Nov 29, 2023 - Health

Scoop: Biden administration sending free COVID tests to schools

Illustration of a backpack filled with COVID-19 test swabs.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Biden administration for the first time will allow all schools to order free COVID-19 tests from the federal government ahead of the holidays, officials told Axios first.

Why it matters: Uptake of updated COVID vaccines has been sluggish, making other precautions like timely testing all the more critical as respiratory virus season heats up.

What they're saying: "Our schools are so important in our communities. They reach both children, their families, parents, teachers and staff and we think they're an important avenue to make sure that free tests are available," Dawn O'Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, told Axios.

Details: The Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), an agency within HHS, has a stockpile of hundreds of millions of COVID tests. It is teaming up with the Department of Education to allow school districts to order tests directly to distribute to families.

  • HHS officials said schools could order tests at a rate they could expect to distribute them, but they did not specify a limit.
  • "I could imagine a situation where perhaps a fifth grade classroom, it has a COVID-positive student and then they send everyone home with a COVID test in the backpack from that fifth grade class," O'Connell said.
  • The administration this fall also restarted a program allowing households to order free at-home tests through the U.S. Postal Service.
  • It has also been sending free tests to long-term care facilities, food banks and other organizations working with vulnerable populations. A small number of schools that serve socially vulnerable students were previously able to order tests from the federal stockpile.

Between the lines: Most of the tests provided by ASPR have expiration dates that have been extended for at least several months. Health officials are encouraging people who receive the tests to check with the Food and Drug Administration to verify that the expiration date has been extended.

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