With extended funding, Frontier and Union 38 to continue COVID-19 pool testing

  • Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Monday, May 03, 2021

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The COVID-19 pool testing program at Frontier and Union 38 regional school districts will continue through the rest of the academic year, thanks to a recent announcement from Gov. Charlie Baker extending funding.

Meg Burch, nurse manager for the school districts, said the program has done a lot to reduce concerns about the potential for asymptomatic cases and also to provide assurance regarding ongoing prevention strategies. The state launched the pool testing initiative in February, expanding on the rapid testing initiative announced at the end of last year, and funding was originally set to expire on April 18.

“The pool testing program has been very successful, and we are looking to increase participation,” Burch said at a recent joint Frontier and Union 38 School Committee meeting. “Especially now we can go to the end of the school year without concerns on the impact on the budgets.”

The most updated figures show that after eight weeks of testing roughly 650 staff and students each week in the Frontier and Union 38 districts, three “test pools” came back positive for COVID-19.

The positive case in each pool — or test batch — was able to be identified using a rapid follow-up test. Testing occurs weekly on Monday or Tuesday, depending on the school, Burch said.

In the instances of positive cases, Burch said building-based nurses were able to support the newly identified case and coordinate with local public health partners for follow up, including contact tracing, within a day.

“Those who tested negative in the follow-up test were able to return to the classroom setting with minimal interruption to their school day,” she said.

Numbers out of the Frontier and Union 38 school districts echo the findings of the state’s first report on the pooled testing initiative, which found “low positivity rates” among the more than 1,000 schools enrolled statewide.

“Massachusetts’ robust and ambitious program offering COVID-19 surveillance testing to all schools, charters and special education collaboratives led the nation,”  Baker said in a statement earlier this month. “The science is clear that it is safe for kids to be in the classrooms, and this initiative has proved to serve as an invaluable tool for schools throughout the commonwealth as they return to in-person learning.”

Of the pooled tests conducted through the end of March, the state is unaware of any in which there was more than one positive individual, suggesting “there is extremely little evidence of in-school transmission of COVID-19.”