Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that the state will make weekly COVID-19 pool testing available to Massachusetts schools within the next month to help bring more students back into the classroom.
The governor and his administration's education officials have regularly been promoting in-person learning, and the governor said Friday that "too many kids remain learning remotely or in complicated hybrid programs."
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"This is one more tool to encourage districts currently operating remotely to consider going hybrid or in-person, and for those that are hybrid that want to go in-person this is one more way they could do that," Baker said.
Baker said pool testing increases the number of people who can be tested using the same amount of lab resources, and will help schools quickly test students and staff, helping to find and isolate any cases of COVID-19.
Education Secretary James Peyser said schools across the state have already shown and medical experts have confirmed that when the proper protocols are followed, schools can be safe even without testing. But he also understands the anxiety that parents and teachers feel about classroom learning.
"Today's announcement is intended to directly address those concerns to help keep schools open and reopen schools that have closed," Peyser said.
Unlike traditional COVID-19 tests, pool testing allows 10 or 20 swabs to be evaluated in a single batch.
"Pool testing allows low cost and greater expansion of COVID-19 testing," Secreary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said. "It is at least 75% less than the cost of a single test."
The program will be voluntary, and will be in addition to the rapid tests already being used in schools to test symptomatic individuals, said Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"Between this and the vaccine that's on the horizon, better days are ahead," Riley said.
Massachusetts schools on Thursday reported 431 new cases of the coronavirus among students and staff.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the numbers Thursday in its weekly COVID-19 report. A total of 178 students with district building access within seven days of the report tested positive from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6, as did 253 school district staffers.
It’s a decline of 518 total cases from the previous report. The last report reflected 552 in-person/hybrid students and 397 district staff who tested positive, for a total of 949 cases.
School districts this fall have had the option between in-person learning, remote learning or a hybrid of the two.
State officials announced in early November that all Massachusetts communities in the gray, green and yellow COVID risk categories are expected to have students learning in-person. They added that those in the highest-risk red category should consider a hybrid model instead of going fully remote.