Coronavirus

Massachusetts is launching ‘pooled’ coronavirus testing for schools

The method involves testing swabs in batches, instead of one at a time.

Gov. Charlie Baker at a press conference earlier this week. Sam Doran / State House News Service

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts is preparing to launch a pooled testing program in schools that aims to help expand monitoring for COVID-19 and encourage schools to remain open with students attending in person.

Pooled testing is designed to test larger batches of people at a lower cost.

Under the pooled testing program outlined by Gov. Charlie Baker at a news conference Friday, teachers, staffers and students would be tested in batches of 10 using swabs in the front part of the nose.

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Ten swabs at a time would be placed in a single tube and shipped off to a lab for testing. If the tube is tested and comes back negative, all 10 individuals are presumed to be negative for COVID-19.

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If the test for a tube comes back positive, the 10 who contributed swabs to the tube are tested individually to determine who is positive and who is negative.

A handful of school districts are already using pooled testing, including Salem, Watertown and Medford.

The new pooled testing program will be available to schools next month.

Baker said the goal is to make sure that students can remain in their classes rather than relying on remote learning.

“This new testing will give school officials more knowledge about what’s happening inside their buildings every day,” Baker said. “There’s no doubt the virus will be with us for awhile, but while there’s a light at the end of the tunnel associated with the rollout of vaccines, we can’t wait for everyone to be vaccinated before our kids get back to school.”

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The Massachusetts Teachers Association welcomed the move.

“After months of unionized educators calling for frequent surveillance testing for COVID-19 in our schools, it is excellent news that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is finally setting up a program for all districts that want it,” MTA President Merrie Najimy said in a written statement.

She said testing alone isn’t a magic solution and schools still need to provide adequate ventilation systems and continued requirements of mask wearing and physical distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters).

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