“Remember, with the new quarantine guidelines, DPH recommends but doesn’t require that all exposed individuals get a test five days after exposure,” Baker said. “DPH’s advisory also makes clear that rapid tests in most situations are a very good alternative to PCR tests. PCR tests are the ones frequently used at drive-through and on-site testing facilities. They can take up to 24 to 72 hours to produce results. While rapid tests, as I said before, can turn results around in 15 minutes.”
The governor stressed repeatedly that the 26 million tests coming in will arrive on a rolling basis.
“The 26 million tests are expected to arrive on a sort of regular basis over the course of the next 90 days,” he said. “So we expect we’ll see a regular supply available to us throughout January, February, and most of March.”
He said officials’ “key priorities” for test distribution will be K-12 schools and childcare facilities.
“As most people know, we put 2 million [tests] out before the holidays to cities and towns, especially those that have been hardest hit by COVID” and had high poverty rates, Baker said. “We will play this one a little bit based on how the supply arrives, as it gets distributed. But the idea that we would like to be able to make them available more broadly if we can, that’s certainly on our radar.”
State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also briefed reporters on the incoming tests.
“As the governor said, as we plan for these 26 million tests … we want to ensure that we have sufficient rapid antigen tests for both schools through the school semester in June, as well as for early education care,” Sudders said.
Baker also reiterated his administration’s belief that kids should be in school for in-person learning, despite calls from city officials in Boston for flexibility with remote learning amid the Omicron-fueled surge of the virus.
Public health experts, Baker said, are in broad agreement that “school is not only safe, it’s healthy” for children.
“And I think the most important thing we need to do with these tests and with other tools is make it possible for people to continue to be in school,” Baker said. “Our view is, we should be doing everything we can to make sure that kids get that 180 days of in-person learning, because it’s critically important not just to their educational development, but to their development period.”
Separately, Baker announced during Tuesday’s briefing that he plans activate an additional 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to support the state’s healthcare system.
“These members are on top of the 500 we activated earlier this month,” Baker said. “These guard men and women will join the ranks of soldiers already assisting our medical facilities. There’s no question at this point in time that staffing remains an enormous challenge for many of these providers. This activation will alleviate some of the pressure in those places.”
The state’s official COVID-19 dashboard, updated weekdays by 5 p.m., was reporting Tuesday morning that the seven-day positive test rate in Massachusetts was 22.39 percent, with 2,923 patients hospitalized with the virus.
Ninety-two percent of hospital beds were occupied statewide, the dashboard said, and the virus has killed a confirmed 20,159 people in Massachusetts since the start of the once-in-a-generation pandemic.
On Monday, meanwhile, the CDC renewed its push via Twitter for parents to get their kids vaccinated against the virus.