BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced the launch of 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 (EEC), partnering with private and philanthropic funders from the Massachusetts Early Childhood Funder Collaborative and BayCoast Bank, will launch an eight-week pilot, setting up eight rotating drive-thru testing sites throughout the Commonwealth, which will be open only to childcare providers and individuals affiliated with programs.
In addition, EEC is dedicating $8 million in state and federal funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) to distribute to childcare providers at no cost. Childcare providers will be able to order up to a one-month supply of PPE, including masks for children and adults, gloves, hand sanitizer, and other supplies.
With dedicated testing locations and test results provided within 48 hours, the new testing initiative is an effort to prevent sudden temporary closures of childcare programs due to virus exposure. The testing sites — located in Athol, Braintree, Billerica, Dalton, Franklin, Plymouth, Sturbridge, and Westfield — will allow childcare programs to continue providing care when symptomatic individuals test negative and to reopen more quickly after potential exposures. The sites were chosen in collaboration with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the COVID-19 Response Command Center based on distance from a current state-sponsored Stop the Spread testing location and concentration of childcare providers.
Anyone affiliated with a childcare program who is symptomatic or identified as a close contact, or has concerns about exposure, including all staff and their household members as well as children in care and their families, will be eligible for testing at no cost. Each site will have capacity to test approximately 400 people a day.
Tests will be conducted by medical personnel using a simple anterior nasal swab and will be processed by a CLIA-certified laboratory with results available to individuals via a portal within 48 hours. Those receiving a test will need the EEC provider number of the childcare program to verify their eligibility. No appointment is necessary, but pre-registration is highly encouraged.
As required by state law, the lab will report results to the state’s Department of Public Health. Individuals will be responsible for reporting to their childcare provider or employer.
Members of the Massachusetts Early Childhood Funder Collaborative and BayCoast Bank have committed $450,000 to support the initial eight-week pilot, which will provide time to evaluate the efficacy of the testing program and determine next steps. The Massachusetts Early Childhood Funder Collaborative is comprised of individuals and foundations supporting the early-childhood sector in the Commonwealth, sharing information and best practices in early-childhood philanthropy.
Currently, there are 2,429 center-based programs open and 4,373 family childcare homes serving children and their families, representing approximately 82% of pre-COVID childcare capacity level. Approximately 125,000 children are enrolled in licensed childcare programs each day in Massachusetts.