Will COVID-19 Testing at Schools Keep Students Safe?

While some parents and school administrators call for routine COVID-19 testing of students, a Stanford infectious diseases expert says "It's not going to keep kids from getting infected"

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Nearly a month into the school year, parents and teachers tell the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit they’re concerned about the growing number of COVID-19 cases among students and are calling for more testing to prevent future outbreaks.

“I feel very unsafe; I’m very concerned,” Oakland elementary school teacher Sasha Rockwell told NBC Bay Area.

“(My school) just had our first positive COVID-19 case,” Rockwell said. “But I would argue that it is not because we don’t have cases of COVID-19 inside. It’s because we have a lack of testing.”

Some teachers and administrators at Oakland Unified School District say the delta variant has increased the need for routine testing to identify asymptomatic students. Since reopening for the 2021-22 school year, 270 students and faculty have tested positive as of August 31. Eight classrooms have had to quarantine.

OUSD board member Mike Hutchinson fears if the district doesn’t expand its testing protocols more classes may have to shut down.

As our kids go back to school -- the question for so many parents is should there be more COVID testing on campus? State guidelines require K-12 districts to provide access to testing. So what exactly does that mean? And is this an unfair expectation -- for certain districts? Investigative Reporter Candice Nguyen reports.

“One of the first failures was before school opened,” Hutchinson said. “We should've had mass COVID-19 testing across Oakland for all of our students and staff.”

He points to Los Angeles Unified School District as a model where all students were tested in the run up to reopening. The district found more than 3,000 positive students who were held out of class until their results came back negative. 

“Reopening after being closed for a year is a heavy lift. But with delta variant coming in three weeks ago, there's been no adjustment in the plans,” Hutchinson said.

A spokesperson for OUSD told NBC Bay Area the district is following state guidelines which say K-12 schools should provide “access to a robust covid-19 testing program.”


While the state guidelines apply to all districts in California, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found schools are implementing those guidelines very differently.

Districts in other parts of California like Santa Barbara Unified and LAUSD require students to test weekly. But many Bay Area districts like OUSD and Pleasanton Unified currently don’t require students or staff to test, opting to provide testing hubs or take home kits to anyone experiencing symptoms. Other districts like Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in San Jose reopened before implementing district-provided testing. In this Facebook message posted last Friday, the district asked parents to test their kids immediately if they’re feeling sick adding ARUSD will begin offering testing “in the near future.”

A group of moms in Pleasanton told NBC Bay Area their kids don’t feel safe at a school without more frequent testing.

“My son was telling me today, ‘Oh, mom, I didn't go to the restroom. I have been meaning to go since 7th period and I'm holding because I don't want to use the restroom at school,” Pleasanton parent Ektaa Verma told NBC Bay Area.


Stanford University professor of global health and infectious diseases Dr. Yvonne Maldonado believes testing is important, but it’s not more important than face coverings and social distancing when it comes to keeping kids safe.

“I think families should feel very comfortable (sending their kids to school) if their district is requiring masks. I would make sure my child wears a mask,” Maldonado said.

Dr. Maldonado warned those safety measures should also apply after school as studies shows most students who test positive are contracting COVID-19 outside the classroom.

“They’re getting infected in individual contacts with family, friend gatherings, at home,” Dr. Maldonado said.I think testing is important; but it's not the only thing and it's not going to keep kids from getting infected.”

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