Pennsylvania offers pooled COVID-19 testing in classrooms to mitigate spread

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania has unveiled a voluntary plan to test students for COVID-19 in schools.

The state is using $87 million in federal stimulus money to offer pooled classroom coronavirus testing to K-12 schools outside of Philadelphia.

Students who opt in would have a shallow swab of their noses, and a pool of all of a classroom’s samples would be tested. Within 24 to 48 hours, the pooled tests would show whether anyone in the classroom was positive, but it would not provide individual results.

“When there is a positive pool, the schools follow their local public health authorities on the follow-up testing,” said Dr. Karen Hogan of testing contractor Concentric by Gingko Bioworks. “So, they could conduct rapid antigen tests or individual PCR tests to identify who that person is.”

The program is described as “a simple and scalable way to easily test many students at once while minimizing resource strain.”

“Regular weekly testing helps the school community very quickly identify when a positive pool does arise so that quick intervention can take place to help break that transmission cycle,” Hogan continued.

Schools can choose to participate in the free testing program.

“This is a school-level choice,” said Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega. “It’s deliberated through whatever process they put in place.”

“Early detection like this is exactly what we need to keep students in classrooms and COVID out,” added acting Pennsylvania Health Secretary Alison Beam.

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The Pennsylvania Health Department has also directed vaccine providers to work with K-12 schools and colleges that request COVID-19 vaccine clinics, held either at the school or at an agreed location.

Philadelphia, which has its own federally funded clinics and testing, is not included in this state initiative.

The programs were announced as the state reported at least 80% of adults in Pennsylvania have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.​ About 64% of adults are fully vaccinated.

​​Pennsylvania ranks ninth for first doses administered and fifth for total doses administered among all 50 states.