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With schools all over the country struggling to deal with a surge of coronavirus cases from the omicron variant, the White House on Wednesday announced it is increasing the supply of COVID-19 tests for schools to help keep facilities open for in-person learning.
President Biden and others in his administration insist schools should stay open, even with the omicron wave making it harder than ever to manage.
The administration will increase the number of COVID tests available to schools by 10 million per month — 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests.
Wednesday’s announcement is in addition to other testing resources and programs, and it comes as the supply of COVID tests struggles to keep up with intense demand.
“Students have sacrificed so much over the course of the pandemic, and the President has been clear in his words and his actions that his Administration will do all that it can to keep schools safely open for all students,” the White House said in a fact sheet outlining the testing plan. “We know how to keep students and staff safely in school — including through vaccinations and boosters, implementing universal indoor masking, maintaining physical distancing, improving ventilation, and performing COVID-19 screening testing.”
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended “test-to-stay” practices for schools to reduce quarantines for those who had a close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Coronavirus-related school closures and interruptions have been one of the most fiercely debated topics emerging from the pandemic.
Republicans have said Democrats haven’t done enough to keep students in the classroom, arguing that learning loss should be avoided and that young, healthy people are unlikely to die or fall seriously ill as a result of the virus.
Many teachers unions, however, have argued that classrooms remain unsafe, particularly as the omicron variant surges, thinning staff and thrusting the country into peak pandemic levels of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Just last week in Chicago, more than 300,000 public school students missed classes as the city’s teachers union and the municipal government squared off about COVID-19 safety measures.
After tense negotiations, the two parties reached an agreement on Monday to allow for a return to in-person learning with additional safety precautions in place.
p class=”contributors-text”>NPR’s Tamara Keith contributed reporting.