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DHSS and DESE bring pooled COVID-19 testing to K-12 classrooms

Posted on Thursday, August 26, 2021 at 1:45 pm

The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services announced a partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks Inc. (“Ginkgo”) to provide pooled SARS-CoV-2 testing through Concentric by Ginkgo.

Starting Monday, Aug. 23, Concentric will begin enrolling and onboarding interested schools in this comprehensive testing program. This will continue throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Laboratory and testing services are provided in partnership with local Missouri labs.

As school districts across the country work hard to re-open, and our youngest students remain ineligible for vaccination, regular testing remains critical for supporting students, teachers and staff by providing a predictable environment for learning. Pooled classroom testing, which combines anterior nasal swab samples from all consenting individuals in a classroom and runs them as a single test, is a simple and scalable way to test many people at once while minimizing resource strain. Support for this program is entirely drawn from the federal American Rescue Plan funds through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which allocated $10 billion to states and territories for school testing. Missouri received approximately $185 million to “detect, diagnose, trace and monitor COVID-19 and prevent its spread” in schools.

“We believe this testing program, when combined with additional prevention strategies, will be instrumental in helping schools provide safe onsite learning opportunities and increasing confidence of parents and families,” said Robert Knodell, Acting Director of DHSS.

The testing program will offer pooled SARS-CoV-2 testing throughout the state through Concentric by Ginkgo, which operates statewide programs in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and others. Ginkgo will provide all the training and testing materials necessary, as well as staffing, data processing and lab services through Missouri-based labs. Students, teachers, nurses and school administrators alike have described the testing process as “simple and painless.” This comprehensive program will include molecular pooled testing, as well as individual molecular testing for follow-up. The program has already been piloted in the state and is immediately accepting sign-ups from schools and districts.

“After this past school year, students and families are ready to get back to full in-person school and all the extra-curriculars, support services, and socializing that entails,” said Missouri Commissioner of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven. “This regular testing is one more strategy to help keep our students safe and our school doors open.”

Pooled testing joins the types of strategies already listed on the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ website for Elementary and Secondary Schools, including vaccination, symptom screening, physical distancing and facilities improvements, masks/face coverings, hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment, and monitoring of return to school after illness. These advisory recommendations are developed and updated in collaboration with the DESE, MDHSS and infectious disease physicians from around the state.

“We built Concentric because everyone’s health is connected, and we’re proud to work with school districts across Missouri to support comprehensive testing within school communities,” said Matthew McKnight, Chief Commercial Officer at Ginkgo. “Asymptomatic testing provides critical information to educators, public health leaders, and community members. Each of us at Concentric is committed to supporting communities as they work to keep kids in classrooms and COVID out this fall.”