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Domb urges gov. to activate National Guard for pool testing

  • Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to activate the National Guard and possibly members of the Medical Reserve Corps, so that COVID-19 pooled testing can begin immediately in all school districts that are requesting the service. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2021

AMHERST — Amherst’s state representative is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to activate the Massachusetts National Guard, and possibly members of the Medical Reserve Corps, so that COVID-19 pooled testing can begin immediately in all school districts that are requesting the service.

A letter sent last week by Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, urges Baker, along with Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders, Education Secretary James Peyser and the commissioners of public health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to meet the needs of those who asked for the service in August.

Domb said Friday that she is concerned many school districts across the state, including those in the communities she serves, Amherst, Granby and Pelham, have been unable to get pooled testing up and running, comparing it to the state’s “lumpy and bumpy” rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for senior citizens in early 2021.

“Just as the governor activated the National Guard to drive school buses to ensure that students get to their schools safely during a shortage of regular bus drivers, I believe we must activate additional members of the Massachusetts National Guard to support the establishment of pooled testing services in school districts across the commonwealth,” Domb said.

She called for additional personnel after learning that significant staffing issues were cited as the reason why school districts are still waiting for the service, which can identify possible COVID-19 outbreaks before they happen, and allow districts to do contact tracing, quarantine and other public health mitigation measures.

Guard members as well as members of the Medical Reserve Corps of Massachusetts or retired health care providers, could be deployed to close the staffing gap that has prevented pooled testing from being implemented.

“These delays are unacceptable as we head into the second month of the school year,” Domb said, especially noting that children under 12 can’t yet receive COVID-19 vaccines. “They may be explainable, but they are unacceptable.”

In her letter, she cited the private consultant, CIC Health, hired by the Baker administration to oversee the scaling up of pooled testing:

“My understanding is that CIC has asked local superintendents to begin to explore hiring locally for this service they are contracted to provide. This is not acceptable. Our superintendents have enough on their plates in transitioning back to in-person learning, and reinstituting programs and services for students and their families.”

In Amherst, Superintendent Michael Morris said he applied for pooled testing on Aug. 16.

“We are still working with the state vendor to get it up and running,” Morris said. “There have been multiple shifts in the vendor’s project coordinator here, which has slowed implementation.”

Domb said she doesn’t know how many others are affected but has requested that information. She also criticized the administration and its vendor for the solutions being recommended, such as having superintendents to do their own hiring.

Domb has previously expressed concern with the governor’s actions during the pandemic. Over the summer, for instance, she opposed Baker’s initial refusal to issue a statewide mask mandate for school classrooms and was critical of the education officials’ initial decision to forgo COVID-19 surveillance in schools. She urged them to reverse this decision and reinstitute monitoring school-based outbreaks.

And last fall her office created a dashboard of COVID-19 cases reported on public and private colleges and universities because the state included only case totals and not details about whether a specific institution was becoming an epicenter for spread.

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