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CDC Says No to Universal Testing in New Guidelines for Schools Reopening

NEW YORK – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against universal testing of all students and staff as part of its newly released guidelines to support the reopening of schools in the fall after nationwide shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, CDC released new tools and resources for school administrators, teachers, and caregivers that cover how to structure the school day to minimize spread of COVID-19, how to keep the physical environment sanitized through cleaning and ventilation, and how to enforce mask usage, among other topics.

Notably, the CDC includes recommendations originally released last month saying that because universal testing of all students and staff in school settings "has not been systematically studied," it is unclear whether such testing "provides any additional reduction in person-to-person transmission of the virus beyond what would be expected with implementation of other infection preventive measures," such as social distancing, cloth face covering, hand washing, enhanced cleaning, and disinfecting.

"Therefore, CDC does not recommend universal testing of all students and staff," the center said in its guidelines.

It also said that universal testing in schools could pose other difficulties including "the lack of infrastructure to support routine testing and follow up in the school setting, unknown acceptability of this testing approach among students, parents, and staff, lack of dedicated resources, practical considerations related to testing minors and potential disruption in the educational environment." 

On a call to discuss the new guidelines, CDC Director Robert Redfield said that the agency would let individual schools and jurisdictions see how the different strategies could be employed. He added that the CDC would assist schools in taking the recommendations and making them operational in their areas.

In addition to guiding school officials through the reopening process, the CDC tools are meant to give students, parents, and guardians the information necessary to decide whether in-person study is right for them. There are also checklists to help students plan for both in-person and virtual learning and strategies school administrators can use to set up symptom screening at the school.

The guidelines come in the wake of a political firestorm as the Trump Administration pushes for the reopening of schools in the fall. The administration has threatened to withhold federal funds from those who do not reopen. Several large districts, however, have announced they will not bring students back in the fall and will hold classes remotely.