Massachusetts National Guard activated to help with COVID-19 testing in schools

Massachusetts National Guard activated to help with COVID-19 testing in schools
© Stefani Reynolds

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) activated members of the National Guard on Tuesday to help with COVID-19 testing in schools, as education facilities struggle to test students and teachers amid staff shortages.

Up to 200 members of the Massachusetts National Guard have been activated to help with testing in the state’s public K-12 schools, Baker's office announced. The governor said the move will provide “additional staffing support” for school testing programs.

“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.

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“While we are overall pleased with the progress we are seeing with Commonwealth employees submitting vaccination attestations, we will take whatever steps are necessary to safely run all correctional facilities,” he added.

Baker’s office also announced on Tuesday that he activated up to 250 National Guard members “as a contingency measure” to help offset potential staffing shortages at the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Personnel will start training this week to help the department with transportation and exterior security efforts “if necessary.”

Guard members will start training for school-based COVID-19 testing this week, then begin administering coronavirus tests in a select number of schools on Monday, Oct. 18, according to Baker.

Some schools in the state have struggled to implement COVID-19 testing programs because of staff shortages, according to The Boston Globe.

Only roughly 1,350 of the more than 2,200 public and private education institutions that signed on to at least one of Massachusetts’s three COVID-19 testing initiatives have actually reported data as of Oct. 7, according to the Globe.

The newspaper noted, however, that it is difficult to identify the exact number of schools currently taking part in the programs because the state depends on them to self-report their data. Only results from pool testing are sent to the state from the labs.

The activation of members of the National Guard came after state Rep. Mindy Domb (D) encouraged Baker to make such a move, contending that the current circumstances “could be jeopardizing” the health of school communities.

“Clearly the inconsistent rollout of the pooled testing program could be jeopardizing the health of our school communities, including the most vulnerable students, those who are under age 12 and ineligible for vaccination at this time,” Domb wrote in a letter to Baker and other state officials in September, according to the Globe.

Schools in the state are currently given the option to join up to three programs for testing, the newspaper noted: individual symptom testing at education facilities, pooled testing for groups of students and staff members, and the test-and-stay program that checks close contacts and allows personnel to remain at school unless their test comes back positive.

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley welcomed the activation of the National Guard, writing on Tuesday that troops will help school districts “handle some operational challenges in order to continue to keep students, teachers and staff safe.”

--Updated at 1:31 p.m.