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.

On a recent Codcast, officials at CIC Health, one of the companies administering K-12 pooled testing, said the need for pooled testing is likely to remain into the fall. Children may still not be vaccinated by this fall, and experts are now saying some level of the virus is likely to remain circulating in the population.

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.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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.”