School-Testing School Testing for COVID-19

School Testing for COVID-19

Free Testing Resources for Schools

Table of Contents

School Testing Framework and Q&A for 2022-23 School Year

In 2022/23, schools can continue to partner with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Testing Task Force for testing resources and support. Please see our 2022-23 Framework and corresponding Q&As for more information:

CDPH School Testing Strategies

The ability for symptomatic individuals to test and identify the presence of COVID-19 quickly is critical. Having testing options available both in school and at-home for symptomatic students and staff can help them return to school faster, as well as limit any on-site transmission. To learn more about the recommended testing strategies for the 2022-23 school year for over-the-counter (OTC)/at-home rapid antigen testing and on-site rapid antigen testing, please reference the 2022-23 Preliminary Testing Framework and Frequently Asked Questions.

For more information on COVID-19 school related guidance and updates please visit the Schools Hub.

CDPH Test Types

CDPH Test Types & Considerations

The State of California has testing guidance which details the different types of testing, including differences between diagnostic testing, screening testing, post-exposure testing and pre-entry testing. Below is a summary of the test types that CDPH offers to schools. 

​Test Type

​Definition

​Pros

​Cons

​State-contracted Service Provider

Professional/At-School Antigen Test

​An antigen test detects a viral protein and is typically performed as a point of care test 

-Fast test results (within 15-20 minutes of collection)

-Good for high throughput testing

-Very low rate of 

false positives observed

-Test performed on another person, requires a CLIA waiver

​Requires additional personnel time to perform testing and record results

-​Abbott BinaxNOW with Primary.Health

-Learn More about Primary.Health

-Learn more about the At-school/Professional Antigen Program

Over-the-Counter/At-Home Rapid Antigen Test

​Same as above

​-Typically administered at-home

-No CLIA training required if self-administered or by child's parent/guardian


​-Staff must be trained as if they are administering professional test (above) if administering the tests on another individual

-A potential lack of oversight as tests may not always be performed correctly or reported

-Various Brands

-Reporting recommended with Primary.Health

-Learn more about the Over-the counter (OTC)/At-home Antigen Program


Confirmatory Molecular/ (PCR/LAMP) Test

-​A molecular test that detects specific fragments of viral nucleic acid

-Test is sent to a laboratory

​-Very sensitive test

-May detect COVID-19 infection sooner than antigen tests


​-Must be sent to a laboratory

-No longer available as a primary testing modality in schools

-Turnaround time is variable and results generally take 24-48 hours

-Testing turnaround times may exceed 24-48 hours during periods of high testing volume

-The test is highly sensitive; positive results may be observed for several weeks to months after the resolution of infection

​-Tests performed by Color Laboratory Network

-Tests ordered via Primary.Health

Learn About School Testing Strategies

For questions related to the different testing strategies, consider consulting with your local public health department school liaison using the state technical assistance (TA) portal, or access resources from the testing task force California K-12 Schools Testing Program (schooltesting@cdph.ca.gov) for assistance.

Responding to COVID-19 Exposures

Students with known exposure to persons with COVID-19 should test at least once within 3-5 days after last exposure and follow recommendations listed in CDPH Guidance for Local Health Jurisdictions on Isolation and Quarantine of the General Public. See Table 2: Asymptomatic Persons Who are Exposed to Someone with COVID-19.

Reducing Isolation Duration via Testing

Per the CDPH Guidance for Local Health Jurisdictions on Isolation and Quarantine of the General Public:  Isolation can end after Day 5 if symptoms are not present or are resolving and a diagnostic specimen collected on Day 5 or later tests negative.

Testing Individuals with Symptoms

If symptoms are concerning for COVID-19, it is strongly recommended that students wear a mask and get tested immediately.  Students should also follow CDPH recommendations for retesting and/or isolating if results are positive or repeat testing in 24-48 hours for those that are symptomatic and test negative.

Pre-entry/Return from Break Testing

Due to the increased travel and social interactions that often occur during school-breaks with increased risk of COVID transmission, it is recommended that students and staff get tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to school following major breaks (e.g., summer, winter, spring).

Asymptomatic Screening Testing

Asymptomatic screening testing is recommended for high-risk groups particularly during COVID-19 surges, during outbreaks, or when there is high community transmission.

Per the K-12 Guidance for the 2022-23 School Year (PDF), high-risk groups such as those who might be at high risk of severe COVID-19 that could benefit from treatment, those who participate in certain activities with increased and forceful exhalation that can post increased risk of getting and spreading COVID-19, particularly if conducted indoors, in poorly ventilated settings, and/or without the use of masks and participants in activities with a residential component. 

