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School testing continues in Pierce County

UPDATED: We published our full report for the school testing pilot. View the report along with answers to your questions below. 

Why did the information from the Health Department and the school districts say less than 5 cases?

Fewer than 5 cases is the standard we use when the number is less than 5. 

Why was I told my child(ren) had been exposed to COVID-19 but not by who?

We never release the names of people who test positive for COVID-19. 

Did the pilot meet participation goals?

Approximately 72% of in-person learners participated. We were pleased with this level of participation and helped us decide to support schools re-opening.

 Why do we still need to wear a mask and social distance if testing is available? Why do we need to continue testing even with the vaccine?

Testing doesn’t replace other mitigation strategies, such as mask-wearing and keeping 6 feet apart. Instead, testing adds another layer of protection to keep our community safe. Testing, mask-wearing, and social distancing will continue to be an important part of in-person learning until public health guidance changes.


Our school testing pilot wrapped up at the end of 2020 and provided valuable information to schools for their decision making about in-person learning.

During the pilot, we tested more than 4,000 students and staff and completed close to 10,000 rapid antigen tests. Our COVID-19 positivity rate was 0.2%.

Only 1 out of every 491 antigen tests completed was positive after confirmation with a PCR test. This is promising news for schools, parents, their children and our community.

“Our pilot testing program gave us hope that we can bring students back for in-person learning while protecting health and safety and controlling community spread. The results give us confidence that the guidelines Department of Health set last month are valid,” said Director of Health Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “We will continue to work with all districts in the county as they safely bring students back to classrooms.”

We completed our end of year summary this week and will publish a full report in February to summarize our testing pilot findings.

How districts are continuing to test.

Why keep testing if the pilot showed very low levels of cases in our schools and a vaccination for everybody is right around the corner? Because testing students and staff is still one of the best tools we have in our efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

All three school districts decided to continue to test students and staff. They chose strategies included in the Department of Health’s testing guidance. We helped guide, support and transition testing logistics to  the districts.

Eatonville is offering Everlywell PCR tests to staff and eligible students (16 and older) to participate in weekly testing. Peninsula plans weekly tests for only staff and select student populations. White River is testing secondary students using a BinaxNOW rapid antigen test as part of its back-to-school event. Districts used the BinaxNOW test during the pilot program. The district will test staff weekly using a CareStart rapid antigen test.

The White River School District brought its K-5 students back to school in December. Middle and high school students returned to classrooms this month, but as White River School District Superintendent Janel Keating Hambly said, “We are not doing it alone.”

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department continues to provide testing kits along with support and guidance. Superintendent Hambly also credits a “community that has stood with us.”

Last week, White River district nurses, together with the City of Buckley Fire Department volunteers and East Pierce County Fire and Rescue volunteers, gave almost 1,000 rapid antigen tests to middle and high school students.

Is your school interested in COVID-19 testing?

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department offers test kits free of charge to community partners, including schools. While we cannot provide staffing or Personal Protective Equipment, we can provide test kits and help you choose a testing model for your school. We offer several testing strategies to help districts reopen.

If you are interested in starting a testing program at your school, contact epitesting@tpchd.org. Supplies are limited.

Learn more about our testing options for the public, such as drive thru-testing, visiting a testing center, hosting a mobile testing trailer or even requesting home delivery of a PCR test right to your front door. Learn more about these options at tpchd.org/covidtest

A child excitedly runs to the bus stop.