BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker activated up to 450 members of the Massachusetts National Guard on Tuesday to help deal with COVID-19 challenges facing the state.
Up to 200 guard members will aid in COVID-19 testing in schools throughout the state and up to 250 members will be available to offset potential staff shortages at the state Department of Correction due to a vaccine mandate.
More than 2,200 schools have currently signed up to participate in at least one of three types of COVID-19 testing: test and stay, symptomatic testing, and pooled testing, which allows schools to test samples in batches and then individually if COVID-19 is detected in the pooled batch.
Since the beginning of the school year, results from pooled testing show pool positivity rates of less than 1%, and test and stay — which is used to test close contacts — has saved approximately 25,000 school days for students who would have otherwise had to quarantine, the Republican governor said.
Guard members will begin training this week and begin administering COVID-19 testing in selected schools on Monday as school-based testing continues to ramp up, Baker said.
“Today’s activations will ensure that we have additional staffing support for our school testing programs to help kids stay safe,” Baker said in a press release.
Members are intended to help districts where staff shortages have prevented starting pooled testing programs. Many Berkshire County districts have been able to access pooled testing staffing and resources through County Ambulance and the company CIC Health, according to several superintendents. It was not clear whether any would need additional support through the Guard.
Baker said National Guard members are also preparing to respond to possible staffing shortages at the Department of Correction due to non-compliance with an executive order issued by Baker requiring all Executive Department employees demonstrate proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by Oct. 17.
Activating the Guard in advance of the deadline will allow members to immediately begin job-specific training, Baker said.
Under the plan, National Guard personnel will take over tasks which do not involve direct contact with inmates. When Guard personnel assist with providing transportation to inmates, a correctional officer will accompany them.
The two missions won’t interfere with the National Guard’s ability to respond to and assist in emergencies within the state, Baker said.