COVID-19 Testing During the 2021-22 School Year - Minnesota Dept. of Health

COVID-19 Testing During the 2021-22 School Year

The information on this page will help families, educators, and school staff learn about testing guidance, the value of testing, and the variety of testing options the State is making available for the 2021-22 school year.

In-person education and learning is critical to a child’s well-being and academic success. Testing in K-12 schools remains a powerful tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 as part of a broader COVID-19 mitigation strategy. As outlined in Best Practice Recommendations for COVID-19 Prevention in Schools for the 2021-22 School Year (PDF), testing, vaccination, and other prevention strategies should be used to help keep students and educators safe and healthy this school year. The state is working to ensure that students and school staff have the resources they need to access COVID-19 testing for the 2021-22 school year.

On this page:
School testing recommendations and options
    Testing recommendations
    Testing options
    Why we test
School testing program
    Screening testing vs. symptomatic testing
    Available testing resources
    Determining which test to use and when
    Privacy, confidentiality, and legal considerations
    Grants
    Training
Additional guidance and resources

School testing recommendations and options

Testing recommendations

  • All unvaccinated school-age children, youth, and staff returning to school should get tested for COVID-19 as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) throughout the school year.
  • Unvaccinated children, youth, and staff involved in any extracurricular activities or sports should be tested more frequently, as recommended by CDC.
  • Unvaccinated children, youth, and staff should be tested before and after travel, or after taking part in activities that put them at higher risk of COVID-19 because they cannot physically distance as needed (e.g., large social or mass gatherings).
  • All people, regardless of vaccination status, should get tested if they are experiencing symptoms of illness or were exposed to someone who has COVID-19.

More information can be found at:

Testing options

There are many ways to get tested for COVID-19 and the following options are available at no cost to Minnesotans.

  • The state is providing free testing options for schools to offer to students and staff.
    • All schools are strongly encouraged to offer testing options and share information with parents/guardians and school staff, including how consent for testing will be obtained.
  • There are COVID-19 community testing sites across Minnesota offering free tests to all.
  • People can go to local pharmacies, hospitals and clinics. You can search for testing sites near you at Find Testing Locations.
  • Families can also use the COVID-19 Vault saliva testing at home program to have a test mailed to them.

Why we test

  • Regular testing can help identify new cases early, which can prevent spread in the classroom and the community.
  • Keeping COVID-19 spread under control can keep kids in their classrooms.
  • Testing in schools can help to ensure convenient and equitable access.
  • Testing supports schools in providing healthy, safe learning environments.

School testing program

The State of Minnesota has improved upon its first-in-the-nation, statewide education testing program for the 2021-22 school year. While the state will make a variety of testing options accessible to schools, it is up to local districts and schools to decide which tests best fit the needs of their student populations and communities.

School districts, charter schools, tribal schools, and nonpublic schools can choose to participate in different parts of Minnesota's statewide testing program to access the available resources.

The goals of the testing program are to:

  • Keep Minnesota's students in their classrooms.
  • Decrease COVID-19 spread in the school and in the community.
  • Increase access to testing for all.
  • Provide schools with local control to institute a testing program that meets the needs of their students and families.

To meet these goals, the state has expanded testing options available to schools and is continuing its work to remove barriers and increase flexibility so students, school staff, and families have access to testing.

Screening testing vs. symptomatic testing

This school year, school districts, charter schools, tribal schools, and nonpublic schools have the opportunity to determine what, if any, kind of testing program they would like to implement, which includes screening vs. symptomatic testing, or a combination of both.

Screening testing

A routine screening testing program, which regularly tests unvaccinated students and school staff without symptoms or known exposures, is a crucial tool to reduce "silent" spread of the virus. According to the CDC, at least 50% of infections are likely contracted from someone that is asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) or pre-symptomatic (not currently showing symptoms but may develop them in the future). Using tests to screen also helps protect children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. The CDC and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommend testing unvaccinated students and school staff based on activity and depending on the level of transmission in the community. Visit CDC: Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools for more information on recommendations and to access existing testing toolkits and playbooks to inform testing program design.

