BOSTON (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced a new program that will make weekly at-home COVID-19 tests available to students and staff in an effort to keep schools open for in-person learning as virus cases surge.

“The current state of the pandemic requires that we adapt our efforts to meet the times,” Baker said during a news conference at the State House.

Schools must continue to participate in symptomatic or pooled testing in order for students, teachers, and staff to qualify for the free test kits, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Public Health.

Data from the more than 2,000 public and private schools participating in COVID-19 testing “clearly illustrates” schools are safe environments for teaching and learning, according to Baker.

“This new option will give Massachusetts school districts more flexibility and more resources in COVID-19 testing that have the most immediate impact to keep schools open,” Baker said.

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School that do decide to take part in the program will be permitted to discontinue contact tracing and the test-and-stay program, according to Baker.

While Baker credited the test-and-stay program with saving about half a million school days so far this year, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley said its big drawback is that it eats up a great deal of school nurse time.

“Providing this option for at-home testing will allow school nurses to spend more time identifying symptomatic individuals and focus their efforts on other aspects of COVID-19 management in our schools,” Riley explained. “It’s frankly a game changer.”

The at-home tests will be shipped directly to school districts for distribution and are packaged in kits that contain two tests. Students and staff who participate will receive one kit every two weeks to test themselves.

Families will need to inform their school if they want at-home rapid antigen tests sent home with students.

Schools will be able to start opting-in to the program this week for staff and will receive tests during the week of Jan. 24. Schools will receive tests for students whose families opt-in during the week of Jan. 31.

The tests for this program will come from the supply of 26 million at-home rapid antigen tests that Baker announced last week.

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