The continued rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and positive trends in the number of new cases of the virus are all contributing to society emerging on the other side of the pandemic. These exciting advances already have people discussing when and how to return to in-person activities, to the office, and to school.
During a March 2nd press briefing, President Biden noted the importance of getting students safely back into the classroom. He explained how educators and school staff should be considered essential workers, and therefore would be moved to the front of the vaccine line. To achieve this, the federal government will work with its pharmacy program to organize and distribute vaccines to pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade educators and staff. The goal is to have everyone who falls into this category receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of March. Many states have already prioritized educators in their vaccine rollouts, but others, including Massachusetts, had not yet opened eligibility.
Starting March 11th, however, educators and school staff in Massachusetts will be able to sign up for vaccines. This step will help more students get back into the classroom, but having teachers and staff vaccinated is not the only way in-person education can safely occur before vaccinations are widespread. In addition to the continued safety protocols in place, including mask usage, social distancing, and increased sanitation processes, many school districts in Massachusetts and beyond are looking into testing options to monitor COVID-19 cases within educational communities.
One such method becoming increasingly popular is pooled testing. Participating Massachusetts schools work with the state government to receive testing kits and tracking software, as well as support from a testing partner. The schools will administer COVID-19 tests following typical protocol, but samples will be collected in groups, or pools, which will then be tested together using the resources normally reserved for a single test. If the results are negative, it can be assumed that everyone involved in that pool is negative. If the results are positive, the school will know there is potential exposure and will have those in that specific pool retested to determine who is infected and take the necessary preventative and precautionary steps. This allows for more widespread monitoring of COVID-19 without using up available resources.
While pooled testing is useful for testing large groups, it is not a perfect method. In order to test multiple samples, they must be diluted. This increases the chances of false negatives, so this method should only be used in settings where there is already a low frequency of cases. Similarly, if the method is used in an area with an already high number of cases, then too many positives will appear, leading to increased needs for individual testing, which may defeat the purpose of pooled testing. The CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health also recommend that laboratories performing pool testing still use an assay and test system that has received an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA to guarantee that the test is done as professionally and properly as possible. For more information on pooled testing, click here for a downloadable document from the State of Massachusetts’ website.
OccuMed has partnered with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to offer customers fast and inexpensive COVID-19 testing. We offer a variety of testing options, including PCR Tests and Antigen testing, and we are able to provide pooled testing if needed. If you need onsite testing services in educational or workplace settings, we will gladly assist you in organizing, monitoring, and handling the administration of the testing. Currently, we offer the following COVID-19 safety service options:
COVID-19 Consulting Bundle: Written directive/policy on requirements which can be either a corporate policy or a site-specific policy.
COVID-19 Training (Infection Control Webinar): We offer Open Enrollment Classes and Private Company Sponsored Classes made available at your convenience.
COVID-19 Testing: COVID-19 Testing Services for Colleges, Universities, Private Companies, And Public Agencies are available. We now offer Pick Up/Drop Off COVID-19 Testing at our Canton, MA location.
If you have concerns about your workforce and coronavirus, please contact us today to learn about steps you can take to protect yourself, your family, and your employees.