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Public Health Guidance for School Testing

Updated 8/30/2022

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks (Ginkgo), is offering COVID-19 testing services at no cost to all K-12 Schools across the Commonwealth, with the exception of schools within Philadelphia county, for the entire 2022-2023 school year. DOH encourages schools to provide access to testing to students, teachers, and staff to manage COVID-19 in K-12 school settings.

This K-12 testing program is voluntary and free for schools and participants. Participating schools can choose from several testing options when opting into the program.

Pooled Testing

Schools may choose to implement school-based screening testing to identify individuals with COVID-19 who do not have symptoms or known exposure to COVID-19. Ginkgo offers pooled testing for schools that want to implement screening testing.

Pooled testing is when specimens collected from numerous individuals are combined into one polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. If the test comes back negative, all individuals in that sample can be presumed negative. If the test comes back positive, everyone in that sample will need to be tested individually. For positive pools, all individuals that contributed to the pool sample will need to be retested with individual rapid antigen tests.

Regardless of symptoms, any individual with a positive COVID-19 test should isolate at home and wear a high-quality mask around others in accordance with CDC guidance.

While schools may choose to implement regular pooled testing, in alignment with CDC guidance, pooled testing is recommended during high COVID-19 community levels, for individuals participating in high-risk activities, or at key times during the year, such as holidays, spring break, and at the beginning of the school year.

Exposure Testing

Schools may also adopt school-based exposure testing. Exposure testing provides testing to individuals who have been in contact with a positive case of COVID-19.  For this testing option, rapid antigen tests may be used for both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

Rapid antigen tests may be administered by Gingko or trained school staff. Schools may choose to keep rapid antigen tests on hand to use for exposure testing. If a symptomatic individual presents for testing and does not have known exposure, a rapid antigen test may be administered.

Any individual who tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms, should isolate at home in accordance with CDC guidance. After the isolation period, individuals should wear a high-quality mask when around others following the timeline outlined in the CDC guidance. 

Over-the-Counter Testing

In addition to school-based testing options, schools may choose to receive and distribute over-the-counter (OTC) tests to students, teachers, and staff for at-home use. OTC tests may be distributed to students, teacher, and staff at any point during the school year.

Students, teachers, and staff should use OTC tests at their discretion, but it is recommended that OTC tests be used if an individual has symptoms of COVID-19 and/or has been exposed to COVID-19. If an OTC test result is positive, the individual should isolate at home and wear a high-quality mask when around others in accordance with CDC guidance.