COVID-19 Corps Contributes to CDC's Test-to-Stay Plan

A go-to resource for the public, the CDC series of scientific studies called the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (or MMWR for short) is known for providing the latest updates on the pandemic and other public health issues. CDC Foundation COVID-19 Corps members have recently contributed to several of these prestigious reports. One of them, an important study designed to keep kids in school was specifically highlighted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and President Joe Biden in recent press briefings. 

Assigned to the Outbreak Investigation Team at the Lake County Health Department, CDC Foundation field employees Natsumi Nemoto, MPH, Amyanne Cope, MS, and Funmilayo Akindileni, MD, were alerted by their health department’s leadership of a concerning trend in the district’s schools in the Spring of 2020, with just one student with a case of COVID-19 possibly exposing many students and staff in classrooms, lunchrooms and sporting events, resulting in some 50 contacts having to quarantine. 

“We were so overwhelmed,” Nemoto says, “we needed to figure out a way to lessen the burdens for school nurses and local health departments.” Her colleague, Akindileni adds, “Also, we wanted kids to be back in school.” 

Their instincts were on target. By March of 2021, CDC released a study finding that virtual instruction was leading to higher risks for mental and emotional issues among both parents and kids, as well as “lessening some health-supporting behaviors,” like playing outside, interacting with friends and engaging in physical activity. 

In concert with CDC, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and Lake County Health Department leadership, the COVID-19 Corps team, which also includes Chris Caudill and Tashiya Ballentine, instituted a pilot program designed to keep kids in classrooms. Dubbed Test to Stay (TTS), this strategy allows unvaccinated students and staff who are exposed to COVID-19 to remain in school with regular testing, along with continued use of masks and social distancing. 

When their paper was released on December 17 with Nemoto as lead author, it became national news, featured in the New York Times and elsewhere. Not only did CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky mention it in her daily briefing, but President Joe Biden touted the report as well in his remarks on the pandemic a few days later. 

“Today, we don’t have to shut down schools because of a case of COVID-19,” he said. “Now, if a student tests positive, other students can take the test and stay in the classroom if they’re not infected rather than closing the whole school or having to quarantine. We can keep our K-through-12 schools open, and that’s exactly what we should be doing.” 

These COVID-19 Corps members are rightfully proud of their contributions, joining colleagues around the country in contributing to the scientific knowledge surrounding the coronavirus and thereby helping the Centers for Disease Control hone its response. “It’s a great joy for me to know the work of our team is making an impact, not only at the county level, but also nationally,” said Dr. Akindileni. “This is a life-changing finding for the children and parents that have been affected immensely by the pandemic and a sign of hope to many across the country.” Nemoto called it a privilege to be part of the team, and wanted to thank the CDC, the CDC Foundation, Illinois Department of Public Health and Lake County Health for “their incredible partnership and for making it a reality for children to return to in-school learning safely.” 

This blog post is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $68,939,536 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government.

Toni Perling headshot
Toni Perling is a COVID-19 Corps communications officer for the CDC Foundation.