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Reopening Schools: A Primer for State and Local Leaders

Reopening Schools: A Primer for State and Local Leaders

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This policy memo outlines two key strategies for state and local leaders looking to more safely reopen their schools: enhancing school air quality and implementing robust screening testing programs to stop outbreaks before they begin. The memo summarizes insights outlined in a recent public event featuring Dr. Joseph G. Allen, President Anthony Monaco and Vice Provost for Research Caroline Attardo Genco of Tufts University, Dr. KJ Seung, and Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Someville, MA.

Better air quality can reduce the risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission in indoor settings. Robust air ventilation, filtration, and protocols can help schools protect their students, faculty, and staff from the virus. Partnering with the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, Tufts University implemented a large-scale, screening testing program for its students, faculty, and staff. Using pooled testing to test multiple samples at once, Tufts was able to test many members of its community through this cost-efficient and effective program. The university then assisted its surrounding communities of Somerville and Medford as they sought to launch testing efforts for their schools as well.

Several key considerations for state and local leaders examined in this memo include:

  1. Ensuring high air quality in schools through ventilation, air filtration, and other techniques and processes.
  2. Partnering with laboratories and universities for testing.
  3. Developing a robust test results notification protocol.
  4. Implementing contact tracing protocols.
  5. Augmenting personnel capacity for testing processes. 
  6. Engaging the community to support the testing program and foster consent.
  7. Establishing strong information technology and logistics systems for testing program coordination.

Led by Dr. Margaret Bourdeaux, Research Director of the Program in Global Public Policy and Social Change at Harvard Medical School, and the Co-Lead of the BKC Policy Practice, the memo was co-authored by Digital Pandemic Response staff members Alexis Montouris Ciambotti, Adam Nagy, and Will Marks, with editorial and design help from Hilary Ross and Lydia Rosenberg.

The BKC Policy Practice: Digital Pandemic Response program is generously supported by the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.

For further information and to discuss the content of this memo: contact the Program in Global Public Policy at Department of Global Medicine & Social Change at Harvard Medical School (  

Event Resources

On March 18, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School’s Program in Global Public Policy and Social Change, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government co-hosted a live event featuring expert panelists to discuss ventilation and environmental health as well as standing up large-scale screening testing programs in Massachusetts as strategies for reopening schools safely. This policy memo summarizes key considerations from the session.

Download the Memo

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