Early education providers in Massachusetts will soon be able to access COVID-19 testing at eight sites through a new state pilot program and will be able to order protective equipment at no cost, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Monday.
Polito said the Department of Early Education and Care is dedicating $8 million in state and federal funds to set up a personal protective equipment fulfillment website for providers, who will be able to order one month's supply of items including gloves, masks, bleach, hand sanitizer and wipes.
Guidance for PPE orders and for obtaining tests through the new program will be available online, she said.
Education Secretary James Peyser told the Board of Early Education and Care this month that state officials were working on a pilot program involving regional testing sites that would prioritize early education providers and participants in hopes of minimizing "the sort of interruptions and disruptions that have occurred as people are awaiting tests, are trying to schedule tests, are being forced to quarantine because they've been in close contact with someone who might be positive."
On Monday, Polito said the testing pilot will launch in February, for early education and care providers, staff and the families they serve. She said it will be a partnership with the Massachusetts Early Childhood Funder Collaborative and BayCoast Bank with "eight rotating drive-through sites throughout the commonwealth" that will offer molecular COVID-19 testing.
The pilot's locations — Athol, Braintree, Billerica, Dalton, Franklin, Plymouth, Sturbridge and Westfield — were chosen based on their concentration of child care providers and distance from the free testing sites supported by the state's Stop the Spread program.
Each site will have the capacity to test about 400 people a day, and they intend to make results available in 48 hours or less, according to the administration. According to a press release, anyone "affiliated with a child care program who is symptomatic, identified as a close contact or has concerns about exposure, including all staff and their household members as well as children in care and their families, will be eligible for testing at no cost."
The Department of Early Education and Care will analyze data from the testing program to identify other possible test sites, Polito said.
"As we continue to combat COVID-19, reliable child care is critical for parents and families across Massachusetts," she said.
Most child care facilities in Massachusetts were ordered to close last March as COVID-19 first took hold, except for those that operated on an emergency basis to serve the children of essential workers. The programs were cleared to reopen in June, with new safety measures in place, and many faced a financial squeeze because of added costs and lost revenue.
On Jan. 11, a group of more than 250 early education, care and out-of-school time providers, advocates and associations wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker and state health and education officials, calling for access to weekly preventative COVID-19 testing. The letter came after the Baker administration announced a new pooled testing program available to K-12 schools.
"As we look upon the next few months knowing that the Covid-19 transmission rate is going to continue to rise, failure to make testing available to our programs will mean more of us will close, leaving more families without the care solutions they need and more young children without the early education they deserve," the group wrote.