Assessment of a Program for SARS-CoV-2 Screening and Environmental Monitoring in an Urban Public School District

John Crowe, Andy T. Schnaubelt, Scott Schmidtbonne, Kathleen Angell, Julia Bai, Teresa Eske, Molly Nicklin, Catherine Pratt, Bailey White, Brodie Crotts-Hannibal, Nicholas Staffend, Vicki Herrera, Jeramie Cobb, Jennifer Conner, Julie Carstens, Jonell Tempero, Lori Bouda, Matthew Ray, James V. Lawler, W. Scott CampbellJohn Martin Lowe, Joshua Santarpia, Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, Michael Wiley, David Brett-Major, Cheryl Logan, M. Jana Broadhurst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Importance: Scalable programs for school-based SARS-CoV-2 testing and surveillance are needed to guide in-person learning practices and inform risk assessments in kindergarten through 12th grade settings. Objectives: To characterize SARS-CoV-2 infections in staff and students in an urban public school setting and evaluate test-based strategies to support ongoing risk assessment and mitigation for kindergarten through 12th grade in-person learning. Design, Setting, and Participants: This pilot quality improvement program engaged 3 schools in Omaha, Nebraska, for weekly saliva polymerase chain reaction testing of staff and students participating in in-person learning over a 5-week period from November 9 to December 11, 2020. Wastewater, air, and surface samples were collected weekly and tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA to evaluate surrogacy for case detection and interrogate transmission risk of in-building activities. Main Outcomes and Measures: SARS-CoV-2 detection in saliva and environmental samples and risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Results: A total of 2885 supervised, self-collected saliva samples were tested from 458 asymptomatic staff members (mean [SD] age, 42.9 [12.4] years; 303 women [66.2%]; 25 Black or African American [5.5%], 83 Hispanic [18.1%], 312 White [68.1%], and 35 other or not provided [7.6%]) and 315 students (mean age, 14.2 [0.7] years; 151 female students [48%]; 20 Black or African American [6.3%], 201 Hispanic [63.8%], 75 White [23.8%], and 19 other race or not provided [6.0%]). A total of 46 cases of SARS-CoV-2 (22 students and 24 staff members) were detected, representing an increase in cumulative case detection rates from 1.2% (12 of 1000) to 7.0% (70 of 1000) among students and from 2.1% (21 of 1000) to 5.3% (53 of 1000) among staff compared with conventional reporting mechanisms during the pilot period. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in wastewater samples from all pilot schools as well as in air samples collected from 2 choir rooms. Sequencing of 21 viral genomes in saliva specimens demonstrated minimal clustering associated with 1 school. Geographical analysis of SARS-CoV-2 cases reported district-wide demonstrated higher community risk in zip codes proximal to the pilot schools. Conclusions and Relevance: In this study of staff and students in 3 urban public schools in Omaha, Nebraska, weekly screening of asymptomatic staff and students by saliva polymerase chain reaction testing was associated with increased SARS-CoV-2 case detection, exceeding infection rates reported at the county level. Experiences differed among schools, and virus sequencing and geographical analyses suggested a dynamic interplay of school-based and community-derived transmission risk. Collectively, these findings provide insight into the performance and community value of test-based SARS-CoV-2 screening and surveillance strategies in the kindergarten through 12th grade educational setting..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26447
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 22 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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