Gov. Charlie Baker announced the new program Thursday to allow school districts and local boards of health to apply to the state for the deployment of a 15-minute testing unit when two or more students in a classroom, school bus or other cohort test positive for COVID-19.
“As schools get underway, we want to ensure that we continue to have robust testing capacity, especially in communities that need it the most,” Baker said at Thursday’s coronavirus pandemic update press briefing.
Testing would require parents’ written consent, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, and would occur on-site at the school once the rapid testing unit is deployed to test the cohort.
“This program will be designed to quickly deliver testing resources for students and school personnel if there are multiple cases in a cohort that require larger scale testing than a community may have access to currently,” Baker said.
Baker emphasised his administration’s recent order that all students in pre-schools through universities be required to be immunized against influenza before entering classrooms starting in January.
The governor said it’s imperative to limit the number of hospital admission for the flu in the upcoming year, which in Massachusetts could be as many as 4,000 in a typical flu season.
“Every case of the flu we can prevent helps avoid unnecessary disruptions in learning environments,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Poltio said, saying that it’s important to get students back to in-person learning and that the vaccine requirement provides an additional layer of protection for students and staff.
Baker also defended his approach to letting school reopen for in-person learning this fall, which requires districts to draw up plans for completely remote learning, safe in-person lessons and a hybrid of the two. Baker said the mental health and pediatric communities are deeply concerned about the impact remote-only learning will have on childrens’ development.
“In many cases last spring, I think everybody would agree, was really not learning at all. It’s a really big issue and it’s one that we need to incorporate into the way we think about this health and safety of kids generally,” Baker said.
Baker has faced criticism from teachers and some municipal leaders for allowing schools to consider in-person learning while the pandemic is still a threat.
The governor said the goal should be to have as many kids as possible being safely educated in a way that works for them.
“We need to commit to the science. We believe we have. But we also need to commit to the kids,” Baker said.