School-Testing_3-21-23 School Testing for COVID-19

​​​​​​​​​​​​This Q&A is no longer in effect and is for historical purposes only.

School Testing for COVID-19

Free Testing Resources for Schools

Table of Conte​​nts​​

School Testing Framework, Q&A for 2022-23 School YearQ&A​ for SB​​1479

CDPH School Testing Strategies 

CDPH Test Types

Learn About School Testing Strategies 

Choose Testing Method(s) for Your School

CDPH School Testing Programs

Contact Us

School Testing ​Framework, Q&A for 2022-23 School YearQ&A for SB1479

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 Str​ategies

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 rapid antigen testing withat-home (OTC) rapid antigen testing and on-site (Professional CLIA-waived Abbot BinaxNOW) , 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 & Co​nsiderations

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. 

 At-Home (OTC) Antigen Tests
(man​y different brands)
Professional CLIA-Waived
(Abbot BinaxNOW only)
DetectionRapidly identifies higher levels of virus (when most spreading happens)Rapidly identifies higher levels of virus (when more spreading happens)
AgesAges 2 and up
Children helped by family (guidance for ages 14-18 varies by test brand)
All ages
Ages 2-4 (or unable to self-swab) must have qualified/credentialed staff (no family help allowed)
Yes, if Cal-OSHA instructions are followedYes
Who swabs nose?Self-swabbing or familySelf-swabbing or qualified/credentialed staff only
Who runs test?Each person (or their guardian)Your trained people run and report the test (about 5 person hours for 50 tests)
Staff/TimeNo extra staff

No training
2 or more people from your organization

Free CDPH online training (~2 hours)
AdvantageNo staff time, testing responsibility moves to familiesStaff may run tests onsite
ReportingNo mandatory reporting, but may self-report. Possible telehealth treatment link.Mandatory. Your trained people enter results. Possible telehealth treatment link.
Learn More At this LinkOver-the counter (OTC)/At-home Antigen Program At-school/Professional Antigen Program


Learn About School Testing Strategies

Please review Testing Framework for K-12 Schools for the 2022-2023 School Year for testing recommendations

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.

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 who are symptomatic and test negative.

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 

A school may participate in one or both of the state-sponsored testing programs that provide free tests and software to California K-12 schools:

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

  • Free 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) self-reporting of results

*At-home tests are self-tests—the school staff cannot perform these tests on others. If you anticipate the need for staff to perform tests on others, you will also need to enroll in our At-School/Professional Rapid Antigen Program (below).

At-school/Professional Rapid Antigen Program

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

  • Results in 15-30 minutes

  • Individuals swab themselves, but tests are performed by staff. Staff must be trained in the state's CLIA-waived program to perform the tests.

  • Free software platform to manage tests (mandatory)

  • All test results MUST be reported (positive, negative, or invalid)

  • Other regulatory requirements like quality control

CDPH School Testing Prog​rams

CDPH supports the following free testing modalities: At-Home Antigen Testing and At-School/Professional Antigen Testing.

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

CDPH provides free at-home tests to California K-12 schools.  At-home tests are self-tests that may be administered by the individual (or their parent/guardian) and cannot be administered by school staff due to federal (CLIA) regulations.

1. Getting Start​ed

To enroll, place an order using the link below.

 In the initial order, you will sign an agreement stating you understand the proper use of at-home tests, so they do not fall under federal lab requirements (CLIA).

Tests are available to K-12 schools through:

Please monitor your test inventory and regularly check expiration dates (PDF). 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 at-home (OTC) FDA expiration date extensions . ​​

2. Educating your School Com​​munity

Share information with parents, staff and teachers on how to administer at-home tests.  Resources are available to help educate your school community on how to use and administer at-home tests  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. Self-reporting test results is strongly encouraged but not required for at-home tests. Schools can register for an account via Primary.Health

At-School Antigen/Profes​sional 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 Star​ted

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.Apply here:

If you did not receive the link after completing the MOU, please email

2. Next Steps for the Ant​igen Program

Review next steps and register for hands-on training at

Next Steps for Starting Your CLIA-waived COVID-19 Antigen Testing Program

 3. Communications for the​ School Community

Communicating with the school community around testing is important to the success of your program. Review 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.

 ​​​​Outbreak Res​​p​​​​onse

CDPH is supporting outbreak response at the local level. Local health departments and local education agencies (LEAs) are encouraged to keep rapidly accessible at-home antigen tests available to assist K-12 schools with campus outbreaks. Local health departments can also provide specific advice if guidance is needed.

More details are available at School Outbreak Response.

Conta​ct​ Us

Originally published on July 13, 2022​​​​