CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Within the next month, Massachusetts schools will begin a new weekly pool testing program to screen students and staff for COVID-19, according to Governor Baker on Friday.
The state is hopeful their new COVID-19 pool testing program will bring more students back into classrooms.
“Pool testing will provide additional safeguards to stop the spread and give students, parents, teachers and staff confidence that it is safe to be in schools,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said.
How testing works is test swabs will go to a lab in a single tube and then be tested together in one batch. If a pooled result is negative, every individual in that pool is presumed negative, but if it’s positive the individuals in that batch will be re-tested using rapid tests. Positive individuals and their close contacts will then be isolated and quarantined.
22News spoke with the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) who said they’ve been asking for statewide testing in schools for six months now.
“Testing is one of the best ways to help find asymptomatic cases in adults and kids so that we can asses the risk levels week by week and respond accordingly,” MTA President, Merrie Najimy told 22News.
Najimy told 22News that the testing is only one step in the entire process of safely returning students and teachers inside of school buildings. The MTA is also advocating for accessible local vaccinations for schools (when available), high-quality air ventilation in school buildings, regular communication with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner, and continued COVID-19 safety protocols in schools.
Schools who are doing in-person or hybrid learning will be prioritized to get the pool testing kits, but they will be available to school systems that are doing remote-learning but are looking to get students back into the classroom.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will initially cover the estimated 15 to 30 million dollar program. According to the state, the pool program costs at least 75% less than the cost of an individual test. After the start-up period, schools can use their federal stimulus money to continue testing.
“The federal government has actually designated over $8,000,000 specifically to education in Massachusetts for COVID relief funds. Every local will get a portion. So that money can be used but there needs to be long term funding from both the state and federal government for years to come,” Najimy continued.
The pool tests will use short swabs that go into the front portion of the nose. The program is voluntary and open to all public and charter schools as well as special education collaboratives. The state says there are plans to eventually open the program to private schools.