The Rockefeller Foundation is launching the K-12 National Testing Action Program (NTAP) to work with the nation’s leading testing companies to operationalize funding from the Biden Administration’s recent $10 billion allocation for COVID-19 testing as part of the American Rescue Plan to reopen schools safely.
“That money will go to the departments of health and each of the individual states and is meant to be earmarked for successful school testing, and that’s the core,” said Mara Aspinall, an adviser to the Rockefeller Foundation and professor at Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions.“What we like about this NTAP program is that it provides the operationalizing, the information for schools and school districts to decide what type of testing is best for them."
Quest Diagnostics (DGX), Abbot (ABT), Roche (RHHBY), Sonic Healthcare USA, Exact Sciences (EXAS), UnitedHealth Group (UNH), and the Broad Institute are just a few of the 21 companies joining the Rockefeller Foundation in this effort.
The program is designed to be federally guided, state/regionally coordinated, and locally implemented. Aspinall tells Yahoo Finance that opening schools isn't just about education — it's also about the economy.
“This is about education, but it’s really about the economy and businesses. You cannot separate the two, but before getting our kids back to school, we’ll get their parents back to work and we’ll get our economy back working,” she said. “We will have to pay for the years of education loss at some point, either directly with additional schooling or indirectly because our kids' education won’t be as strong as it should be.”
According to the Brookings Institution, the cost to the United States in future earnings of four months of lost education is $2.5 trillion—12.7% of annual GDP.
Aspinall says that $350 billion of lost revenue and growth could be reversed with school reopenings. She also notes that school closings have had a profound negative economic impact on women, to the tune of $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity from women leaving the labor force and or reducing working hours to assume caretaking responsibilities.
The Rockefeller Foundation believes three key things are needed to reopen schools safely: Safety and mitigation measures (masking and distancing, for example), teacher and staff vaccinations, and regular and reliable testing of students and adults.
According to Mathematica and RAND Corporation, as cited by the Rockefeller Foundation, found that weekly testing of students, teachers, and staff could reduce in-school infections by an estimated 50%.
Aspinall tells Yahoo Finance that yet another challenge in reopening schools is fatigue.
“Testing fatigue, pandemic fatigue ... It’s hard for us to keep going. The problem is the virus makes the time schedule — and the virus is not quitting and trying to get stronger with all these variants. So we have to keep it up. When kids are back in school, it’s the greatest news and feels a little bit like normal.”
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.