HHS announces $10 billion to expand coronavirus testing in schools

The US Department of Health and Human Services is funneling $10 billion to states to help implement coronavirus surveillance testing in K-12 schools across the country, the agency announced Wednesday, as part of the Biden administration's push to help schools reopen safely for in-person learning. By Jeremy Diamond, CNN

(CNN) -- The US Department of Health and Human Services is funneling $10 billion to states to help implement coronavirus surveillance testing in K-12 schools across the country, the agency announced Wednesday, as part of the Biden administration's push to help schools reopen safely for in-person learning.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also releasing new guidance on the appropriate use of surveillance testing in schools and other communal settings, HHS announced.

The agency said the funds, which were approved as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law, "will be able to be deployed quickly" and will help schools test teachers, students and staff who were exposed to the virus and help identify asymptomatic cases of the virus to prevent the virus from spreading further in schools.

"Covid-19 testing is critical to saving lives and restoring economic activity," the agency's acting Secretary Norris Cochran said in a statement. "As part of the Biden administration's national strategy, HHS will continue to expand our capacity to get testing to the individuals and the places that need it most, so we can prevent transmission of the virus and defeat the pandemic."

White House Covid-19 testing coordinator Carole Johnson said during a Wednesday briefing that HHS's $10 billion in funding for testing will "add a layer of protection for schools, teachers and students."

"We know that school districts want to reopen. But up to this point, many lacked the resources to set up Covid screening programs for students, teachers and staff to help keep Covid out of our schools. Today that all changes," Johnson said.

"This funding can be used to test teachers and staff, students and others with symptoms of Covid, those who may have been exposed and to establish sustained, regular screening testing programs across the school system," Johnson added, saying that the CDC will be working alongside state and local health departments to provide technical assistance as they work to implement the testing programs.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of reopening a majority of schools in the US for in-person learning within his first 100 days in office. Earlier this month, Biden urged states to prioritize teachers and school staff to get at least one shot by the end of March and used his authority to prioritize teacher vaccinations through the federal supply of vaccines to pharmacies.

The CDC will also spend an additional $2.25 billion to boost testing and other mitigation measures in underserved populations, which will include grants to public health departments and funding to improve data collection efforts.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan delivered a windfall for coronavirus testing efforts in the US, dedicating a total of $47.8 billion.

Biden's efforts to reopen schools have moved ahead in fits and starts over the last month, amid messaging stumbles, pressure from Republicans to move faster and feuds between some teachers' unions and school districts across the country.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta praised the $10 billion investment in Covid testing infrastructure. Pallotta said in a statement that, with the allocation, "the Biden administration is sending them a clear signal about what it takes to reopen safely."

Weingarten said that, with the funding, "help truly is on the way to aid school systems in implementing a testing system that will help keep students, educators and staff safe inside school buildings."

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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