NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (WPRI) — Hundreds of schools in Massachusetts are participating in a weekly pool testing program with the goal of getting more students and teachers back into the classroom.
On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker joined education and health officials on a tour of Nock-Molin Middle School in Newburyport, which is taking part in the testing.
The program was launched to create a “relatively uncomplicated” way to track coronavirus cases in schools, according to Baker.
“This is the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, and over the course of the last 12 months, it has been incredibly challenging for kids, for families, for teachers, for schools to work their way through all this and find a way to try keep kids engaged, involved, and growing and learning despite the difficulties that have come with the pandemic,” he said.
Roughly 950 schools have participated in the voluntary program since it began last month.
Earlier this week, Baker said he wanted to start getting all students back in the classroom full-time, starting with elementary schools. The goal is to phase out remote learning for those students by April, with middle and high school students to follow.
“While we certainly made progress in terms of vaccinations, we really need to continue to find ways for schools to be operational, for kids to be in school, and for everybody to feel like we’re doing all we can to make sure folks know what is actually going on,” Baker said.
Mass. Education Commissioner Jeff Riley says if the vast majority of kids in a school take part in the pool testing, that will add another layer of protection for everyone in the building.
“We really want people to invest and do the testing, but we also knew there were some special needs students that couldn’t wear a mask, and that shouldn’t stop them from getting an education,” Riley added.
About 80% of Massachusetts’ school districts have some form of in-person learning in place, according to the governor, while the remaining 20% are fully remote, which affects approximately 400,000 students.
Baker said any school district that wants to participate in the program can.
“It’s a really effective way of dealing with one of the major questions people generally have about this stuff, which is: ‘what’s going on in my building every week?'” he said.
Educators are in group 3 of phase 2 of the state’s vaccine rollout, meaning they may be eligible to get vaccinated next month.
The Mass. Department of Public Health reported 1,928 newly confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday, and an additional 33 people died after contracting the virus.
The data also shows 853 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, with 221 patients in the intensive care unit and 142 on ventilators.