BOSTON (WPRI) — Child care centers across Massachusetts will soon receive a portion of the state’s 26 million at-home rapid COVID-19 tests.

Gov. Charlie Baker made the announcement Wednesday at Ellis Early Learning in Boston, saying the tests will be used in two ways:

  • Rapid testing for symptomatic children and staff
    • Children and staff who show symptoms can take a rapid test. If the results are negative, they can stay in care, but if they’re positive, it will quickly help determine who needs to isolate.
  • Rapid testing for cohorts, classes
    • Close contacts of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 will be able to stay in care, provided they test negative for five days. This program will eliminate the need to quarantine close contacts.

Baker said these two programs are in addition to the weekly surveillance testing program that’s being operated by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and Neighborhood Villages, a nonprofit partner that’s been working with EEC throughout the pandemic.

The rapid tests will be free, according to Baker, and the distribution will be supported by Neighborhood Villages. Programs must be enrolled with the nonprofit (a free process) to receive the tests from EEC.

Baker said programs that enroll with Neighborhood Villages by Jan. 24 will begin receiving tests the week of Jan. 31.

“We expect the rapid test program will be a game-changer for many folks in early education and care, as the vast majority of the kids they serve are under the age of five and therefore can’t be vaccinated at this point in time,” he added.

Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, who serves as commissioner for the Department of Early Education and Care, said there are more than 7,500 child care providers in Massachusetts.

“We know that as we move through COVID-19 recovery, ensuring parents can rely on child care is an essential part of getting back to normal,” Aigner-Treworgy said.

The rapid testing programs are open to all licensed child care centers, which officials said include center-based and family child care homes.