National Guard to help schools with COVID tests after appeal from Domb

  • Members of the Illinois National Guard work with the public at the state's drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility at Rolling Meadows High School, May 22, 2020, in Rolling Meadows, Ill. Daily Herald via AP/FILE PHOTO

  • REP. MINDY DOMB, D-Amherst

Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2021 7:43:52 PM

Up to 200 members of the Massachusetts National Guard are being activated to assist K-12 schools with COVID-19 testing of students and staff.

On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the Guard’s help with so-called pooled testing would be one of two missions undertaken by its members, with another 250 or so members helping out the Department of Correction.

“Today’s activations will ensure that we have additional staffing support for our school testing programs to help kids stay safe and will allow DOC to respond to possible staffing shortages,” Baker said in a statement.

Baker’s decision related to pooled testing comes following a written appeal from state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, who called for additional personnel after learning that significant staffing issues were cited as the reason why school districts are still waiting for the service. Pooled testing can identify possible COVID-19 outbreaks before they happen, and allow districts to do contact tracing, quarantine and other public health mitigation measures.

Domb said having the National Guard assisting is a good start and she is relieved that much-delayed testing can get underway, though it is still uncertain how many need the service. Amherst public schools, she said, were already on a third contractor.

“I’m glad that by next Monday, with the National Guard’s assistance, this service will hopefully be in place,” Domb said. “Students, their families, and their communities will finally get the benefit of this intervention.”

Domb added that there is understandable frustration from school leaders.

“We were told that this program was an important tool to keep our schools and students healthy and safe. In its absence, there has been appropriate disappointment, concern, confusion and fear,” Domb said.

Over 2,200 schools are signed up to participate in at least one of three types of COVID-19 testing that is offered. In addition to pooled testing, the others are test-and-stay and symptomatic testing.

Since the beginning of the school year, the governor’s office reports that results from pooled testing show pool positivity rates of less than 1%, and test-and-stay, which is used to test close contacts, has saved approximately 25,000 school days for students who would have otherwise been mandated to quarantine.

“We are very thankful to the men and women of the National Guard for their assistance to help school districts handle some operational challenges in order to continue to keep students, teachers and staff safe,” Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley said in a statement.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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