Symptomatic testing

Isolation and testing of symptomatic people helps to minimize schools spread. The Hennepin County Infectious Disease Manual and the Recommended COVID-19 Decision Tree for People in Schools, Youth Programs, and Child Care Programs (PDF) are resources which can provide more information related to exclusion of children and staff who have a lab-confirmed positive test for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to COVID-19.

If a student, educator, or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, school staff should use the COVID-19 Case Report Form for K-12 Schools, Childcares, and Youth Programming (Camps, Sports, Extracurricular Activities) to report each child, youth, or staff member who receives a positive test result.

For more information on how to respond to confirmed cases of COVID-19 and notify your school community, review the Best Practices for Handling a Confirmed Case of COVID-19 (PDF).

Testing persons with recent exposure to a confirmed case

The longer someone is close to a person who has COVID-19, and the closer they are, the greater the chance the virus can spread. Students and adults who regularly attend or work in school buildings who have had close contact with someone who has been told they have COVID-19 should get tested regardless of vaccination status and even if they do not have symptoms. This is an important strategy to identify people who can continue to spread the virus, even if they do not appear sick and help reduce the potential for ongoing exposures in the school setting. More information on what to do if you have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and when to test after an exposure is available on Close Contacts and Tracing: COVID-19.

Available testing resources

The following test options are available for schools across Minnesota to support testing efforts for students and staff. In-depth guidance on implementation, including how to order and administer each test, is available in the documents linked below. Schools have the option to utilize multiple testing options. Note that each testing option will have varying availability, due to supply fluctuations.

  • Midwest Coordination Center Pool Testing Information (PDF)
    • Pooled PCR nasal swab test that can be used as a surveillance tool to stop asymptomatic spread.
    • Tests, supplies, and shipping are funded and managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
    • Tests are self-administered under supervision of trained staff.
    • Schools will need to request from the Midwest Coordination Center with at least 2 week lead time.

  • Vault Testing Information (PDF)
    • Individual PCR saliva test.
    • Tests can be sent home with students or staff who are exhibiting symptoms.
    • These tests already exist onsite for schools that participated in the State's testing program last year. Test kits currently located in schools will be converted to zoom-enabled test kits. Schools are able to continue to use these test kits until the school's supply is exhausted.
    • If schools have unused Vault Saliva Test Kits they do not plan to use by December 31, 2021, the school must send these unused tests back to the State of Minnesota.

  • Cue Testing Information (PDF)
    • Individual rapid molecular nasal swab test that schools can use onsite for students or staff that present symptoms and can also be used for asymptomatic screening (e.g., for screening testing for students in extracurricular activities).
    • This test is currently funded by HHS through approximately early spring of 2022.
    • Schools need to have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow OSHA standards for this type of testing.
    • Availability depends on federal supply and local demand. Beginning of 2021-22 school year continuing throughout the early fall.

  • BinaxNOW OTC At-Home Testing Information (PDF)
    • Individual rapid antigen test that will be available to be sent home with students as schools request tests.
    • Students can test if they are symptomatic and avoid potential spread in their school.
    • The state intends to provide enough tests for every student though supply volume from the test vendor will determine how many tests the state can distribute to schools.
    • This test is for students only.
    • Supply should begin in September and will be added over time.

  • BinaxNOW Professional Testing Information (PDF)
    • Rapid antigen test intended for students and staff who develop symptoms while attending and want testing before going home.
    • The test can also be used for screening, for example with students who are in extracurricular activities, if it is administered frequently (e.g., two times/week).
    • This test requires an ordering provider and CLIA waiver to administer. Review the information sheet for details on applying for a CLIA waiver and finding an ordering provider.
    • Schools need to have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow OSHA standards for this type of testing.
    • If schools act quickly, they can have BinaxNOW available in September or October. Schools will need to apply for a CLIA waiver, but once it is approved, schools can order BinaxNOW Professional tests at any time.

