COVID-19 Testing for Schools: Frequently Asked Questions - Minnesota Dept. of Health

COVID-19 Testing for Schools: Frequently Asked Questions

As community spread of COVID-19 endures in Minnesota, Governor Walz, Lt. Governor Flanagan and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) continue to emphasize the importance of COVID-19 testing to slow the spread and keep students in their classrooms.

The State of Minnesota is experiencing high circulation of the Delta variant, which has become the dominant strain circulating in Minnesota causing three out of every four COVID-19 cases in Minnesota. The Delta variant is significantly more contagious than the past variants, which means it will be easier for those who are not fully vaccinated to get COVID-19, especially our children under 12 years who are not yet eligible for vaccination. The current vaccines remain effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. We are at a critical point as cases rise — especially among younger Minnesotans. We must take action to keep our students safe and healthy and to preserve in-person learning.

As recommended by CDC, MDH is strongly encouraging schools to make testing accessible to our students and staff by promoting existing testing opportunities in their communities and offering testing opportunities for students on-site in school. MDE has partnered with MDH to provide testing resources to schools statewide. Learn more about this program at COVID-19 Testing During the 2021-22 School Year.

Below are answers to questions you may have. You can always contact COVIDTesting.MDE@state.mn.us with additional questions. We are here to help support your local testing efforts.

What are the CDC and MDH recommendations for testing in schools?

The CDC and MDH have identified screening testing as an important prevention strategy for schools, as it helps identify infected people — including those with or without symptoms (or before development of symptoms) — who may be contagious, so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission. Refer to CDC: Prevention Strategies to Reduce Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Schools for more information.

Is this the same testing program as last year?

This testing program is similar to the testing program from the 2020-21 school year, but the 2021-22 testing program has expanded the options for schools and provides local control on choices. In addition, funding will be available for schools through grants from Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to help support schools' efforts to provide testing to students and staff.

What has changed for the 2021-22 school testing program?

The 2021-22 program has expanded testing options for schools. Schools will be able to select from a variety of testing options based on their local needs. Testing options include individual PCR tests, pooled PCR tests, and rapid tests — both antigen and molecular.

How does a school or district determine what test is best to use and when?

Schools should review the testing informational sheets and 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 at COVID-19 Testing During the 2021-22 School Year: Available testing resources.

Should students and staff test if they are vaccinated?

Per CDC guidance, students and staff who are vaccinated do not need to participate in screening testing. They should, however, get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19. It is also recommended that they get tested if they were a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

How can schools access testing?

Go to COVID-19 Testing During the 2021-22 School Year for Information on how schools can access testing options.

How can students and staff access testing?

The student and staff COVID-19 testing program at each school may look different. Schools should communicate with students and families regarding what is being offered in school and in their community. Families should check in with their school to learn more about their individual testing program.

Students, school staff, and families, like all Minnesota residents, have several other testing options available to them. Refer to COVID-19 Community Testing Sites for no-barrier community testing locations run by the State of Minnesota. They can also access testing through Minnesota's no-cost COVID-19 Vault Saliva Testing at Home program. Schools that are offering Vault testing can also accept at-home Vault No-Cost COVID Testing for All Minnesotans completed samples to send back to the lab. Local clinics, hospitals and pharmacies also continue to offer no-cost testing. Use the state map at Find Testing Locations to find a site near you.

Are students and staff required to participate in testing?

Screening testing is optional for students and staff. Schools should communicate the benefits of COVID-19 testing for the school community as well as for families. In addition to regular screening testing, testing is strongly encouraged for students and staff if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if someone in the family has been identified as a close contact to a positive person within the family or community.

Are schools required to offer testing?

In order to increase access to testing, all schools are strongly encouraged to offer testing to expand access to COVID-19 testing for students and staff as a key tool to maintain in-person learning.

Can schools test students without parent or guardian consent?

Schools should obtain informed consent for or from the person being tested in the same manner that they would with any health care service.

Should schools provide testing for students in extracurricular activities?

CDC recommends that students involved in certain extracurricular activities test more frequently than the general student population. It is recommended, but not required, for schools to provide testing for students in extracurricular activities. For more information about testing recommendations for students, refer to CDC: Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools.

Do schools need to report testing usage data to the state?

Yes, schools will need to report biweekly on the number of tests they've used in the past two weeks. Information about reporting will be shared with schools individually.

Do schools have to pay for COVID-19 testing?

Free testing options are available for schools through the State of Minnesota and the federal government. If schools choose to implement a for-fee testing program, those tests will need to be paid for using local funds. Grant funds will also be made available by MDE to support testing efforts.

What resources are available to support COVID-19 testing programs in schools?

In addition to test kits, funding through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education will be available to school districts, charter schools, tribal schools, and nonpublic schools to support staffing and other testing related needs. Training and technical support to operationalize local testing programs will also be available. For information regarding the grant program, contact COVIDTesting.MDE@state.mn.us.

Who is eligible for a grant?

All Minnesota school districts, charter schools, tribal schools, and nonpublic schools that are implementing a testing program will be eligible for grant funding.

