Massachusetts agrees to pay for virus testing for all public schools through June.

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Massachusetts agrees to pay for virus testing for all public schools through June.

Post by maestrob » Tue Mar 30, 2021 10:02 am

Massachusetts on Monday expanded a new state-financed coronavirus testing program to allow every public school in the state to test all students and staff members weekly for the rest of the school year, using a pooled testing approach that could be a model for school districts nationwide.

More than 1,000 schools in Massachusetts, representing nearly half the districts in the state, are already participating in the program.

Since February, the program has analyzed 22,679 pooled samples from students, teachers and staff members, reporting on Monday a positivity rate of less than 1 percent, considered low. Since the pooled samples typically include swabs from seven different people, state officials said the individual positivity rate is probably much lower.

In a phone interview on Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said that the state had been able to scale up the program by vetting testing labs and signing contracts with them, instead of leaving each district to do that work on its own. He estimated that the program, which is using federal Covid relief funds to pay for the tests, could cost $30 million to $40 million.

“We started doing it on a demonstration basis with a few school districts just to test it and see if the logistics could work,” Mr. Baker said. “We now have a working model that is operating at a pretty big scale and in a pretty big state.”

The pooled testing program collects nasal swabs from students, faculty and staff members and then tests them in batches, a process that saves time and lab resources. Last week, about 63,000 students and staff members were tested.

If a batch tests negative, everyone in the pool is considered to have a negative result. If a batch tests positive, each person in the pool is then tested.

Massachusetts, which had initially planned to pay for the tests for schools until mid-April, now plans to cover the costs through the end of the school year. It is also encouraging other school districts in the state to sign up.

Mr. Baker said he planned to promote the Massachusetts model to other states. Some districts, like Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest system, are planning to introduce pooled testing in April.

“There’s enough money in the various federal bills that have been passed, including the most recent one, to make it possible for states or municipalities both to pay for a program like this,” Mr. Baker said.

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