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26 million rapid COVID-19 tests will be earmarked for K-12 and child care, Baker announces

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday morning that his administration had purchased 26 million new rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 that would be prioritized for K-12 schools and child care centers over the coming months.

Baker said the order was placed with iHealth, the same California-based manufacturer that provided the 2.1 million tests purchased last month and distributed to select cities and towns. The first tests are expected to begin arriving in Massachusetts this week, and the size and timing of additional shipments will depend on supply chain availability between now and March.

The governor also said he was activating an additional 500 members of the National Guard to assist with staffing challenges at hospitals around the state, and the Department of Public Health issued new guidance on when residents should get tested for COVID-19.

Baker said people should get tested if they are symptomatic, or if they have been a confirmed close contact of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 and who is in quarantine. The new recommendations for testing come in response to the struggle many residents have experienced getting a PCR test for COVID-19, with long lines and appointments in short supply as infections surge.

The DPH guidance, according to Baker, makes clear that in most cases rapid antigen tests should suffice for schools, employers and child care centers who require people to get tested in order to return after exposure or infection, and that PCR tests should not be required.

"Rapid tests, in most situations, are a very good alternative to PCR tests," Baker said.

The announcement came hours before Baker is slated to testify before the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management on his administration's response to the omicron surge.

"'Testing, testing, testing...' Everywhere I go, that's all I hear is we need more testing - in schools, hospitals & communities...," Senate President Karen Spilka tweeted Tuesday morning, teasing the oversight hearing later in the day when she said she hoped to hear more from Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on the topic.

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