February 18, 2021
New Covid-19 Testing Playbook: A How-To Guide for Testing Programs to Reopen Schools Safely

As school systems across the country are grappling with complex questions on how to reopen safely, Testing for America, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and Skoll Foundation, released a new how-to guide to reopen—and keep open—the more than 130,000 K-12 schools in the United States fulltime. Published on the heels of new guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education, Covid-19 Testing in K-12 Settings: A Playbook for Educators and Leaders is based on real-world experiences of school district and public health leaders. It was produced in partnership with Chiefs for Change, a network of school superintendents and state education leaders, and provides detailed, step-by-step guidance to help educators, leaders, and their public health partners design and implement effective testing programs in schools.

“With new Covid-19 variants emerging and vaccines currently not available to children under the age of 16, testing provides a key frontline defense against asymptomatic spread and serves as an important safety net for America’s schools,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “This new K-12 Testing Playbook will help schools know who to test, when to test, and how to test, and give them the confidence they are opening as safely as possible.”

The playbook builds off recent research funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, which found that when added to mask wearing and social distancing, weekly testing of all students, teachers, and staff can reduce in-school infections by an estimated 50 percent.

“Here in San Antonio, we’ve seen firsthand how rigorous Covid-19 testing, combined with other health measures, are helping to protect our students and staff,” said Chiefs for Change Board Chair and San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez. “Through routine testing, we have been able to catch even asymptomatic carriers and stay ahead of the virus. The Rockefeller Foundation’s playbook contains important information that can help districts across the country as they develop Covid testing programs and partnerships.”

The Rockefeller Foundation also funded Chiefs for Change to develop a suite of related Covid-19 testing tools and resources. Chiefs for Change is today releasing the first set of materials in that suite to complement the playbook and support districts across the nation in their reopening plans.

“One year into this pandemic, we must allow teachers and children to safely return to their classrooms,” said Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee. Schools are some of the safest places in a community—and children need the face-to-face instruction and support they get when they attend school in person. The Rockefeller Foundation’s playbook is an essential guide that can help districts reopen and stay open. Through the playbook and our related resources, we hope to give systems the tools they need to support their students and staff as the pandemic wears on. ”

The materials developed by Chiefs for Change are designed for school systems of any size to use in developing Covid-19 testing programs and partnerships. Resources include a project planning workbook, related tabletop exercises, a document with answers to frequently asked questions, and “Day in the Life of” (DILO) simulations that help systems map out how a testing program would fit into a typical day for students and staff.

“In Rhode Island, Covid testing has been a key factor in allowing us to bring students and teachers back into the classroom safely,” said Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Green, a member of Chiefs for Change. “We know schools are where our kids thrive. This playbook will help America’s school systems set up testing programs that, along with other health protocols, can help to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Informed by experiences from over 90 school district and public health leaders as well as a wide-range of research, evidence, and expert insights, the playbook and the related resources address the operational challenges and every-day realities of implementing a complex, logistical program in an easy-to-understand, practical guide. This includes:

    • Identifying partners: How to engage local public health authorities, healthcare providers, state and local governments, and community organizations to help inform testing strategy and secure additional staff and financial resources.
    • Designing a testing program: How to conduct a rigorous risk assessment to understand the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 being introduced into the school environment and how it spreads, how to design a testing program based on the metrics to achieve and the risk of transmission in schools at the time, how to pick the right type of test that is most effective and feasible, and who and when to test.
    • Considerations for launching a program: How to collect consent, considerations for working with testing vendors and setting up a testing sites, staffing needs, estimates on equipment and supply needs, logistics for sending samples to the labs and receiving results, guidance on how to report results and communicate to build trust before and during the testing program, operational workflows, and data management, privacy, and security.

This new practical, evidence-based playbook demonstrates that it is possible to test students at least once a week and teachers and staff twice a week, which The Rockefeller Foundation recommended in December alongside other mitigation measures to get students and teachers back to in-person instruction. Additional resources incorporated into the K-12 testing playbook include:

    • Preliminary findings from Mathematica about six-pilot programs, funded by the Foundation and facilitated by a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
    • A January 2021 landscape report by RAND Corporation on early insights from testing programs implemented by schools;
    • Testing protocols developed by the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in October 2020.

“Instituting comprehensive testing strategies in public schools should be a priority nationwide, but it is a deeply complicated task,” said NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr., a member of Chiefs for Change. “We are grateful for the work of The Rockefeller Foundation to put together such thoughtful and helpful guidance to support schools across the country.”

The playbook is funded with a grant provided by the Skoll Foundation through the RF Catalytic Capital, Inc. (RFCC), the public charity that The Rockefeller Foundation launched in September 2020. The RFCC is a new innovative tool for foundations, impact investors, businesses, and governments to combine their resources to scale funding solutions and bring about transformational change during the Covid-19 response and recovery. This is the RFCC’s third initiative following the launch of the $30 million investment to the Advance Market Commitment to scale up pandemic testing needs and an accelerator in Africa to power agriculture and protective foods to small- and medium-sized enterprises.