Auchincloss on Testing and Schools


Newly elected and sworn in (today) U.S. House of Representatives Member Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) penned this oped in today’s Boston Globe calling for massive expansion of COVID testing to get schools reopened, but his proposal needs some other legs to stand on.

He properly notes that the vaccination route is not yet open to children — though NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told me this past week that it soon would be — so schools need to up the bar on testing while waiting for vaccinations.

Auchincloss writes:

Mass testing is already sustaining in-person learning. More than 100 colleges in the Northeast have been using the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to process over 45,000 COVID-19 tests a day. That testing, in combination with masks and distancing, is minimizing outbreaks. Students have been in class since August. Massachusetts is ready now to deploy low-cost mass testing to provide that same opportunity for public schools. Multiple testing providers have converged on pooled testing, a proven technology to use gold-standard COVID-19 tests to test multiple samples at once, bringing down the cost of a test to the price of a school lunch. This creates an opportunity for public schools to implement weekly screening testing that will give them similar reassurance and protections to the testing programs deployed by research universities in the fall.

Boston Globe, 3 January 2021

Of course Auchincloss is right that widespread testing would enable parents, teachers, administrators and schoolchildren to know their COVID risks better in the educational terrain. But what he recommends has been something that should have been both a federal and every state’s top priority since March 2020, not just for children but for society at large.

Ten months after President Trump told writer Bob Woodward that he was fully aware of how dangerous, how contagious, and how lethal COVID-19 could be, Representative Auchincloss is celebrating a state-based consortium successfully doing 45,000 tests a day. This just isn’t enough. If we stay with just K-12 students in Massachusetts (and we shouldn’t), the figure there is roughly 950,000 students.

Auchincloss is totally right to highlight the incredible deficit in America’s COVID testing capabilities, resolve, and priorities. He is well informed, both on his own and because his father happens to be Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, Deputy Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases reporting to Dr. Anthony Fauci. But what he misses in this editorial is that there are many other components that have to come along with school reopening that he would be wise to include.

Four ‘musts’ to accompany the testing regime Auchincloss proposes are (1) more PPE for school teachers, health staff, and administrators; (2) a scheme for decreasing class sizes and rotating class times so that no students miss courses but that the jammed classrooms aren’t the norm before widespread vaccinations and herd immunity; (3) updated HVAC systems throughout school, restrooms, and kitchens as well as high-efficiency particulate air filtration and wherever possible ultraviolet germicidal irradiation; and (4) more teachers and teacher assistants to make all of this work!

The American Federation of Teachers issued a school reopening plan in the summer of 2020 that goes into greater detail and breadth at the steps communities could take, along with testing, to get schools open. What has been missing is a commitment from the federal government to financially backstop the schools in this time of crisis. There is some money in the recently passed COVID relief bill for schools, but not nearly enough.

So Kudos to Representative Auchincloss on being sworn in today and for offering thoughtful comments on testing and schools — but he needs to demand more in terms of resources and to understand the other vital building blocks for safely reopening schools if he really wants this to happen.

— Steve Clemons


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