U.S. to ramp up COVID-19 screening in schools as part of $12 billion testing effort

·2 min read
Vaccination center in California

(Reuters) - The U.S. government is investing $12.25 billion on ramping up COVID-19 testing in the country to help schools reopen safely and promote testing equity among high-risk and underserved populations.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Wednesday it will provide $10 billion to states to support COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff and students to assist schools resume in-person instruction.

The remaining $2.25 billion HHS investment will be used to scale up testing among high-risk and underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural areas, the U.S. health agency added.

Screening tests are primarily used in asymptomatic populations to determine the likelihood of having or developing a particular disease.

The White House will draw the funds from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law last week.

The administration's push to boost testing in schools comes as it tries to get teachers and child care workers across the United States vaccinated by the end of March.

The CDC issued guidance in February for safely reopening schools that recommended universal mask-wearing and physical distancing as key COVID-19 mitigation strategies to bring the nation's 55 million public school students back to classrooms.

HHS said in a Wednesday statement that the funding is "part of a strategy to help get schools open in the remaining months of this school year."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering lowering its guidance on social distancing from six feet to three feet based on new research that suggests that the smaller distance may be sufficient to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.

"When we have concise and consistent evidence ... we will update our guidance," she said at a Wednesday congressional hearing.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)