Mass. to end the COVID-19 school screening program; updates quarantine guidelines for children

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The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s statewide COVID-19 testing program for K-12 schools will not continue into the fall, according to a memo from the commissioner to State Education, Jeffrey Riley sent to 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 before in-person school events like prom or graduation ceremonies.

During summer, according to ratingthe state will continue to provide self-testing to those with symptoms, but “staff, software, and all other services currently provided by CIC Health will no longer be available through the state-run program.”

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

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

Colleen Quinn, Spokesperson for the Executive Office of Education said the change is largely due to a “changing approach to the pandemic” and the widespread availability of testing. About 75% of COVID tests performed on students are currently taking place at home.

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

The 12,729 total cases represent a drop of 6,239, or nearly 33%, from those reported the previous week, according to data released by the state.

The drop in positive cases comes after several districts in Massachusetts strongly urged students to resume masking or reinstate a mask mandate. In late February, the state lifted its school mask mandate, leaving it up to individual districts to determine whether to keep them in place. While most lifted their mandates, a few, including Boston, kept them in place.

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

The guidelines say that children identified as close contacts can continue to be in class or daycare “as long as they remain asymptomatic”. For those who can mask, the guidelines say they should do so for 10 days and recommend testing on days two and five, but it is not required.

Quinn said the change was made for “better support programs” and to create a more cohesive experience for families who have children in multiple educational settings, as all children in K-12, daycare , after-school time programs and recreational camps will follow the same set of quarantine and isolation guidelines.


Adria Watson can be contacted at adria.watson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @adriarwatson.

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