A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published today confirms that the Test to Stay program can help keep kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) students in the classroom. As a result of the report, the CDC endorsed Test to Stay as a useful strategy to be implemented in schools.
Test to Stay, created locally by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and operated by SHIELD Illinois, allows unvaccinated individuals who were exposed to COVID-19 while at school and masked, to remain in school and participate in school-related activities as long as they don’t have symptoms, they wear a mask, and they undergo testing on days 1, 3, 5, and 7 after exposure.
“I am extremely proud of the collaboration with IDPH on the Test to Stay protocol, which allows thousands of students and staff to safely remain in schools,” University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen said. “SHIELD Illinois continues to work on the cutting edge of innovation, protecting teachers, students and their families. Now Test to Stay is providing a new way to keep students in school and improve educational access and performance.”
IDPH and SHIELD Illinois joined forces to help schools implement Test to Stay. The SHIELD Illinois saliva-based PCR test developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is able to detect SARS-CoV-2 and its variants in symptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and asymptomatic individuals, with results in less than 24 hours. More than 100 school districts across the state are implementing Test to Stay using SHIELD Illinois to test once a week and BinaxNOW for rapid testing.
SHIELD Illinois reduces schools’ administrative burden by handling sample collection and transportation, or paying schools $8 per test if they collect and transport samples themselves. In addition, SHIELD Illinois provides infrastructure for the Test to Stay program through physician’s orders, CLIA certifications and waivers, and automated data entry. With a simple scan of a barcode, results are sent directly to health departments.
On August 9, 2021, IDPH offered Test to Stay as an option schools could implement in consultation with their local health department to prevent student quarantines and losses of in-person learning. The Lake County Health Department (LCHD) permitted K-12 schools to implement Test to Stay in August 2021.
The CDC sent a team to Illinois and worked with state and local health officials to look at the implementation of Test to Stay, conduct surveillance for cases, assess secondary transmission of the virus among schools participating in Test to Stay, compare those secondary transmission data among schools implementing different quarantine strategies, and analyze COVID-19 school data from districts across the state.
During the study period of August 9-October 29, 90 schools using Test to Stay reported 258 cases of COVID-19. Among 1,035 students and staff enrolled in Test to Stay, secondary cases resulted only 1.5% of the time. Assuming eight missed school days for every 10-day quarantine, 8,152 in-person learning days were saved among close contacts.
The study indicated that implementation of Test to Stay with layered prevention strategies did not lead to further spread within the K-12 school setting and allowed students to sustain in-person learning.
By identifying infections early, testing helps keep COVID-19 transmission low and students in school for in-person learning, sports, and extracurricular activities.