White House pushes ‘test to stay’ policy for schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) – As COVID cases rise across the country and we see businesses, sporting events, and performances shut down once again, is there a safe way to keep children in school? The CDC now says “yes.” Friday they released data to back that up.

Federal health officials now endorse “test to stay” policies for the nation’s schools. It’s an attempt to prevent children from falling behind as COVID cases spike once again.

In many schools, unvaccinated children who are exposed to COVID are sent home to quarantine. But in the CDC’s new “test to stay” strategy, they remain in school as long as they don’t show symptoms and test negative at least twice in a week.

The CDC conducted studies in two school districts. One prevented 8,000 missed school days using “test to stay,” another that didn’t use it lost 92,000 school days.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “These studies demonstrate that test to stay works to keep unvaccinated children in school safely.”

The downside is it takes a lot of tests and people to give them to make the program work. That’s why the CDC continues to urge schools to use masks, ventilation, social distancing, hand washing to slow the spread, and for parents to get children over five vaccinated.

Dr. Walensky said, “Looking specifically at vaccine safety data from over 50,000 children, 5 to 11 years old, we found no evidence of serious safety concerns.”

It comes as much of the nation is already dealing with a surge in COVID cases, still mostly due to the Delta variant, and the White House warns the Omicron variant could fuel an exponential spike in infections and deaths in the coming weeks.

New research shows Omicron spreads 70 times faster than Delta. But existing mRNA booster shots appear to do a good job preventing serious illness.

White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “It is critical to get vaccinated, if you’re vaccinated, for optimal protection, it’s critical to get boosted.”

So far, just 40% of people eligible for booster shots have gotten them, though the pace has picked up recently as evidence mounts getting boosted is the best protection against Omicron.

In a setback for parents who are anxious to get their children under five vaccinated, Pfizer said Friday that two shots of its low-dose vaccine did not produce an adequate immune response in children between two and five.  The company will now test three low-dose shots in children from six months to five years old to see if that works.

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