Four Berkshire County schools or school districts will take part next month in the rollout of no-cost rapid COVID-19 tests.
In all, 134 school districts, charter schools or special education programs will take part in a program that’s likely to expand as part of the Baker administration’s drive to support in-person learning.
Tests will be administered to students or staff who show symptoms of the disease while their school is in session. Only schools that have some form of on-site instruction were eligible to take part.
Locally, the Berkshire Hills, Central Berkshire and Southern Berkshire regional school districts will take part, along with the Clarksburg School, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Because it shares services with Berkshire Hills, the Richmond Consolidated School will also participate in the testing, according to Cristina Lenfest, the school's nurse.
The program’s first phase will involve an antigen test that uses a nasal swab and can provide results in roughly 15 minutes. The test is made by the pharmaceutical company Abbott and is called BinaxNOW. Two million of the tests are being provided to the state by the U.S. government.
On Wednesday, the state’s education commissioner said the first line of defense remains for students and staff to stay home if they feel sick.
“However, some people may experience the onset of symptoms while at school,” Jeff Riley said. “The Abbott BinaxNOW tests will allow schools and districts to rapidly respond to these types of situations.”
"By testing students and teachers and getting results within minutes we will be able to identify infected individuals and their close contacts more quickly, and to help stop any spread," he said.
The education department is providing schools with paperwork related to the testing. Schools need to obtain a parent or guardian’s consent before the swab is taken. If the finding is positive, the state requires that it be confirmed with a followup test. If the test is negative, the student will be sent home, according to the state, with a recommendation that they see a health care provider. Before coming back to school, the student has to be cleared based on other factors outlined in the program.
Riley said participating schools volunteered to be part of the program.