State to offer weekly COVID-19 pool testing to all Mass. schools

Massachusetts to launch COVID-19 ‘pooled testing’ in schools

As Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday, weekly Covid-19 pool testing will soon be able available for all the state’s public schools, Watertown was cited as a model for such testing.

Watertown, which is operating on a hybrid system, is among a few districts across the state that have been successful in using pool testing to keep coronavirus out of school and kids in the classroom.

Pool testing involves mixing several samples together in a tube to be sent for testing, rather than testing on an individual basis. It allows a large number of people to be tested in a cost-effective way.

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Superintendent Dede Galdston told Boston 25 News school nurses collect quick, painless nose swabs from staff and students.

“We have classrooms or homerooms that are part of a cohort that form that pool,” Galdston said. “And we bring them out, take the swab, take the sample, pack them into tube of 10 and send them in to be tested.”

Results are quick. If the pool comes back negative, students and staff can continue attending school as usual. But if the pool is positive, the school calls each person and has them get an individual rapid test the next morning. If another positive results, that person and all close contacts must quarantine, while all others can return to school.

Galdston said their system is working, even as coronavirus rates surge in the community.

“We’ve tested 6,200 staff and students. And we’ve found nine positive students and five positive staff through our testing,” Galdston said. “And that positivity rate is like 0.21. And across the town, it’s more like 4.41.”

Galdston said no transmission has occurred in the classroom, although there has been potential minimal spread through extracurricular activities. She said pool testing, along with preventative measures, is maximizing in-person learning.

“Having that testing is just a game-changer,” Galdston said. “When I heard the news we were going to bring this to scale, meaning across the state, I couldn’t be more happy.”

The state will make pool testing available for districts that choose to use the program within the next month, funding the first six weeks of testing kits.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association applauded the state’s announcement in a statement Friday.

“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. “This is a tremendous victory for educators and families across the state.”

But surveillance testing, the MTA went on to say, “is not a magic solution that will by itself make our schools safe.” The association stressed the importance of “low school and community COVID-19 transmission rates, adequate school ventilation systems, continued requirements for mask-wearing and six feet of physical distancing and an onsite program for vaccinating education staff as soon as possible.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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