As students prepare to go back to school in many districts across Massachusetts, the state is planning to roll out a rapid response testing program that can be made available to any school in the state.
Gov. Charlie Baker made the announcement Thursday and said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Public Health will release guidance detailing how the program, which could be similar to a program the National Guard conducted at nursing homes this spring, will function.
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"This program will be designed to quickly deliver testing resources for students and school personnel if there are multiple cases in a cohort that requires larger-scale testing than a community may have access to currently," the governor said. "This program can be deployed to test students within a particular classroom or other groups. A local health department and the Department of Public Health at the state level will work with a local school district to determine certain conditions are met, and that this program should be deployed."
Baker also said his administration will extend its Stop the Spread testing initiative "in several communities with the highest rate of COVID through the end of September" to ensure there's sufficient access to testing as teachers and students return to classroom settings.
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Based on the school reopening plans submitted to the state as of Monday, Baker said earlier this week that 70% of districts are planning to conduct some sort of in-classroom education this fall. On Thursday, he said 314 of the state's 351 cities and towns "are experiencing next to no viral spread" and fall into the state's two lowest risk categories.
"The implementation of these safety measures combined with the low transmission rates we have here in Massachusetts mean that for most students and their families, in-person learning is an option that they can pursue," the governor said.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 262 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and tests of 19,508 new individuals. The daily case report reflected a new low rolling average positive test rate -- 1.3% as of Monday, before returning to 1.4% on Tuesday.
The 28 new deaths among people with test-confirmed COVID-19 cases bring the pandemic's fatality count in Massachusetts to 8,645 since March 20, or 8,876 including those with probable cases of the respiratory disease.