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COVID Testing Program Expands Learning Time and Serves as National Model

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Weekly Tests Kept Students in Classrooms and Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning reiterated what we’ve long known: it’s absolutely crucial to ensure students can access high-quality learning time while staying safe and healthy. Over the last year, we developed a robust testing system that not only returned and kept as many students as possible in the classroom but became a national model for school district COVID testing. 

City Schools identified early in the pandemic that COVID testing is a key to students learning safely and in person. So we got to work. We leveraged partnerships with the Baltimore City Health Department, the University of Maryland Medical System, and the Rockefeller Foundation to test as many students as possible. City Schools also partnered with two COVID-19 testing vendors to conduct PCR screen testing, Concentric by Ginkgo and Shield T3. The result: every student learning in-person in Baltimore City Public Schools was tested every week for COVID-19 during last semester

The impact was clear - and significant. Through the end of the 2020-21 school year, City Schools’ testing, tracing, and isolation program contributed to a steady decline in positive cases in City Schools. 
Thanks to its high frequency, wide reach, and efficiency, the program has allowed students and staff to comfortably learn and teach in person. 

And other public school districts are modeling our aggressive testing program as they improve their own. 

With limited access to tests early in the pandemic, City Schools conducted pod-testing, where a sample of students in a small group was examined for COVID rather than examining individual tests. While this allowed for more efficient use of lab and testing resources, the downside was that if one student tested positive all the students in the pod would quarantine for 14 days. Going forward into the 2021-2022 school year, City Schools will partner with the Baltimore City Health Department to individually test each student in a pod where a positive test is detected so that the specific student with COVID-19 can be identified. Then, only the individual student who is COVID-19 positive and their close contacts will need to quarantine. 

Students use nasal swabs and saliva testing; testing all the students in a classroom takes only a few minutes and our trained health professionals in every school guide the students. In addition, schools will be conducting immediate testing of symptomatic students using Binax testing. 

Thanks to the teams from the Baltimore City Health Department that will quickly get to schools in the event of a positive test, all students and staff in a school will be immediately tested when there is a  positive test at a school, thereby reducing the spread of COVID. All told, this approach means more students will be in school and learning. 

As conditions around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to change, our testing program remains efficient, effective, and safe.

More information about Baltimore City Public Schools COVID-19 testing program

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