  • Hot spot testing: Schools can work with their local public health or MDH to request a temporary testing location in response to local outbreaks. Hot spot testing may be requested by submitting a request to: COVIDTesting.MDE@state.mn.us.

Determining which test to use and when

The testing options Minnesota is making accessible to schools have increased significantly from the 2020-2021 school year. This variety of tests provides local districts, charter schools, tribal, and nonpublic schools with the ability to design a testing program to help ensure children remain in the classroom. Below is a grid that lays out each option and offers guidance as to when a school may choose to use a specific test and with what population.

Scenario Midwest Coordination Center Pool Test
(nasal swab)
Vault Test
(saliva)
Cue Test
(nasal swab)
BinaxNOW Professional Antigen Test
(nasal swab)
BinaxNOW Over-the-Counter Antigen Test
(nasal swab)
Screening test (good for general screening of the school population) Yes Yes Yes Yes, but frequent testing or confirmatory test may be needed for negative results (e.g., Vault or Cue).* No
Rapid test (good to use when you need quick results, 20 minutes or less) No No Yes Yes, especially in symptomatic people. May need follow-up test when there is a negative test result.* Yes, especially in symptomatic people. May need follow-up test when there is a negative test result.
Diagnostic test (good to use when a person has symptoms) No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Uses for the test Test everyone on a regular basis. Test everyone on a regular basis.

Sports/ extracurricular testing with lead time.

Testing symptomatic students and staff of those who are close contacts of cases.
Test everyone at large events (rapid test).

Sports/ extracurricular testing.

Testing symptomatic students and staff.
Testing symptomatic students and staff or those who are close contacts of cases.

If used for screening, best when there is frequent testing (2X/week).
Have tests at home for families to test when symptoms are present.

* Refer to CDC: Interim Guidance for Antigen Testing for SARS-CoV-2

Grants

Every school district, charter school, tribal school, and nonpublic school is eligible for a grant through the Minnesota Department of Education to support COVID-19 testing. Grant money can be used to fund staff to support, administer, or execute testing, or to purchase tests through a vendor. Information and updates about the grant process will be regularly communicated to school districts, charter schools, tribal schools, and nonpublic schools.

The ELC Reopening Schools Award is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $169,862,951 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

Privacy, confidentiality, and legal considerations

  • Schools are strongly encouraged to consult with legal counsel. The State of Minnesota cannot provide legal advice to schools or districts and this document should not be relied on as legal advice.
  • Schools should ensure that student and staff privacy is protected and prohibit staff and others from accessing test information if they do not need the information to perform their duties.
  • Schools may be subject to federal and state laws that govern student and health care data. Different schools may have different federal and state obligations, including those that apply to student and health data. Schools must make sure they understand and follow these requirements and give any disclosures or warnings required by law before collecting student information.
  • Depending on the test option, schools may need to ensure that the person being tested provides any necessary informed consent and health and/or student records releases. Each school must evaluate its own legal obligations and determine how to manage this process and ensure compliance with applicable law. Schools should encourage those who are unable to give informed consent to work with a parent or guardian.
  • Some testing options require informed consent to be given directly to an outside laboratory or provider. Schools may want to consider whether and how to verify that the person being tested has given informed consent before administering the test.
  • The State of Minnesota makes no representations or warranties, express or implied, regarding COVID-19 tests provided to schools, including the use, condition, and effectiveness of tests, or the accuracy of test results. The persons ordering and taking a test accept the test "as-is" and assume all risks associated with the test. The State of Minnesota assumes no responsibility for actual, consequential, incidental, special or exemplary damages resulting from, caused by, or associated with any test.

Training on how to run a program

MDH and Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) are working to provide resources and supports to ensure that schools can successfully run local testing programs. Regular trainings will be scheduled and communicated to school districts, charter schools, nonpublic schools and tribal schools. Additionally, use the resources in the links for each testing option to help guide implementation.

Additional guidance and resources

Updated Tuesday, 28-Sep-2021 17:03:15 CDT