Other Testing Strategies

Testing around large school events as part of a layered mitigation strategy. Please see the Safe and SMART Events Playbook (PDF).

Choose a Testing Method(s) for Your School

There are 2 state-sponsored testing programs for schools that provide free tests and software to California K-12 schools:

Over-the-counter (OTC)/At-Home Antigen Testing Program

  • Free over-the-counter (OTC)/at-home antigen tests

  • Results in 15-30 minutes

  • Tests are self-administered (or by parents/guardians where the test cannot be self-administered) and do not require a CLIA waiver*

  • Free (optional) software platform to manage and view school community tests results

  • Optional but recommended reporting by the individual

*Please note if OTC tests are performed on others (including interpreting the test results) then those tests fall under federal regulations requiring a CLIA waiver. If you anticipate the need to perform tests on individuals you will also need to enroll in our At-School/Professional Rapid Antigen Program (below).

At-school/Professional Rapid Antigen Program with confirmatory Molecular Testing

  • Free antigen at-school/point of care antigen tests

  • Results in 15-30 minutes

  • Tests are performed on others and requires a federal CLIA waiver provided to you by the State after completion of onboarding and training

  • Free software platform to manage tests (mandatory)

  • Required reporting

  • Other regulatory requirements such as quality control testing monthly

What are the differences between professional antigen testing versus the OTC/at-home testing?

OTC/at-home and professional antigen tests are similar in terms of performance.  However, the regulations surrounding the two type of tests are different. If you are planning to conduct testing on others, you must participate in a professional antigen testing program. Professional antigen tests can be used at-school on students and staff. 

OTC/at-home tests are meant to be used at home by individuals or parents/guardians. If they are used outside the home, they must still be completed (both running and interpreting the test) by individuals or parents/guardians. Users should follow the age parameters for self-administration associated with the particular OTC/at-home test they are using (typically 14 years or older). For those younger than the minimum age, guardians can administer the test for children.

CDPH recommends that schools allow children (if old enough) or parents to conduct the test and read results themselves and that school staff not administer OTC/at-home tests. Staff should provide educational resources for families to conduct the tests themselves. The goal of relying on OTC/at-home tests is to free up staff time and to move testing operations to parents and students.

If OTC/at-home tests are performed on those other than the individual themselves or by parents/guardians on their children, they are subject to federal laboratory regulations ("CLIA") and the same training as if a professional antigen test. If you plan to use antigen tests in this type of scenario where staff performs tests on others, your organization needs to apply for use for CDPH's School CLIA waiver if your organization serves K-12 students. The CDPH's school CLIA only allows for the use of Abbot BinaxNow professional antigen tests. The CDPH school CLIA does not allow for the use of other brands of antigen tests as the procedures vary across test types.

CDPH School Testing Programs

CDPH supports the following free testing modalities: Over-the-Counter (OTC)/At-Home Antigen Testing, At-School/Professional Antigen Testing and End-to-End Operational Support distributed on an equity basis. 

Over-the-Counter (OTC) /At-Home Antigen Testing Program

CDPH provides free over-the-counter (OTC) /at-home tests to California K-12 schools.  OTC/at-home tests should be administered by the individual or their parent/guardian and cannot be administered by school staff due to federal (CLIA) regulations.

1. Getting Started

To enroll in our Over-the-Counter (OTC) /At-Home Antigen Testing Program please use our order form which will be available at the end of August.  In the initial order that you place, you will sign an agreement stating you understand the proper use of OTC tests, so they do not fall under federal lab requirements (CLIA).

Tests are available to K-12 schools through:

Please monitor your over-the-counter (OTC) test inventory and regularly check expiration dates (PDF). Please note the printed expiration date may not reflect the actual expiration date as the FDA has formally extended multiple OTC test brands. Please always check for OTC/at-home formal extensions by the FDA. CDPH endorses the emergency use of OTC/at-home COVID-19 Tests beyond their FDA authorized expiration as long as the internal control remains valid.

2. Educating your School Community

We recommend educating parents, staff and teachers on how to administer over-the-counter (OTC)/at-home tests.  Resources are available to help educate your school community on how to use and administer over-the-counter (OTC) in multiple languages.

