Testing regularly for COVID-19 in K-12 schools more effective in saving school days:study

Left, Anton Ivanov and Ujjal Kumar Mukherjee, right, both professors of business administration at University of lllinois Urbana-Champaign. Photo by Fred Zwicky and L. Brian Stauffer, @news.illinois.edu

A new paper co-written by Indian American business professor in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign business professors found that default testing of K-12 students for COVID-19 during the pandemic could have saved up to one out of every five school days lost to the coronavirus during the fall 2021 semester. The paper was published in the journal iScience, and the research was funded by C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute

Professor Ujjal Kumar Mukherjee and Anton Ivanov, both professors of business at UI, found that schools adopting an “opt-out model” – in which students were regularly tested for COVID-19 unless they declined or “opted out” of testing – experienced a 30% lower positivity rate than schools with a voluntary “opt-in” testing model. Mukherjee is an expert in supply chain logistics and innovation in health care.

Other co-authors of the study include Subhonmesh Bose, Sridhar Seshadri, Mehmet Eren Ahsen, and Sebastian Souyris of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as researchers from other institutions, a March 13 news item on the UI website.

“It’s crucial during public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic to keep institutions such as schools open, and testing – along with masking, social distancing and contact tracing – can play a critical role in keeping everyone safe,” Mukherjee I quoted saying in the article.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 296,000 SHIELD Illinois saliva tests from 259 schools in the state of Illinois between Sept.-Nov. 2021. The data showed the opt-out consent model had an 84% higher testing rate and a 30% lower test positivity rate than the opt-in model.

“Overall, our research points to the ineffective nature of the voluntary opt-in model,” said Mukherjee, adding, “There’s clear separation between the default option and the voluntary option in terms of testing rates as well as infection risk.”

The analysis also showed that the reduced positivity rates found in schools that chose the opt-out model could be attributed to their notably higher testing rates, the researchers concluded.

“If extrapolated across all schools, the lower positivity rate and higher testing rates associated with the opt-out model translated into a 20% reduction in the total number of lost school days due to infections over a period of 10 weeks early in the school year,” the study showed.

“To our knowledge, this is one of the first studies using field data across a large swath of K-12 schools to assess the test-to-stay policy implementation, and our results point to the overall effectiveness of adopting the opt-out consent model as a mitigation strategy,” Mukherjee said, findings that could assist policymakers at all levels of administration.





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