The Department of Health Services (DHS) will again offer convenient COVID-19 testing through schools for students, teachers and staff for the 2022-2023 school year. To learn more about the 2022-2023 K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program, please view this webinar from July 14, 2022. 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 program vendors for testing services and supplies.
Free-of-charge and convenient COVID-19 testing services will be available through approved program vendors for the 2022-2023 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 rapid, point-of-care antigen tests or highly accurate laboratory-based testing for their students and staff, these tests provide reliable results.
- COVID-19 testing is flexible. Wisconsin schools can conduct testing on their own or be matched with a program vendor to provide COVID-19 testing operations that are flexible to the school’s needs. Schools choose testing supplies and services appropriate for their school needs.
COVID-19 testing support from the DHS K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program 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 align their testing program with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Testing programs can include any of the following elements using rapid, point-of-care (tests done onsite at schools) antigen tests and/or highly accurate, laboratory-based tests and at-home tests:
- Testing for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms or those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 (diagnostic testing)
- Testing for people who attend or participate in school-based events or activities (event testing)
- Testing on a routine basis for unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals (screening testing)
- Testing of large groups in the school when there has been a COVID-19 outbreak (outbreak testing)
To access this federally funded resource, please complete the 2022-2023 K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program enrollment form. If you have any questions about this process, please contact DHSK12COVIDTESTING@dhs.wisconsin.gov. Schools that participated in the 2021-2022 DHS COVID-19 K-12 Testing Program MUST re-enroll to participate in the program for the upcoming school year.
To help ensure COVID-19 testing is available when your school year begins, please complete the form by July 22. Enrollment will continue throughout the 2022-2023 school year, as funding allows.
A complete list of specific school responsibilities is outlined in the participation form and will also be provided to schools/districts that enroll in the 2022-2023 K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program. Initial school responsibilities will include:
- Communicate with students, staff, and families. Clear and consistent communication is critical to building support for the testing program within your school community. It is important to communicate any changes in your school/district’s COVID-19 testing plan, including availability, registration information, location(s), hours and types of testing available.
Schools that choose to conduct point-of-care testing without vendor support will 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, Laboratory Quick Start Guide to CMS CLIA Certification. For questions regarding CLIA certification, contact: DHSDQACLIA@dhs.wisconsin.gov Follow all state of Wisconsin and federal reporting requirements. 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. Testing also helps determine when individuals with COVID-19 symptoms can return to school.
- Testing in schools helps ensure convenient and equitable access. Schools can help make testing convenient for kids, teachers and staff without requiring extra appointments or transportation.
- Testing increases confidence in schools’ ability to provide healthy, safe learning environments. Strong testing programs with regular and transparent data sharing can help build confidence in school safety.
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 screening at school, for individuals who attend or participate in school events, or for outbreaks.
- How will my school/district be matched with a vendor? Based on information the school/district provides through completing this form, DHS will match the school/district with a partner vendor to support the school/district's testing needs.
- 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 not covered under this program. It allows schools to be matched with a program vendor and/or supplies to provide on-site or virtual support to assist with specimen collection and test results.
- 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(link sends e-mail). Schools who conduct their own point-of-care testing (testing done onsite) 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 ESSER III funds remain available through Sept. 30, 2024, 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.
- 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 (link sends e-mail).
- 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.;
- 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 or school volunteer 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 form 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 onsite testing, schools should:
- Assess and select the model, operations 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 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.
- For information on isolation and quarantine please refer to CDC Quarantine and Isolation Guidance.
- For additional guidance on this topic refer to the CDC Guidance for Operational Schools.
- Contact your local or tribal health department who may offer specific guidance for your school or school district.
How may the results of at-home tests (also known as ‘self-tests”) be used for decision-making? Due to the increased availability and recommendation of at-home tests, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) recommends that at-home COVID-19 tests may be used for public health decision making. Local and tribal health departments (LTHDs) may consider at-home COVID-19 test results to inform certain public health decisions, such as determining if someone has COVID-19 for the purposes of returning to school. For more information on at-home COVID-19 antigen testing use and reporting please review DPH BCD memo 2022-11. For information on how your county will utilize at-home testing, please contact your local health department.
When should an individual be referred for follow-up testing? Please refer to the CDC guidance on this topic. 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.
- Reporting of positive or negative antibody test results is no longer required.
- 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
- 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.