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CDC to Provide $2.25B to Improve COVID-19 Testing in High Risk, Underserved Areas

NEW YORK – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday that it is providing $2.25 billion over two years to address disparities in COVID-19 testing in high-risk and underserved communities.

Grants will be offered to up to 108 public health departments at the state, local, and territorial levels to improve testing and contact tracing capabilities; develop mitigation and prevention resources and services; improve data collection and reporting; build, leverage, and expand infrastructure support; and mobilize collaborators to address social determinants of health related to COVID-19. The agency will be accepting applications for grants until April 30.

The funding is CDC's largest investment so far supporting communities affected by COVID-19 health disparities, such as medically underserved people, racial and ethnic minority groups, and people in rural areas, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during the White House's COVID-19 briefing.

White House COVID-19 Testing Supply Coordinator Carole Johnson also said during the briefing that the US Department of Education is allocating $122 billion from President Biden's American Rescue Plan to help schools invest in mitigation strategies to reopen sooner. Schools will be able to provide sustained screening for the virus, she added. The CDC will provide technical assistance to help states set up these testing programs.

In addition to the funding, CDC also released updated guidance documents for COVID-19 testing, including information on available tests, how to choose which test to take, health equity considerations related to testing, testing for vaccinated people, and how testing can be used as a screening intervention to identify asymptomatic people and "stop clusters before they start," Walensky said.

Four other guidance documents were released covering testing in specific settings – colleges and universities, homeless shelters and encampments, non-healthcare workplaces, and correctional facilities. For colleges and universities, the agency recommends universal entry screening before the beginning of each term, and serial screening testing when capacity is there. It also provided considerations for a shortened quarantine period and COVID-19 surveillance and vaccination. 

Testing considerations for homeless shelters and encampments include support services for when quarantining is required and using the level of community transmission to inform testing approaches in these settings.

In its guidance for non-healthcare workplaces, the agency added descriptions of nucleic acid amplification tests and antigen tests as potential tools in these settings, updated guidance on frequency of testing, and added considerations on incorporating testing of asymptomatic people with no known exposure to the virus in the workplace as part of a COVID-19 prevention and control plan.

As for correctional and detention facilities, CDC updated the testing priority hierarchy based on resources, provided thresholds for expanded screening testing, and updated the recommendation to test at the end of a quarantine period before precautions are lifted and the person returns to general housing areas. The testing priority hierarchy is led by diagnostic testing for people with symptoms and their close contacts, followed by screening testing of people during intake and before transfer or release and expanded screening testing overall.