Pooled Testing Initiative Finds 0.7% COVID-19 Positivity Rate in Massachusetts Schools

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced that data collected from its statewide, first-in-the-nation pooled testing initiative in schools across the Commonwealth found low positivity rates — far less than 1% — among students and staff. The statewide testing program, funded entirely by the Commonwealth and available to every Massachusetts public school at no cost, was also extended through the school year.

Since the program launched in February, Massachusetts schools have tested nearly 159,000 individuals in 22,679 pools with a pool positivity rate of 0.76% to date; because the average pool included seven people, individual prevalence among those tested is well below that number. More than 1,000 schools are enrolled in the COVID-19 pooled testing initiative, and more than 329,000 students, educators, and staff are eligible to be tested on a weekly basis. Of the collected pooled tests, Massachusetts is not aware of any in which there was more than one positive individual, suggesting little evidence of in-school transmission of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

The test is performed at least once per week on an anterior nasal swab, and results are delivered within 24 hours. If a pooled test result is negative, all individuals within that pool are presumed negative and may continue to remain in school. If a pooled test result is positive, everyone in the pool is given an individual diagnostic test. Once positive individuals are identified, they must follow isolation guidance. Students, teachers, and staff that were close contacts of the positive individual must quarantine according to current requirements.

“Massachusetts’ robust and ambitious program offering COVID-19 surveillance testing to all schools, charters, and special-education collaboratives led the nation,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “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.”

With initial state funding set to expire on April 18, the administration also announced it will cover the costs of the COVID-19 pooled surveillance testing through the end of the school year, an effort made possible by additional federal funds specifically for COVID-19 testing, anticipated to total approximately $207 million for Massachusetts. Schools not yet enrolled in the program are encouraged to do so by e-mailing k12covidtesting@mass.gov.

Additionally, the administration announced it will cover the costs of COVID-19 testing at sites dedicated to early-education providers. In January, the administration partnered with private and philanthropic funders, including supporters from the Massachusetts Early Education Funder Collaborative and BayCoast Bank, to launch a pilot COVID-19 testing program dedicated to providing on-demand PCR testing to childcare providers and the families they serve to ensure easy access to testing when there is suspected COVID-19 exposure. The Department of Early Education and Care set up nine rotating drive-thru testing sites throughout the Commonwealth, which are open only to childcare providers and individuals affiliated with programs.