Tufts University partners with Medford, Somerville to offer pooled coronavirus testing to public schools

SOMERVILLE, MASS. (WHDH) - Tufts University partnered with Medford and Somerville to bring COVID-19 surveillance testing to the cities’ public school systems.

Testing will be conducted through a pooled method developed by Tufts in collaboration with Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, enabling the Medford and Somerville school districts to administer tests to students, faculty, and staff for approximately one-third of the cost of individual testing, Tufts and city officials announced Thursday.

The program is tentatively set to begin in January, with details being finalized between Tufts and both cities.

For the month of December, Tufts has agreed to support individual testing of Medford and Somerville teachers, custodial and administrative staff, health professionals, and other student-facing essential personnel working in person in the schools, as well as students learning onsite. The cost will be split with the cities.

“Getting PK-12 schools back up and safely running is critical for the education of our young people, their mental health, and their families’ peace of mind, as well as the health and safety of the larger community,” said Anthony P. Monaco, Tufts University president and renowned geneticist who designed the strategy. “This cost-effective solution provides a way for local school districts to hold in-person instruction while confidently knowing they will be able to identify and control potential spread of the virus. I applaud the mayors’ leadership in adopting this solution and appreciate our close collaboration and partnership on this and many other projects throughout the pandemic.”

Under the direction of school staff or EMTS, teachers and high school students will swab the front part of their noses, with kindergarten through eighth-graders being swabbed by a nurse or EMT.

Eight swabs will then be packaged into a single tube and sent to Broad Institute, which will analyze the group of swabs together.

If the pool of samples comes back positive, all the people in that pool will be retested individually, which will enable health authorities to isolate the positive case(s) in the pool.

The cities’ health directors will manage follow-up, which will include contact tracing and isolation for positive cases, and quarantine support for close contacts according to state and federal guidelines.

The pooled testing program is expected to enable local health officials to reduce virus transmission risk by identifying carriers and allowing schools to intervene early.

It is said to be less expensive than large-scale individual testing because it requires only a fraction of the analysis.

Some grades in Medford Public Schools have returned to a hybrid model, while Somerville Public Schools planning to phase in in-person classes starting in early December.

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