If the test is negative, they can stay in school. 

Can parents accompany their students during the testing?

Parents may request to visit school to observe COVID testing, but given testing occurs often parents cannot always be with their children during in-school COVID testing. 

Please be assured that the tests don’t hurt, and students as young as pre-k can do the nose-swiping themselves. School staff will help make sure that testing is fast, gentle, and done in a positive environment for all children. 

For diagnostic testing of students with symptoms, school staff will call parents/guardians to pick up their child promptly after the test.

How long does it take to get results from in-school tests?

For elementary and elementary/middle school staff who take part in screening, pool results are usually available 24 to 48 hours after the test. If a pool is positive, all members of the positive pool take a rapid antigen test, and those results are available in about 15 minutes. families are notified. 

For middle, middle/high, and high school students and staff, results from the saliva-based screening tests are usually available in 24 hours. Families can check for students’ test results by following these directions

Results from the rapid antigen tests are available in about 15 minutes.

What happens when test results come in?

Individuals tested in school because of COVID symptoms (diagnostic testing)
If someone tests positive, the student or staff member must isolate at home for at least five days and should contact a medical provider about treating symptoms as needed. 

If someone tests negative, he/she can return to school once feeling better. 

Elementary and elementary/middle schoolsFor screening tests, if a pool tests positive, all students in that pool will take a rapid antigen test performed by the health and safety coordinator

Students who have positive results from the rapid tests will isolate immediately in the wellness room, and families will be notified to pick up their child. The school will also send out notification of a positive case to the school community. City Schools also notifies the Baltimore City Health Department, and the school will cooperate in contact tracing.

Students who test negative for COVID remain in school for the regular day but will be required to mask. 

Middle, middle/high, and high schools
Students who test positive through the individual saliva-based test go immediately to the wellness room, and their parent/guardian is notified to pick the student up from school. City Schools will notify the school community and the Baltimore City Health Department. Those who may have been exposed will be offered a rapid test and will be required to mask for 10 days following exposure. 

Besides identifying cases of COVID, are the results of in-school tests shared or used in other ways?

Results are shared with City Schools, students’ parents/guardians, test providers, the Maryland Department of Health, the Baltimore City Health Department, and CRISP (Maryland Health Information Exchange), but only for public health purposes (such as contact tracing and taking other steps to prevent the further spread of COVID in your school community).

Test providers currently include the Baltimore City Health Department, Maryland Department of Health, Mako Medical, and the Maryland State Department of Education (symptomatic testing); ShieldT3 (saliva-based PCR testing); Abbott BinaxNOW (rapid antigen tests); iHealth COVID Rapid Test, Flowflex COVID Antigen Home Test, and Concentric by Ginkgo (pool and rapid testing). 

Any changes to test providers will be shared with parents and posted on this website. 

Results are used in accordance with all applicable laws, Board of School Commissioners policies, and City Schools regulations protecting student privacy and the security of your child’s data. Information that may be shared includes your child’s name and test results, date of birth or age, demographic data, school or program participation, classroom/cohort/pod, enrollment and attendance, parent/guardian names, address, telephone, mobile number, and email address.

While no medical experimental research will be conducted using test samples, City Schools and its contractors monitor aspects of the virus that causes COVID (e.g., tracking viral mutations by sequencing viruses and microbes in samples collected through the in-school testing program) for epidemiological and public health purposes. City Schools also is collaborating with local universities, including Morgan State University, University of Maryland, and Johns Hopkins University, on an initiative to figure out which public health strategies are most effective. For example, the initiative may use data from the testing program to look at the effect of changes to how often we test or the use of rapid tests in addition to PCR tests. 

What if my child cannot be tested due to their documented disability?

Staff will work with parents to ensure that students with disabilities are prepared for testing and that tests are done in ways that are sensitive to their needs. If your child has a documented disability and you are concerned that testing would impair your child’s mental or physical health due to that disability, please contact your child’s school to discuss how to proceed. 

What happens if my student is anxious and does not want to take the tests?

From our experience of the past two years, we know that students generally find the tests easy and comfortable.  If your child is nervous or anxious, staff will do their best to provide support and encourage her or him to complete the test, but we may need to skip your child on that particular day. Please talk with your children about testing and let them know that the school needs to make sure they are healthy. Remind children that the test doesn’t hurt, is quick, safe, and gentle, and keeps them safe.

Do students who play on school athletic teams have to take part in screening tests?

Yes, all student-athletes must participate in our "test to play" program. The policies around testing, isolation and quarantine mirror the policies laid out for all students. Student-athletes must follow the testing and isolation guidance outlined on this website in order to remain eligible to play. 

How many students are in a pool for pool testing?

Pools range from 5 to 10 individuals (when possible). 

Why do students have to get individual follow-up tests if they’re in a positive testing pool?

Pooled testing is anonymous: Each student in the learning pod submits a sample, but the samples are tested together and not tracked back to the specific student. If any of the samples from a pool indicate a potential positive COVID case, individual tests are required to determine who in the pod is positive.

Why not just give everyone an individual test? 

Pooled testing is an efficient way to test for COVID in groups even if no one has symptoms. It significantly cuts down on the time needed to test large groups of students and staff, while enabling the district to offer PCR testing regularly and minimize disruption to teaching and learning. This means we get early warning that COVID may be present in a learning pod or classroom and that further testing is needed.

Related pages

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Quarantine Requirements

for COVID-19 Cases

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Health and Safety Procedures

COVID-19 rules for students and staff

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