The Department of Health Services (DHS) is offering convenient school-based testing for teachers, staff, students, and their families for the 2021-2022 school year. This testing program is intended to help K-12 public, private, and independent charter schools provide safe and healthy learning environments by connecting them with appropriate program vendors to meet their testing needs.
Regular COVID-19 testing can help support schools in making decisions about their efforts to protect the health and well-being of those in their buildings, such as universal and correct use of masks, maintaining adequate physical distance, isolation and quarantine, ventilation improvements, and thorough handwashing.
Free of charge and convenient COVID-19 testing services are now available through approved program vendors for the 2021-2022 school year. The program is designed to simplify the testing process for schools. Under the new program:
- COVID-19 testing is free of charge. COVID-19 testing supplies, diagnostics, and specimen collection services will be made available to schools free of charge.
- COVID-19 testing is safe and accurate. Whether the school chooses to use highly accurate laboratory-based testing or rapid, point of care antigen tests for their students, staff, and families, these tests provide reliable results.
- COVID-19 testing is flexible. While DHS recommends following CDC guidelines for school testing, Wisconsin schools can conduct testing on their own or select a program vendor to provide full-scale COVID-19 testing operations that are flexible to the school’s needs, including conducting testing registration and obtaining consent, specimen collection, shipping, resulting, result reporting, and patient result notification. The school chooses the model and services that are appropriate for their community.
The free of charge and convenient COVID-19 testing support may include testing registration, specimen collection, resulting, result reporting, and patient results notification. Participation in the program is voluntary. Testing supplies, diagnostics, and swabbing services will be provided free of cost.
DHS recommends that schools and school districts design their testing program in alignment with the CDC's Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Testing programs can include any of the following elements using rapid, point of care antigen tests and/or highly accurate, laboratory-based tests:
- Testing for individuals with symptoms or those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19
- Testing for people who attend or participate in school-based events or activities
- Testing on a routine basis for unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals
- Testing of large groups in the school when there has been a COVID-19 outbreak
To access this federally funded resource, please complete the K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program Participation Survey. If you have any questions about this process, please contact DHSK12COVIDTESTING@dhs.wisconsin.gov.
- Communicate with students, staff, and families. Clear and consistent communication is critical to building support for the testing program within your school community. To help support your efforts, DHS has provided a toolkit with the resources you need to effectively communicate the benefits of the program to teachers and staff, students, families, and your larger community. View the COVID-19 K-12 Testing Program Communications Toolkit.
Schools that choose to conduct their own point-of-care testing will also need to:
- Maintain their own CLIA Certificate or Certificate of Waiver. If you need a CLIA waiver, you can find directions for obtaining one through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- Report all results to the State of Wisconsin and to federal authorities (HHS). Reporting account set-up and guidance is available from DHS.
Key reasons to test in schools
- Testing helps reduce community spread and keeps schools operating safely. Testing individuals who are symptomatic and close contacts helps enable rapid detection of cases to reduce or prevent school outbreaks. A routine screening testing program, which regularly tests people 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). Testing also helps protect children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and helps determine when fully vaccinated individuals with COVID-19 symptoms can return to school.
- Testing in schools helps ensure convenient and equitable access. Schools can help make testing a trusted, convenient, and reliable part of the community on a schedule that works for kids, teachers, staff and their families without requiring extra appointments or transportation.
- Testing increases confidence in schools’ ability to provide healthy, safe learning environments. Students, parents/guardians, teachers, and staff may be anxious about in-person learning without knowing whether they may be exposed to infection by others in the school community. Strong testing programs with regular and transparent data sharing can help build confidence in school safety.
Resources to learn more
- View the COVID-19 K-12 testing program communications toolkit for resources to effectively communicate the benefits of the program.
- See the K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program fact sheet for a general overview of the program.
- Learn about outbreak testing offered through the 2021-2022 school year testing program.
- View the July 1, 2021 webinar to learn more about the COVID-19 testing supports available for the 2021-2022 school year.
