Pooled COVID testing finally coming to childcare centers
State, private money to pay for tests of staff, children
FOR SIX MONTHS, Massachusetts’ K-12 schools have been able to opt into the state’s free pooled testing program, which lets them test for COVID-19 weekly among large populations of asymptomatic children and staff. The idea is to have a quick way to identify COVID cases before one case turns into an outbreak.
On Thursday, the Department of Early Education and Care and the nonprofit Neighborhood Villages announced that early educators and children will now have access to a similar, free, weekly pooled testing program.
Early educators have been calling for months for inclusion in the K-12 pooled testing program. Ironically, the testing program is being rolled out only now, once early educators have all had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.
But Lauren Kennedy, co-president of Neighborhood Villages, said because young children still cannot be vaccinated, testing remains important. “It does remain a critical piece of our efforts to curb transmission and to make sure that we keep our early education and care staff protected and safe,” Kennedy said in an interview.
Kennedy made a similar argument, saying testing – available to staff and children over age two – will provide both parents and educators with peace of mind that COVID is not being transmitted in the center. She noted that the field is already coping with a staffing shortage, and access to testing could make the job more appealing. Some childcare centers have already been offering surveillance testing, but families or centers have paid for it out of pocket.
The testing program will begin in June and last through the summer, with the potential for expansion, if there is interest. The cost is $8 a test, and it will be borne by the state and private philanthropic money raised by Neighborhood Villages. WBUR reported that the state and Neighborhood Villages will each contribute $100,000.
One difference between the K-12 and early education programs is that the lab processing the early education tests, Veritas, can identify which member of a pool tested positive without collecting additional samples from those individuals.A pilot testing program that Neighborhood Villages began in December found that during the six months pooled testing was available, the positivity rate dropped from 3 percent to 0.5 percent, which was below the transmission rates found in the community.
“Pooled testing has proved to be a critical mitigation strategy in detecting positive cases among asymptomatic individuals that might have otherwise been undetected,” said Early Education and Care Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy in a statement. Bringing this testing strategy to child care programs and after school programs will be another important step in our fight against COVID-19.”