The benefits of mandatory COVID-19 testing in IUSD

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Anjana Narasimhan

WEEKLY TESTING: A s cases continue to rise, many schools have implemented mandatory COVID-19 testing policies, and IUSD should follow their lead to ensure the safety of students.

Eugenie Chang, Viewpoint Editor

After the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases, California Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated weekly testing or vaccination of school staff to combat the rapidly evolving virus and its variants, most notably the highly transmissible Delta variant. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has taken its COVID-19 protocols one step further, implementing a mandatory testing program regardless of vaccination status for all of its staff and students. It would be in IUSD’s best interest to adopt a similar testing protocol for the school year, especially in elementary schools where students may not be eligible for vaccination.

LAUSD’s mandatory testing program includes baseline testing to determine community transmission of the virus, as well as periodic testing throughout the school year. Students who refuse to participate in the testing program will not be allowed to return to school in person.

Compared to other school districts across the United States, many of which are going mask-optional this school year, LAUSD no doubt has one of the strictest COVID-19 policies in the nation. But this policy has been extremely effective, since through baseline testing alone LAUSD caught more than 3,600 cases of COVID-19, a testing positivity rate of about 0.8 percent. Manda- tory COVID-19 testing clearly offers more security to unvaccinated individuals as well as catches COVID-19 cases before students have a chance to infect others.

“Early on it was said to just give testing to people who have had contact with people who were infected and symptomatic,” Anthony Fauci said in an interview for CBS News. “Now it is very clear that you have to go beyond that. We know now from experience that you will have people who are asymptomatic who get into contact with an asymptomatic person who is infected, and there will be more infections that otherwise would have gone undetected.”

Additionally, the testing policy prevents further spread of the virus among the unvaccinated population, including in elementary and middle schools where a majority of students are too young to receive any of the authorized vaccines thus far.

“Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. “Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies to protect students, teachers, staff and other members of their households, and to support in-person learning.”

IUSD currently only requires staff and students to be masked in- doors, and it is true that arranging district-wide COVID-19 testing of all school-age children would be much more logistically complex and restrictive in terms of student autonomy than a simple masking requirement.

However, these drawbacks are hardly significant enough to overshadow the benefits of testing, especially as the Delta variant spreads and case rates slowly climb higher. IUSD is no stranger to COVID-19 testing administration either, as it was provided to student-athletes in high-contact sports last spring. Widespread testing provides a measure for school leaders to determine whether contagion is widespread enough to warrant school closure, and also allows for contact tracing between people who have been in close proximity to an infected individual.

Taking into account how successful the testing program has proved so far in LAUSD, as well as multiple unknowns such as fully re-opening schools in-person for the first time after the pandemic began and the new Delta variant, it is clearly important to take additional cautions while navigating these unfamiliar waters during this school year.

Administering a new COV- ID-19 testing policy would leave students and parents alike with greater peace of mind as they head back to school to catch up on the hours of education and interpersonal interaction that has already been lost to the pandemic. IUSD officials did not respond to requests for an interview regarding their COVID-19 protocols for this school year.