California schools prepare to spot post-break COVID-19 cases

California’s 7 million students and school employees are getting free at-home COVID-19 tests to help prevent outbreaks at their school when they return from spring break.

The state has shipped or delivered more than 14.3 million antigen tests, enough for two tests per person, to counties and school districts as part of a massive push to limit infections and avoid classroom closures after the break, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced Saturday.

The strategy is part of the state’s "endemic" approach to the coronavirus, emphasizing prevention and quick reaction to outbreaks over mandated masking and business shutdowns.

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 30: COVID-19 antigen rapid test kits are pictured in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, December 30, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

"California is focused on keeping schools open and students safe, and we’re not letting our guard down," Newsom said in a statement. "We know that COVID-19 is still present in our communities, but the SMARTER Plan is how we keep people safe and continue moving the state forward," he said, referring to the state’s acronym for a strategy that calls for shots, masks, awareness, readiness, and testing.

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The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and has not said the coronavirus has reached the endemic stage, where the virus still exists in a community but becomes manageable as immunity builds.

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California’s plan focuses on stockpiling masks and establishing the infrastructure to provide vaccinations and tests in the event of an outbreak.

California ended the mask mandate in schools on March 12, almost exactly two years after the state first shut down schools in many districts to prevent COVID-19 spread.

The new guidance made face coverings strongly recommended rather than a requirement at schools, regardless of vaccination status. Local jurisdictions are free to impose their own requirements.

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