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200K rapid COVID-19 tests for school staff begin arriving in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says some of the approximately 200,000 COVID-19 rapid tests purchased by the state are now in the Commonwealth.

DESE will distribute the tests supplied by Emed and iHealth to school districts across the state on Saturday and Sunday.

 

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The scramble to get the COVID-19 rapid tests into the hands of teachers and staff at Massachusetts public schools to use before returning to school next week comes amid delivery delays and a national supply chain crunch, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said late Thursday night.

Tests were being purchased at a cost of approximately $5.6 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

Each district was expected to receive enough test kits to give two tests to all school staff.

“Based on supply chain availability, DESE’s original test order was delayed, and the department worked quickly to find an alternative supply,” a spokesperson for DESE said. “The department and the Baker-Polito Administration are extremely appreciative of the testing manufacturer iHealth who stepped in to supply tests after the original order was delayed and FedEx who helped facilitate the shipment, as well as teachers and superintendents for their flexibility and continued collaboration.”

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“School districts across the Commonwealth will reopen next week as scheduled, and more than 2,200 schools will continue to conduct regularly scheduled pooled testing, symptomatic, and Test and Stay programs,” the DESE spokesperson said.

Kids with bookbags outside Massachusetts schoolSome Massachusetts school districts delaying return from holiday break over COVID-19 issues
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is calling on state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to keep all schools closed on Monday except for staff COVID-19 testing.

“Using Monday as a day for testing and analyzing data will allow our school districts to make prudent decisions around staffing needs so they can continue in-person learning for students if it is safe or develop contingency plans if a district deems it to be necessary,”

Merrie Najimy, with the Massachusetts Teachers Association said.

“We recognize that delaying some students’ return to school poses challenges for families. But if there were a blizzard on Sunday evening, nobody would question the wisdom of declaring Monday a snow day,” the MTA’s statement said.

At a news conference Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker reiterated the need for students to be in school.

“Kids need to be in school,” Baker said. “If we learned anything from this pandemic, its the damage that was done to kids should never be repeated. We have the tools and capabilities to keep people safe.”

“Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states supplying rapid tests to its teachers, Quinn said in a statement Friday. “It is a not a requirement for teachers to return to work, or necessary to reopen schools after the holiday break. The commissioner is not going to close schools Monday, and asks teachers to be patient as we work to get tests in their hands this weekend.”

“It is disappointing that once again the MTA is trying to find a way to close schools, which we know is to the extreme detriment of our children,” the spokesperson said.

Last week, the department distributed 6 million KN95 masks to schools for all teachers. Officials say this will provide one mask per day for each employee, including bus drivers.

From Dec. 16 through Dec. 22, DESE reported 1,544 positive COVID-19 cases among public school staff members. Public schools in the state have about 140,000 employees.

According to the latest state data, 911,529 students are enrolled in pre-K through the 12th grade at the state’s public schools. On the latest DESE report, 8,576 students tested positive for COVID-19 from Dec. 16 through Dec. 22.