State finds low positivity rate in school pooled testing

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts’ pooled COVID-19 testing program for the state’s schools has tested nearly 159,000 people and found a positivity rate of lower than 1%, state officials said Monday.

“On average, about two in a thousand, so very very low rates of positive cases in our schools,” Associate Education Commissioner Russell Johnson said.

Under the program, which started last month, teachers, staffers and students in groups of up to 10 are tested. The swabs are then placed in a single tube and shipped to a lab for testing. If the tube is tested and comes back negative, every person in that pool is presumed to be negative for COVID-19.

But because the average pool included seven people, individual prevalence among those tested is well below that number. State officials said it showed there is extremely little evidence of in-school transmission of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

If the test for a tube comes back positive, the people are tested individually and once positive individuals are identified, they must follow isolation guidelines, while their close contacts must quarantine.

“The science is clear that it is safe for kids to be in the classrooms, and this initiative has proved to serve as an invaluable tool for schools throughout the Commonwealth as they return to in-person learning,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.

The state also announced that it will cover the cost of pooled testing through the end of the school year.

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association pushed back against the idea.

“The data is far too limited to support the narrative that it is safe to increase in-person learning across the board,” she said.

According to her, the state’s push to get students back by April 5 is too fast as COVID-19 cases rise nationwide.

She said the decision to go back should be made district by district.

Many districts across the state have been granted waivers from the state so that they may have more time to prepare their buildings and staff before all students are required to return.

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