Massachusetts will end its public school COVID-19 testing program after this school year, state officials have announced, with further changes to educational testing and isolation policy taking effect this week. .
Starting in the fall of 2022, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the state would stop providing self-tests “or other COVID testing services” to schools.
“The end of the 2021-22 school year will mark the end of the state-run and state-coordinated K-12 testing program, although districts and schools will have access to state-provided self-tests to perform symptom testing themselves during the summer school,” DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said in a memo to school officials Tuesday.
For the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year, “self-tests may now also be made available to the broader school community,” the memo says, adding that they may be provided ahead of in-person events, sponsored by school, like balls. and diplomas.
For summer programs, “staff, software, and all other services currently provided by CIC Health will no longer be available through the state-run program,” meaning school districts will have to provide staff for symptomatic testing at school, DESE said in the memo.
At the start of the next school year, when the State will stop offering self-tests, “DESE and [the Department of Public Health] strongly recommend that schools and districts interested in implementing their own testing program limit that program to symptomatic rapid tests only,” according to the memo. “Schools and districts can purchase self-tests under the statewide contract.
Additionally, the Department of Public Health announced that effective May 25, children exposed to COVID-19 who are not showing symptoms are no longer required to self-quarantine in K-12, day care centers or recreational camps. Tests are also no longer necessary.
“Children who are identified as close contacts may continue to participate in the program as long as they remain asymptomatic,” the department said in updated guidelines on the state website. “Those who can mask should do so until day 10. Testing on days 2 and 5 is recommended, but not required.”
The new policy does not outline any differences in protocols between vaccinated and unvaccinated children in these settings, a distinction that remains in effect in the state’s isolation and quarantine guidelines for the general public.
Children must self-isolate for at least five days if they test positive, the state said. If they are able to mask themselves, they can return after five days if they are asymptomatic or if their symptoms have improved and they have not had a fever for 24 hours.
“If the child is unable to mask, they must test negative on Day 5 or later in order to return to programming before Day 11,” the state guide says.
If children show symptoms but test negative for COVID-19 on site, they can stay in school or in their programs. “Best practices would also include wearing a mask, if possible, until symptoms are completely resolved,” the state added.
If a symptomatic child cannot be tested immediately, “they should be sent home and allowed to return to their program or school if they test negative, or have not had a fever for 24 hours. without the use of anti-fever medication and his symptoms have resolved, or if a medical professional makes another diagnosis,” the state said in its guidelines. “A negative test is strongly recommended for return if the last two conditions are met.”
Additionally, the state says rapid antigen testing is preferred over PCR testing at educational institutions “in most situations for the purpose of exiting isolation or quarantine.”
The state notes that staff should continue to follow DESE or Department of Early Education and Care protocols, depending on where they work.