3. Register for Free Software to Monitor Tests Results in your School

Primary.Health provides a free software program for school administrators to monitor tests results that participants record at home. Logging tests results are strongly encouraged but not required for OTC tests. Schools can register for an account via Primary.Health

At-School Antigen/Professional Testing Program

The State of California and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Testing Task Force have developed a program for rapid testing in California K-12 schools using Abbott BinaxNow antigen tests. To use point-of-care tests on students in a school setting, regulations require the use of a CLIA waiver with a lab director and a physician's order.  The state CLIA-waiver is provided by the State after training and signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). It also requires the use of an online platform Primary.Health that allows staff and students to provide consent, provides test results in a HIPAA-compliant way, and transmits results to local and state health departments.

1. Getting Started

Find out more about our programs by filling out our Rapid Antigen Testing Onboarding Form. You will receive an email with the link to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and information about our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) session, as well as other important documents that you can refer to as you navigate the enrollment process. The MOU will be completed via Docusign. You will also receive a calendar invite to the FAQ session where your questions can be answered.

For more about our antigen program, see our playbook and flyer below. 

2. Next Steps for the Antigen Program

After attending the FAQ information session, follow our "Next Steps Checklist" (p. 7 in playbook). Once you have completed the MOU, you will receive an email from our software partner Primary.Health.  Please make sure to complete all the Primary.Health onboarding steps before your hands-on training (as described in Step 3).

Please place an order for test kits for training. If you did not receive the link after completing the MOU, please email schoolbinax@cdph.ca.gov.

3. Training Requirements

Please complete the pre-training preparatory work below prior to your hands-on training. Your school / district lead will schedule the hands-on training by emailing schoolbinax@cdph.ca.gov. Before registering for training, please make sure you have received your BinaxNow test kits. Everyone involved in the testing process needs to be trained.  Trainees will be required to complete a negative and positive control with their own testing kit. After completing the training, each trainee will take a quiz and receive a certificate which should be stored in a Binax binder.

4. Binax Lead

Before you begin testing, each school site needs to identify a Binax lead, the person responsible for maintaining the Binax Binder and running quality control (see Binax Lead Responsibilities).  You will be asked to identify the Binax Lead/Site Lead for each testing site as part of the quality control log that is sent out automatically at the start of the month.

5. More information on Antigen Testing

The Abbott BinaxNow Antigen test is a simple test to run. We have included answers to common questions about running the test in our Troubleshooting section, as well as reference materials to print out for the testing site. For any additional questions please contact us at SchoolBinax@cdph.ca.gov. Please use the links below to access the CDPH Temporary Expiration Extension of CLIA-waived Point of Care Tests.

6. Communications for the School Community

Communicating with the school community around testing is important to the success of your program. Review our consent form and our video of how children self-swab. Find more resources such as videos to share with parents, sample communication emails and a back-to-school agreement on our partner's website Safely Opening Schools.

Confirmatory PCR Test

Molecular testing (that includes PCR and LAMP-based testing) offers highly sensitive results within 24-48 hours. CDPH is offering free confirmatory molecular tests, to be used as indicated in the guidance for those participating in the CDPH School Rapid Testing Program. Currently we are providing Color-PCR kits to schools that are processed through the CDPH Color Laboratory Network (CLN). Please order the number of PCR kits you anticipate needing with your initial professional antigen order via the same order form. Once a PCR test is needed, they can be ordered and linked to the student via the Primary Health online platform.

CDPH Color Laboratory Network (CLN)

The CDPH Color Laboratory Network (CLN) is a group of labs that function in partnership with CDPH. It provides affordable COVID-19 testing support with result turnaround time within 24 hours of the specimen being received by the laboratory. Testing turnaround times may exceed 24-48 hours during periods of high testing volume.

End-to-End Support

The State of California strives to create equity in access to testing across K-12 schools in the state. Recognizing this, the state is offering free personnel support through our End-to-End program throughout the school year to support and administer rapid antigen testing programs. With this option, eligible school districts will receive staffing provided through CDPH supported vendors. These vendors will coordinate with districts to administer all aspects of a rapid antigen-based testing program that best suits the needs of their school community. 

For more details on this program please email Schooltesting_operationalsupport@cdph.ca.gov.

Outbreak Response

When a school COVID-19 outbreak is detected or reported to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) by a local health jurisdiction (LHJ) or site, an Outbreak Response Team can be rapidly deployed to manage and monitor the outbreak for schools. CDPH and the Testing Task Force (TTF) have identified a potential operating model for outbreak response during an outbreak and outbreak-related consultation or support to LHJs or sites.

More details on the Outbreak Response Teams (PDF) can be found on this flyer. Schools and districts can also email COVID19OutbreakResponse@cdph.ca.gov to receive more information.

Contact Us

Please reach out to us for any questions regarding schools and programs that serve K-12 Students.