Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday two rapid response testing initiatives for schools to avoid potential clusters of the coronavirus.
The plan comes as students are set to return to the classroom -- whether in a full-time or hybrid fashion -- in the coming weeks as the 2020-21 academic year kicks off amid the pandemic.
Schools will have the ability to request a state-sponsored mobile testing unit to come to their building to test a group of students or staff if a potential cluster of COVID-19 has been detected.
Anyone under the age of 18 must have written permission from their parent or legal guardian to receive the free testing. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Public Health will release detailed guidance in the coming weeks on how and when testing can be requested, as well as testing and result protocols.
Under the guidelines of the plan, the mobile response team may be deployed at schools that meet the following minimums.
According to the departments of education and public health:
- Two or more students/staff within the classroom group develop COVID-19 within 14 days, and transmission/exposure occurred in the classroom
- More than 3 percent of the cohort/grade (at least three individuals) develop COVID-19 within 14 days, and transmission/exposure occurred in the school
- More than 3 percent of the school develops COVID-19 within 14 days, and there is evidence of transmission within the school
- Three or more staff within the same school develop COVID-19 within 14 days, and there is evidence of transmission among the staff
- Two or more students on a school bus develop COVID-19 within 14 days
The service, similar to a program run by the National Guard at nursing homes in the spring, will be made available for both public and private schools. Administrators are encouraged to consult with public health authorities before determining if the request for mobile testing should be made.
Testing will be available to asymptomatic students and staff as well, even those who have had no known close contact with someone who tested positive, when there is evidence that COVID-19 transmission may have occurred within a classroom or school within the past 14 days.