Since its launch in February, the pool coronavirus testing program in Massachusetts schools has found a positivity rate of less than 1 percent among nearly 159,000 people, according to state data released Monday.
More than 1,000 schools across the state have been participating in pool testing, a method in which multiple people’s test samples are processed as a single sample. It has proven to be faster and less expensive than traditional testing, specialists said.
Of 22,679 testing pools, with an average size of seven samples, the state found a positivity rate of 0.76 percent, according to Governor Charlie Baker’s office. The state is not aware of any pools with more than one positive result, “suggesting that there is extremely little evidence of in-school transmission of COVID-19 in Massachusetts,” the governor’s office said.
At schools with pool testing, people must choose to participate in the program. Pool tests are administered at least once a week and results are delivered within 24 hours. When a pool test comes back negative, all the people in that group are considered to be virus-free. When it comes back positive, individuals are retested and follow isolation and quarantining protocols as necessary, based on individual results.
Funding for the pool testing program, which is financed by the state and federal government, was set to expire on April 18 but has been extended through June 30. State officials expect about $207 million in federal funding to help cover the cost of the program.
The state announced Monday it will cover the costs of COVID-19 testing at sites dedicated to early education providers.
“Massachusetts’ robust and ambitious program offering COVID-19 surveillance testing to all schools, charters, and special education collaboratives led the nation,” Baker said. “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.”
Since February, 172 people in the public schools have tested positive for coronavirus; the state has not released a breakdown of cases among students, educators, and other staff members.
Boston’s public schools are using pool testing but Worcester has not signed up, according to a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Education.
“Access to this pooled testing program has given many school districts the information and assurance they need in order to be able to keep educating students in person safely and successfully,” Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said.
The state separately tracks positive cases reported by local school and health officials among students and staff members in school buildings. Cases among people who are only learning or teaching remotely are not being tracked by state education officials.
Since September, 8,677 cases involving students and 5,358 involving staff members have been reported to the state. The last weekly report, released Thursday, included 682 new coronavirus cases among students and 228 among school staff members. It was the highest weekly total since mid-to-late January.