The Baker administration on January 18 announced a new testing program that will become an option for school districts across the state.
Baker said that more than 2000 Massachusetts schools have are “participating in at least one form of testing,” most of which use pooled testing. According to the state’s website, “Pooled testing involves mixing several test samples together in a “batch” or “pool,” and then testing the pooled sample with a diagnostic, PCR test for detection of SARS-CoV-2.”
Baker said on Tuesday that “the data from over a year’s worth of pooled testing shows that school is an extremely safe place for educators and kids,” He continued, “positivity rates in pooled tests are significantly below what you might see in the community overall.”
The other testing program offered by the state is the Test and Stay program.
“The way that program works is after someone has been identified as a close contact to somebody who has tested positive, those kids are given rapid tests every day for 5 days to determine if they test positive or not,” Baker said. “This avoids the extremely disruptive at-home quarantine period.”
Baker said that of the 503, 312 Test and Stay tests that have been conducted, 496,440 of them were negative, which is 99 percent.
He said that other states who have implemented similar programs have seen comparable results.
“Clearly, in-school spread is extremely rate,” Baker said.
However, “this program requires significant resources,” including tests and staff “to identify close contacts and then contact trace.”
Beginning next week, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will “begin distributing millions of rapid tests to schools across the Commonwealth.”
Schools will be able to choose whether or not to participate in the new program instead of the Test and Stay program, “or they can stay with the program that’s been operating over the course of the past year.”
This new program involves students and teachers taking a rapid test at home once per week, and the tests will come from the order of 26 million rapid antigen tests that Baker announced last week.
“Schools that choose to participate in the at home program, alongside symptomatic and/or pool testing will be able to discontinue contact tracing and the test and stay program,” Baker said. “That will allow schools to focus time and resources on identifying symptomatic individuals.”
Beginning this week, schools can choose to participate in the program and tests for staff will be distributed during the week of Jan. 24. Families will also “have to tell their schools if they want their students to participate,” and tests for students will be available the week of Jan. 31.
“In-person learning has been proven to be the best option for students, which is why our administration’s worked so hard throughout the pandemic to provide supports to keep kids in school,” Baker said. “This new testing program, based on conversations with school districts, is just the latest way that we think we can help keep kids in school.”
Baker also said that “while testing is an important tool,” vaccination is the most important thing an individual can do to protect themselves and their community.