Mass. to end COVID-19 school testing program updates child quarantine guidelines

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education statewide COVID-19 testing program for K-12 schools will not continue in the fall, according to a memo from state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley sent out superintendents this week.

The program will continue for the remainder of this school year, and districts may choose to make the tests available to students and the community prior to in-person school events such as prom or graduation ceremonies.

During the summer, the state will continue to offer self-testing for those showing symptoms, according to the memo, but “Personnel, software and all other services currently provided by CIC Health will no longer be available through the state program.” ”

Schools and districts can purchase self-tests through the statewide contract, according to the memo.

“DESE and [the Department of Public Health] strongly recommend that schools and counties interested in implementing their own testing program limit that program to rapid symptomatic testing only,” the memo said.

Colleen Quinn, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Education said the change was largely due to a “changed approach to the pandemic” and widespread availability of testing. About 75 percent of the COVID testing done on students is currently done at home.

DESE this week reported the first drop in coronavirus cases in schools since early March, with 9,803 cases among students and 2,926 among staff in the week ended Wednesday.

The total of 12,729 cases represents a decrease of 6,239, or nearly 33 percent, from cases reported the week before, according to data released by the state.

The drop in positive cases comes as several counties in Massachusetts have urged students to start masking again or reinstated a mask mandate. The state lifted its school mask mandate in late February, leaving it up to individual counties to decide whether to stay in place. While most rescinded their mandates, some, including Boston, retained them.

Additionally, on Wednesday, DESE, the Department of Early Education and Care, and the Department of Public Health updated isolation and quarantine guidelines for children in daycare and other educational settings. An asymptomatic and unvaccinated child who has been exposed to COVID no longer needs to be quarantined or tested and stay.

The guidelines say children identified as close contacts can continue to be in classes or childcare “as long as they remain asymptomatic.” For those who can mask, the guide says to do it for 10 days and recommends testing on days two and five, but it’s not required.

Quinn said the change was made to “better support programs” and created a more consistent experience for families with children across multiple educational settings, as all children in K-12, child care, after-school time programs and recreational camps will follow the same quarantine and isolation guidelines .

Adria Watson can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @adriarwatson.

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