950 Mass. schools participating in pooled COVID-19 testing

BOSTON — As schools add more in-person learning, there is also an expansion of pooled testing across the state, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. By early March, a spokesperson with DESE said the state expects 950 schools to be actively testing students weekly. DESE is covering costs through April 18th, according to a spokesperson.

Ginkgo Bioworks of South Boston is the company chosen to provide pooled testing for K-12 classrooms statewide.

Five weeks ago, Arlington’s Thompson Elementary was the first school in the district to start pooled testing, others followed their lead on Thursday.

Pooled tests are done by mixing several samples together in a batch or pool, then testing the pooled sample, according to DESE.

“Kids are way better at testing themselves than we thought they would be,” said Karen Donato, Principal at Thompson Elementary School.

Boston 25 News was invited to watch the school nurse go around to classrooms and hand students sanitizer, then swabs, and remind them how to properly take samples, then put them into containers that will be tested with results anticipated within two days.

So far, 250 students, about 93 percent of Thompson’s enrollment, are participating in pooled testing, according to Donato.

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they are brought back after school for a rapid test, followed by quarantine for ten days for the cohort.

“It definitely has an impact,” Donato said.

But, the school has brought in more staff to rotate if needed, there have been two positive tests over five weeks and they have not seen transmission in schools, according to Donato.

While the state is covering testing costs for schools through late April, a spokesperson for DESE said schools are encouraged to use additional federal funds received to pay for pooled testing for the remainder of the year.

The tests are viewed by state and federal health officials as one mitigation strategy along with distancing, hand washing, and prioritizing teacher vaccinations.

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