- View the April 29, 2021 webinar for more information about the CDC’s COVID-19 testing recommendations for K-12 schools.
- View the April 23, 2021 webinar for more information on how to obtain a CLIA Certificate of Waiver, how to perform testing using BinaxNOW kits, and how to report results.
Frequently asked questions by category
- What support is DHS providing schools and school districts to conduct COVID-19 testing? DHS received federal funding to support testing in schools to support their work to maintain safe in-person learning. Testing is available for staff and students who are symptomatic and close contacts, for routine screening at school, for individuals who attend or participate in school events, or for outbreaks.
- Can schools still order test supplies or partner with approved program vendors for testing during summer 2021? Yes. DHS is currently providing point-of-care antigen and confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to schools to use free of charge during summer 2021. In order to perform point-of-care antigen testing, the school must:
- Have a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) Certificate of Waiver or be working with a partner (such as a local and tribal health department) who holds this certificate
- Report all test results to the State of Wisconsin and to federal authorities (HHS). Reporting account set-up and guidance is available from DHS.
- Facilitate access to PCR testing as needed based on DHS guidance.
- Order tests and supplies from DHS.
COVID-19 testing services are also available through approved program vendors through August 31, 2021. To access this federally funded resource, contact a program vendor serving your area from the list of approved K-12 testing partners on the COVID-19: Testing Pilot Program webpage.
If you have any questions about testing support available during summer 2021, please contact DHSK12COVIDTESTING@dhs.wisconsin.gov.
- Is it mandatory to test students and staff? No, participation in the testing program is voluntary.
- Will the program offer schools funding for additional staff in order to conduct testing? No. Direct funding to pay existing staff is currently not covered under this program. The COVID-19 K-12 Testing Program Participation Survey allows schools to select a program vendor and/or supplies to provide on-site or virtual support to assist with specimen collection and testing.
- Is the cost associated with biohazard waste disposal covered under this program? No, the cost of biohazard waste disposal is not covered under this program. Schools are responsible for safely disposing of waste. Program vendors who support testing in schools may provide waste disposal. Other options include the use of biohazard bags, hard-sided biohazard containers for used swabs, and/or the use of a medical biohazard disposal service. For additional information, see CDC Waste Management Guidelines for SARS-CoV-2 Point-of-Care Testing.
- Do schools need a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) Certificate of Waiver to participate in this program? If a program vendor supports your school testing, then the school or school district does not need to obtain a CLIA Certificate of Waiver. All program vendors that offer rapid, point-of-care testing hold a valid CLIA Certificate of Waiver. Schools can verify their vendor’s CLIA Certificate of Waiver by asking them to provide their CLIA number and checking it on the CDC CLIA Laboratory Search website or emailing DHSDQACLIA@wi.gov. Schools who conduct their own point-of-care testing will need to maintain their own Certificate of Waiver. If you need a CLIA waiver, you can find directions for obtaining one through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- Is the CLIA certificate or Certificate of Waiver application fee covered under the program? While DHS is unable to reimburse schools for the cost of the CLIA certificate or Certificate of Waiver application fee, schools are able to use federal stimulus funds they have received to cover this cost to conduct waived COVID-19 tests. While these funds remain available, school districts can file a claim for the expending dollars in the same manner as other federal stimulus fund claims. Schools that are conducting other waived tests (for example, making treatment decisions based on blood sugar test results) will need to review their waiver every two years and pay for that fee out of other funding sources. For more information, refer to the CLIA Waiver Frequently Asked Questions from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
- Do schools need an order signed by a medical provider to conduct testing? Yes. Schools may work with a local ordering provider to support their testing program or may use the DHS statewide standing orders to support the use of rapid, point of care antigen tests and high accuracy laboratory-based tests, in compliance with the manufacturer’s Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Schools conducting testing under the DHS statewide standing order for point of care tests will be required to complete an attestation form and plan to facilitate access to confirmatory PCR testing as needed. Orders written by other clinicians with prescribing authority must comply with the DHS Health Alert Network (HAN) recommendations for the use of state supplies.
