Mask and COVID testing in Schools- August 2021

DESE has published documents for mask use, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing recommendations. Districts will have access to pool testing and rapid test kids with support services at no cost.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has release applications to participate in no-cost COVID-19 testing for public and private schools in Massachusetts. This information is in addition to the recommendations for mask use that was issued in June 2021. The August 2021 information on the DESE website includes available testing programs, district application materials and sample parent communication letters in English and Spanish.

DESE has released three sets documents with recommendations and guidance:

NEW Department of Public Health School Health Office Information

Mask Guidance (6-30-202)

The Department of Public Health and DESE issued joint guidance in June 2021 with recommendations for indoor mask requirements, preliminary COVID-19 testing resources, contact tracing, quarantine and vaccine resources. The DESE/DPH guidance also encourages districts to maintain ventilation upgrades and hygiene practices.

Massachusetts has additional guidance on mask requirements for children under five years old, in licensed daycare and child care facilities, health care facilities and other public settings. This Mask Advisory for Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Residents includes downloadable versions of the mask guidance in 12 languages.

COVID-19 Testing in Schools (8-11-2021)

For the 2021-22 school year, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and DESE are providing districts weekly pooled testing and diagnostic testing services at no cost. Districts are encouraged to participate both routine testing and diagnostic testing. Participating districts will be provided with test kits, testing software and support staff from the service provider at no cost.

Consent Forms

All students and staff will be required to submit new consent forms for the 2021-22 school year. A single consent form may be used for both routine pool testing and diagnostic rapid testing. DESE has sample consent forms and letters to parents in English and Spanish available here.

Routine COVID-19 Pooled Testing

Districts are encouraged to offer routine group or “pool” testing on a regular basis to all students and staff. Each pool can have up to 10 samples. If the pool test is negative then all individuals in that pool are considered negative. If there is a positive pool test, then the individuals in that pool should follow up with individual testing to identify if one or more of the 10 individuals are positive.

BinaxNOW Rapid Testing

As part of the 2021-22 school year COVID-19 testing, each participating will be able to order BinaxNOW Ag Card rapid antigen testing through the state vendor CIC Health. The BinaxNOW test can be used for rapid testing for symptomatic individuals, follow up testing for a positive pool or daily testing under a “test and stay” protocol for close contacts.

Individuals may also follow up with individual PCR test from providers in Massachusetts. The Department of Public Health has a search tool for test locations available online.

Close Contacts & Exposure to Positive Case of COVID 19 (8-13-2)

As per the August 11 updates, DESE released updated Protocols for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios for contact tracing, quarantine, and all recommended testing protocols.

Any individual who has tested positive either through school testing or outside testing must isolate for a minimum of 10 days. Districts will then need to determine if any students or staff are meet the criteria for “close contacts. ”

A close contact is generally defined as an individual who has been within 6 feet of a COVID-positive individual for at least 15 minutes. In scenarios where masks are used, contacts have been vaccinated or have had COVID-19 within the past 90 days then the follow up testing protocols may be modified to only include unmasked individuals within 6 feet. In scenarios where where “close contacts” have been vaccinated or were fully masked may not require testing so long as they are asymptomatic. These are just the minimum recommendations and district may adopt more comprehensive follow up testing protocols.

Districts are encouraged, but not mandated, to follow the “test and stay” protocols for close contacts. Individuals who are considered “close contacts” may continue to attend school and be tested daily for five consecutive days if the school has access to the rapid testing kits. Individuals under “test and stay” could still be eligible to participate in all school activities.

The alternative to a “test and stay” system is that close contacts should isolate for seven days and may return to school with a negative test result.

The local board of health or the Massachusetts Community Tracing Collaborative will assist schools and households in identification and notification of close contacts.