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In NYC and LA, returning pupils face battery of virus tests

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

School aide Serin Brandt, center, helps a student as he arrives on a scooter for the first day of in-person classes at Erasmus High School in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in New York. The city's plans to send kids back into classrooms rely on an ambitious plan to do random virus testing of pupils and staff throughout the school year. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The two largest school districts in the U.S. are rolling out ambitious and costly plans to test students and staff for the coronavirus, bidding to help keep school buildings open amid a rise in infections among the nation's school-age children.

New York City set in motion its program to begin monthly testing of 10% to 20% of students and staff in every building on Thursday, as the final wave of the district's more than 1 million students returned to brick-and-mortar classrooms for the first time in six months,

“This is going to allow us to keep a constant eye on what is happening in each school, and make sure we can keep everyone safe,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said, imploring parents to fill out consent forms so their children can participate. “We are going to start testing next week.”

With an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 tests expected each month, each costing between $78 and $90, New York City’s school-based testing plan goes well beyond safety protocols seen in most other districts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District, has launched a similarly comprehensive, $150 million, testing program to help determine when it will be safe to resume in-person instruction. The district began the school year remotely in August for all 600,000 students. The New York and Los Angeles systems are respectively the nation's largest and 2nd-largest school districts.

Leaders in both cities say regular testing is needed in districts of their size and in areas of the country that previously witnessed unnerving surges of the virus.

The coronavirus struck hard at the elderly early in the pandemic and is now increasingly infecting American children and teens in a trend authorities say appears to be fueled by school reopenings and other activities. Children of all ages now make up 10% of all U.S cases, up from 2% in April, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many returned to classrooms. Its recommendations emphasize distancing, cleaning and face coverings for most reopening plans — though no requirement for universal testing of students and staff.