CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – In addition to schools, thousands of child care programs here in the state will also be receiving COVID-19 tests, and we’re hearing from those affected.

Free COVID-19 testing is expanding to more children here in the state. This time, to thousands of child care programs.

Starting at the end of January, those affiliated with early education and care will receive rapid antigen COVID-19 tests. Top state officials saying the goal is to keep these programs and schools open.

Governor Charlie Baker stated, “We know it can be extremely disruptive for so many parents, caregivers, and kids to have to pull kids out of care, especially without knowing whether or not in fact they are testing positive.”

Called Testing for Child Care, the program will allow staff and children ages 2 and older who are close contacts of COVID-19 positive individuals to stay in the childcare programs as long as they test negative five consecutive days.

Josie Kirley of Northampton has a 4 year old sibling in a local daycare and hopes they can recieve this testing.

Kirley told 22News, “They are younger and aren’t vaccinated so the fact that they are having this extra protection even though they don’t have the vaccine is really making me feel safer at home as well as in school.”

Child care providers can opt in to one or more of three testing initiatives including the rapid cohort testing to keep close contacts in the classroom, symptomatic rapid antigen testing to isolate positive cases and confirm symptoms are negative for COVID-19 or weekly pooled testing.

Child care programs will have to enroll for the free testing by January 24th to begin testing the week of January 31.

The EEC is also offering no-cost COVID-19 drive-through testing for the child care community across Massachusetts.