Pooled COVID testing finally coming to childcare centers
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.”
Shift on I-90 Allston: State transportation officials changed their tune on the $1 billion-plus project at a task force meeting, promising to work with advocates to rebuild the Turnpike, Soldiers Field Road, and railroad tracks all at ground level. But those same officials are sticking to their guns on the number of lanes and lane widths in the narrow throat section between Boston University and the Charles River. That stance may make it difficult to find an extra 4 feet of space to keep the new roadways out of the Charles and avoid environmental challenges to the project.
- State officials say they want to retain an eight-lane Turnpike in the throat section, but Emily Norton of the Charles River Watershed Association demanded data on whether eight lanes are still needed in a post-pandemic work world. State Highway Commissioner Jonathan Gulliver wouldn’t budge. “It’s not something we’re looking to pursue,” Gulliver said of reducing the number of Turnpike lanes. “We continue to view it as one of the fixed parameters of the project.”
- The officials also insisted the Department of Conservation and Recreation wants to maintain lane widths of 11 feet on Soldiers Field Road, but transportation advocate Ari Ofsevit pointed out that DCR guidelines recommend lanes that are 10 feet wide on parkways. One foot less per lane on a four-lane road could make up the entire 4 feet.
- Gulliver was also concerned that the all-at-grade approach would violate federal flood plain rules, but former state transportation secretary Fred Salvucci said those rules should not be rigidly enforced. He noted the Charles River Dam exists to prevent flooding.
Turnpike troubles: State transportation officials said the elevated section of the road between BU and the Charles River is in bad shape and deteriorating at an exponential rate. The state is planning to spend $75 million shoring up the road over the next few years to make sure it lasts long enough for the I-90 Allston project to be completed. After that, a new Turnpike will be built and the old one will be torn down. The Turnpike carried 140,000 vehicles per day pre-pandemic. Read more.
Tax debate looms: Shortly after legislative leaders said they would take a final vote next week on a constitutional amendment establishing a millionaire tax before sending the proposal along to voters, the Department of Revenue reported that state revenues are surging beyond all expectations. Given that the state is also sitting on billions of dollars in federal aid, some may question whether a new tax is needed right now. Read more.
Marijuana home delivery: The new service starts next week in Taunton and should take off over the next year as state regulators give the green light. One condition: home delivery licenses for the next three years will only go to “social equity” and “economic empowerment” licensees. Read more.
Muny power: Larry Chretien of the Green Energy Consumers Alliance says municipalities can do their part to fight climate change by aggregating residents to purchase greener power. Read more.
Forging a ‘new normal’: From expanded civic access to the ballot and public meetings to criminal and racial justice, Carol Rose of the ACLU of Massachusetts says we should strive for a better post-pandemic future and not revert to the status quo that prevailed. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Massachusetts spent $120 million during the pandemic to help tenants avoid evictions. (State House News Service)
Sen. Adam Hinds and his wife purchase a home in Amherst outside his district. Hinds says they will continue to live mostly at their apartment in Pittsfield, even though they signed a declaration of homestead designating the Amherst home as their principal residence. (Berkshire Eagle)
Boston has seen a net reduction of about 200 city workers in 2021, with some of the exodus attributed to people leaving amid the change in administrations. (Boston Herald)
Is Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s honeymoon in Boston City Hall over? (Boston Globe)
After 17 years, the Lone Wolf restaurant closes in Northampton, adding to a growing number of empty storefronts on Main Street. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Old records shed light on the smallpox outbreak in the 1700s. (Associated Press)
Massachusetts will shut down its mass vaccination sites in the coming weeks. (Associated Press)
The body of a dead Holyoke man lay in his apartment for eight hours as his family called for help, because hospitals and funeral homes would not transport the 480-pound man due to his size. (MassLive)
In a speech to New Hampshire Republicans, former VP Mike Pence gives a rousing defense of the four years of the Trump administration but says he doesn’t know whether he and the former president will ever “see eye-to-eye” on the events of January 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, with some yelling, “Hang Mike Pence.” (Washington Post)
Super PACs, which raise money separately from candidate campaigns but then spend money to influence election outcomes, are jumping into the Boston mayoral race, with a super PAC starting advertising to boost City Councilor Andrea Campbell, while another has formed that appears ready to back City Councilor Michelle Wu. (Boston Globe)
City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, one of six candidates in the Boston mayor’s race, says the city should boost its hiring of police officers as well as social workers in the department as part of the effort to combat gun violence. (Boston Herald)
The millionaires tax which would add a levy on all income above $1 million seems likely to head to the state ballot next year. (Boston Herald)
A Supreme Judicial Court committee on “Lawyer Well-Being” is recommending that law firms move permanently to more flexible work structures that include work-from-home options. (Boston Globe)
A development group led by the Red Sox files plans with the city for a massive $2.1 billion development project on streets surrounding Fenway Park. (Boston Globe)
Worcester continues planning for a “virtual academy” next year, but officials say it may not be needed since initial interest seems low. (Telegram & Gazette)
The Boston Archdiocese is launching its first new Catholic school in more than 50 years — and doing it online. (GBH)
Traffic was up over Memorial Day weekend in New England, though not quite at 2019 levels. (USA Today)
Brookline is trying again to ban fossil fuel hookups with new housing. A new ordinance passed Town Meeting and now faces review by Attorney General Maura Healey, who shot down a previous ordinance that tried to accomplish the same goal. (WBUR)
The CEO of Colonial Pipeline explains the company’s decision to shut the gasoline pipeline down and pay more than $4 million in ransom to hackers who infiltrated the company’s computer network. (NPR)
Nearly 21 years after 16-year-old Molly Bish was kidnapped from her lifeguard job and killed, a Spencer sex offender who died in 2016 is named as a person of interest in her case. (Associated Press)
A New Bedford church drops its lawsuit against Gov. Baker over COVID-19 restrictions after the governor ends all restrictions. (Standard-Times)PASSINGS
Waltham-born F. Lee Bailey, who became one of the country’s highest profile defense lawyers but later saw his career and financial fortune spiral downward, died at 87. (Boston Globe)