Baker urges schools to adopt new testing regime
Would rely on once-a-week at-home testing
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER is urging Massachusetts schools to adopt a new COVID testing regime that relies on at-home testing once a week.
Currently, the state operates a pooled testing program and a test-and-stay program, where those who have come in close contact with students who test positive are tested for five days to determine whether they have contracted the disease. Baker said the test and stay program has shown transmission rates are extremely low in schools, with 496,440, or 99 percent, of 503,312, tests administered coming back negative.
Now the Baker administration is urging schools to try a different approach that retains a pooled testing program and combines it with at-home testing once a week for students, teachers, and staff.
Jeff Riley, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said the test and stay program was launched when vaccines and at-home tests weren’t widely available. Now that vaccines and at-home tests are available and transmission rates are low, he said, adoption of the new testing regime would free up school nurses to focus more of their time on symptomatic students and less time tracking down close contacts and testing asymptomatic students.
Baker said school districts must opt-in to the new testing program. Riley said the program would operate in conjunction with pooled testing, where samples from a group of students are tested together to determine if COVID is present in the group. He said schools would probably advise parents to have their children take at-home tests two or three days after the pooled test; parents would be required to report to the school and their health care provider if their child tests positive.
Districts who opt-in to the program would receive a kit with two at-home tests every two weeks. The supply of at-home tests would come from the state’s purchase of some 26 million tests due to be delivered over the next several months.
“This is something that is better for our kids and gives them more coverage,” Riley said.
Tracy O’Connell Novick, a member of the Worcester School Committee, was skeptical. In a series of tweets and in a followup interview, she worried that testing just once a week was too little, given how results with at-home tests often hinge on when the test is taken. She also was alarmed that students will no longer be notified if someone in their class tests positive.
This is nearly perfect in its libertarianism.
•Discontinue any organized action #MAEdu
— Tracy O’Connell Novick (@TracyNovick) January 18, 2022
The new testing program is being unveiled amid signs that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is waning. In response to a question, Baker said checks for the presence of COVID in waste water shows the presence of the variant is down 65 to 75 percent compared to a couple weeks ago.
“This new option will give Massachusetts school districts more flexibility and more resources in COVID-19 testing that have the most immediate impact to keep schools open,” a Baker administration press release said.