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Why A New State Bill Seeks To Require Schools To Have COVID Testing Plans

Nine people are lined up in front of a table at a nondescript public entryway.
COVID tests being distributed at Daniel Webster Middle School in Mar Vista.
(Suzanne Levy
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A state lawmaker wants schools in California to have their own COVID testing plans.

State Sen. Richard Pan's bill SB 1479 would require the state's Department of Public Health to work with school districts to develop those plans, which are currently encouraged.

The legislation would also apply to preschools, childcare centers and after-school programs.

"Without a testing plan, schools risk high numbers of teachers becoming positive and having to close schools because of staffing shortages as well as, of course, students not attending school because of fears of parents," said Pan, who represents Sacramento.

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Pan, a pediatrician, said that while the current proposed legislation doesn't specify the funding sources, his goal is to assure state resources are available. Another important note: The bill does not actually require districts to follow through on the testing. Pan said enforcement would come from within the community.

"Right now, schools are spending a tremendous amount of time and staff time and money trying to mitigate COVID in their schools," he told us. "And so we want provide schools with support for again keeping COVID under control in their school so that parents feel comfortable about sending the kids to school and it's good schools can stay open, they're safe."

The Costs Can Add Up

Los Angeles Unified, which has required testing, reported this week that the cost has been steep. From our K-12 reporter Kyle Stokes:

This year, the L.A. Unified School District ordered all students and staff to take COVID-19 tests each week — and the costs of this regimen are ballooning fast.

LAUSD projects spending more than $527 million on testing and contact tracing before the end of the school year, according to a briefing officials delivered to school board members Tuesday afternoon. That’s more than four times the amount LAUSD expected to spend on testing last June.

The district has administered between 1-2 million tests each month this school year — around three times the number of tests they expected to conduct last June.

Berkeley Unified School Board Director Ana Vasudeo says at-home tests were distributed there before winter break, and health screenings were issued twice per week to mitigate the spread of the virus during the omicron surge last winter.

"There's no debating that the pandemic has created a crisis in education and that our students will continue to feel the academic, health and social-emotional impacts of the pandemic for years to come," Vasudeo said.

And after two years of living during a pandemic, she says the school district has learned how to keep students and staff safe.

"We don't know what's coming next month, or we don't know what's coming throughout the next year," she said. "But if there's one thing we've learned is that we need to be ready and that COVID-19 testing remains an important tool to protect students and educational workers."

Pan says how frequent testing should be and other details would be up to schools.

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"We need to have testing plans so that schools are aware of potential sources of infection, and that they can take the steps necessary to stop the spread of that infection," Pan said that's why testing is key. "If there's ongoing infection in school, then parents aren't gonna send the kids to school.

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