About Us

The SOS Pilot

Safely Opening Schools (SOS) was originally thought out as an 8-week rapid antigen testing project for 10 pilot districts across California to introduce a safer reopening. The SOS project team has played an important role in helping districts throughout the state set up their COVID-19 testing protocols with rapid antigen testing.

Today, Safely Opening Schools continues by helping schools with tools to continue to test both vaccinated and unvaccinated students and education workers and providing information about resources available to keep school communities safe as they recover from the pandemic.

SOS Implementation

Ten districts participated in the SOS learning collaborative including completing SOS training, implementing the twice-weekly rapid antigen testing model with staff and students, taking part in an evaluation, and sharing their learnings with other districts. 

  • Week 0: Districts identify their SOS team, attend a kick-off meeting, and complete registration materials.
  • Week 1: Districts begin training, set up data platform with Primary.Health, and reach out to parent community for consent.
  • Week 2: Districts begin testing onsite staff and teachers, refining their testing process and flow. 
  • Week 3: Districts expand testing to include students. 
  • Week 4-8:  District works to ramp up testing so that all onsite students and staff are tested weekly
Participating School Districts

10 California School Districts participated in the SOS pilot:

Compton Unified School District 

Fresno Unified School District

La Honda Pescadero School District 

McSwain Union Elementary School District 

Oakland Unified School District 

Planada Elementary School District

Ravenswood City School District 

Redwood City School District

Rosemead School District

Weaver Union School District

Lessons Learned from School Testing
  • The SOS project worked closely with state officials to help identify and bust barriers to scaling up testingthese includingthe state creating a statewide CLIA laboratory waiver for schools, recognizing school personnel as health professionals to be able to administer COVID-19 testing through proper training provided by the State of California and SOS.
  • The Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests have a very low false positivity ratealmost all positive rapid tests proved to be real infections when confirmed through follow-up PCR testing.
  • Rapid testing can help quickly diagnose people with symptoms, evaluate those exposed to COVID, and screen the unvaccinated to check for asymptomatic infections that can still spread the virus. 
Four Pillars of Testing

Rapid antigen testing programs require four pillars: The tests themselves, a data platform for entering and reporting test results, trained people to perform the tests, and consent and participation of parents and staff.

High Level Message from Pilot

Data from the pilot program illustrates that student testing played an important role in ensuring confidence for families and education workers about in-person learning. Public Health Institute’s latest press release about the SOS pilot states “90% of parents surveyed said they feel more confident having their child return to in-person instruction because of the rapid COVID testing program at their child’s school”, read more here.

SOS Team

Pictured from left to right: Francisco Gomez, Ana Vasudeo, Sana Ahmad, Hector Serrano, Nicole Maderas, and Lynn Silver

SOS Partners

SOS is a program of the Public Health Institute, working in close coordination with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), participating school districts and in dialogue with unions and parents.

    SOS is partnering with Primary.Health, a top pioneering software solution for COVID-19 testing, to implement the pilot, record, process and report testing results, and administer the data.

      Major funding for SOS comes from The California Endowment and the Chan Zukerberg Initiative. Additional support is provided from the Ballmer Group and others through PHI’s Together Toward Health Initiative which manages a large pooled fund from a group of philanthropic organizations engaged in a pandemic response.

        SOS, in collaboration with CDPH’s state public health laboratory team, is the go-to resource for key information on rapid antigen testing for COVID-19 for other school districts looking to reopen more safely in California.

          Commitment to Racial & Health Equity

          SOS is committed to advancing racial equity in health and education across California, and will prioritize pilots where reopening is most urgent, i.e. schools serving: large numbers of children of essential workers; predominantly Black and Latino communities hardest hit by COVID-19; students requiring special education and other special needs; and those not doing well with remote learning.

          The California Healthy Places Index

          Click the map to visit the California Healthy Places Index website

          © 2021 Safely Opening Schools. All rights reserved. Site design by Doug Rider Consulting.
          Safely Opening Schools is a project of the Public Health Institute, (PHI) PHI has been a leader in public health and development for over 50 years. PHI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a vision of creating healthy communities where individuals reach their highest potential. Safely Opening Schools is part of PHIs Prevention Policy Group, which works on policy approaches involved in safely opening public schools after Covid-19.