- Where can I find out additional information about K-12 testing in schools? Schools can find more information and guidance on the Department of Public Instruction website. If K-12 schools have specific questions about testing, email DHSK12COVIDTesting@dhs.wisconsin.gov.
- Who at my school/school district is allowed to collect the specimen for a COVID-19 test? Does it have to be a nurse? Any trained staff member is allowed to collect specimens and result rapid, point of care antigen tests. Training is available through online videos and materials and from test manufacturers. For more information about where to access this training, email DHSK12COVIDTesting@dhs.wisconsin.gov. The COVID-19 K-12 Testing Program Participation Survey allows schools to indicate whether they would prefer to be matched with a program vendor that is able to provide on-site support staff to assist with specimen collection.
- How should schools prepare to test students and staff onsite? Schools interested in offering on site testing will need to prepare additional mitigation measures and plans. To safely and effectively conduct on site testing, schools should:
- Assess and select the model, operations and vendor that is appropriate for their school community.
- Communicate with students, staff and their families about the school’s testing program.
- Identify the space(s) where testing will occur, keeping individuals with symptoms safely separated from healthy individuals.
- Develop processes for sending individuals who test positive home as soon as possible.
- Offer instructions to access follow-up testing when needed.
More information on masking, physical distancing, contact tracing, cleaning, and other recommended COVID-19 mitigation measures in school settings can be found in the CDC’s Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools.
- Should schools require a negative test for students and staff before returning to school after they have been sick? If students or staff test positive, how long should they isolate and quarantine? No. It is not recommended to require a negative test before returning to school or work. There have been reports that an individual can continue to test positive long after they are considered to be contagious. Students and staff can return to school after 24 hours have passed without a fever and without the use of fever reducing medications, improvement in respiratory symptoms (for example, cough, shortness of breath), and at least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared. Students and staff who did not experience symptoms but tested positive can return to school after at least 10 days have passed since the date of their diagnostic test. A 14-day quarantine for close contacts remains the safest quarantine strategy for preventing transmission of COVID-19. Shortened quarantine options may be available in some situations.
For additional guidance on this topic:
- Refer to the DHS Guidelines for the Prevention, Investigation, and Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks in K-12 Schools in Wisconsin and the DHS Post-Vaccination Guidance for Schools for isolation, quarantine, and exclusion recommendations for a variety of test result, symptom, exposure, and vaccination status scenarios.
- Contact your local or tribal health department who may offer specific guidance for your school or school district.
- When should an individual be referred for follow-up testing? When antigen tests are used to identify COVID-19, follow-up testing is recommended for some individuals to confirm the accuracy of the test. High accuracy follow-up testing is recommended for individuals who are symptomatic and test negative, and for people who are asymptomatic and test positive. Confirmatory testing should be conducted as soon as possible, no more than 48 hours after the antigen test. For a simple guide on when re-testing is needed, see COVID-19 Antigen Testing: When is it Best to Retest? Additional guidance for the use of antigen testing is located in the COVID-19 Health Alert #17: Important Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Antigen Tests.
- Does a school district need to have access to lab-based molecular follow-up tests? A two-tier testing strategy is recommended for all schools that conduct rapid, point of care antigen testing. Schools conducting testing under the DHS statewide standing order for point of care tests will be required to complete an attestation form and plan to facilitate access to confirmatory PCR testing as needed. Schools can work with their matched program vendor to facilitate access to lab-based molecular follow-up tests, a second type of rapid point of care test, or refer staff and students to:
- a free community testing site that conducts molecular testing
- free at-home saliva specimen collection kits offered by the DHS
- follow-up testing from a health care provider or a free or low cost health clinic for those who do not have a health care home (verify if they are conducting COVID-19 molecular testing prior to referral)
Local and tribal health departments may also have additional testing resource suggestions.