What can the grant be used for?

Grant funding is available to support implementation of testing programs. This includes funding for staffing, to purchase tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), and any necessary supplies. In order to receive the grant, schools must operate a local testing program and implement contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine as recommended by MDH/CDC for students and staff that test positive for COVID-19.  

Who will receive the test result?

For Midwest Coordination Center and Vault, individual test results will be provided via email or online portal to the person tested. The only people who will have access to an individual's private information will be public health staff from MDH and local public health agencies, contracted staff who are helping MDH with its COVID-19 response, and others as required by law.

For Cue and BinaxNOW Professional rapid tests, the person administering the test will receive the result first. Schools will need to develop protocol for communication of test results to families and students. After the initial test result, the only people who will have access to an person's private information will be public health staff from MDH and local public health agencies, contracted staff who are helping MDH with its COVID-19 response, and others as required by law.  

For BinaxNOW Over-the-Counter test, the person taking the test at home will receive the test result.

How are students and staff privacy protected?

Schools must follow state and federal laws regarding the privacy, security, and confidentiality of private data on individuals. This may include providing any disclosures required by law prior to collecting private or confidential information from an individual.

Schools should carefully consider who needs access to information that may be private or confidential and limit access to only those who need the information to perform their job duties. Schools are strongly encouraged to consult with legal counsel for any questions relating to privacy and confidentiality of data. The State of Minnesota cannot give legal advice to schools or districts and this document should not be relied on as legal advice.

Do participating schools have to order tests and how will they receive their testing supplies?

Yes, schools have to order tests. Information on how to order tests and how schools will receive their testing supplies for each test type are available in these overviews:

What additional testing opportunities are available?

All Minnesotans are encouraged to use Find Testing Locations to find testing options available in their area. Additionally, families can order an at-home saliva test from COVID-19 Vault Saliva Testing at Home. All community and at-home tests are provided at no-cost to the recipient. Many pharmacies are also offering no-cost testing options for Minnesotans. Students can also be tested by their physician or local health care provider.

What should a student do if they receive a positive test result?

If a positive test result is received, students should follow their school's policy for reporting a confirmed COVID-19 case. The MDH response team will call the student or guardian directly with important health information for them and the people with whom they live. It is important to answer the call from the health department, as the call will provide information about how to keep students, their family, and community safe. If a student has a positive test result, MDH recommends that they isolate for 10 days from the date of the test and should be fever free for 24 hours before returning to school.

What do people do if their pool testing comes back positive but they haven't yet done an individual test?

With the Midwest Coordination Center option, there are two main steps. First, a pool of five to 10 students are tested. If one or more students in the pool are positive for COVID-19, that pool test result will come back as positive. This first test result is typically returned within 24 hours. When there is a positive pool, samples are re-taken from people in the positive pool and re-tested to receive the individual test result. During this time, people in the positive pool should quarantine until they receive a negative test result from their individual test. The individual test will happen at school and will be coordinated by the school.

How accurate are the tests?

All test options provided by the State or federal government have been approved by the FDA. They are all effective when used as intended. In general, PCR tests (Midwest Coordination Center and Vault) as well as the Cue test have a strong accuracy rate. Antigen tests (Binax Professional and Binax Over-the-Counter) are most effective when used in symptomatic people. When used for screening asymptomatic people, the test is best used if testing frequently (e.g., two times/week) or when confirmatory PCR tests are used. Because there could be a false negative test result when using antigen tests, CDC has issued an Antigen Test Algorithm for Community Settings to inform when subsequent tests should be done.

Why are students encouraged to test frequently?

This frequent testing is used as a screening tool. Knowing that the incubation period for the virus can be as short as three to five days, this will allow students to be tested regularly enough to detect most asymptomatic cases. When positive cases are detected, they can be isolated and close contacts can be identified and quarantined, limiting additional potential for spread. Anyone who feels ill between regular in-school testing opportunities should seek another test immediately. Refer to CDC: Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools: Screening Testing for additional guidance.

Should students test even without symptoms?

Yes. This is why all schools are encouraged to use the Midwest Coordination Center pool testing option. The purpose of screening testing is to catch those persons who have COVID-19 but have no symptoms, or those who might just be getting ready to develop symptoms. Early detection can help reduce large outbreaks of COVID-19. Students who are experiencing symptoms should contact their health care provider or seek out a test from a COVID-19 Community Testing site, pharmacy, clinic, or hospital.

How long will the tests take to administer?

Information about each test type is available in these overviews:

Can students still go to school while waiting for test results?

Students without symptoms or known exposure should continue to go to school or participate in activities while waiting for test results. If a student is experiencing symptoms or has knowingly been exposed to COVID-19, they should consult their health care provider to get a test and should follow quarantine guidance.

Who pays for these tests (insurance, the state, the school district)?

Free school testing options are funded by the State of Minnesota and the federal government. If schools choose to implement their own for-fee testing program, those tests will need to be paid for by local funds. Grant funds will also be made available to support testing efforts.

Updated Tuesday, 21-Sep-2021 11:41:36 CDT