Guard members will start training for school-based COVID-19 testing this week, according to the Republican governor’s office. They will then begin conducting COVID-19 tests in a select number of Massachusetts schools on Oct. 18.
In another order issued the same day, the governor activated up to 250 National Guard personnel “as a contingency measure” to offset potential staffing shortages at the Department of Correction (DOC).
“We are grateful that the National Guard has stepped up once again, as they have throughout the COVID-19 response, to serve the Commonwealth where needed,” Baker said in a statement announcing the orders. “Today’s activations will ensure that we have additional staffing support for our school testing programs to help kids stay safe and will allow DOC to respond to possible staffing shortages.”
“While we are overall pleased with the progress we are seeing with Commonwealth employees submitting vaccination attestations, we will take whatever steps are necessary to safely run all correctional facilities,” he added.
In Massachusetts, schools are encouraged to participate in at least one of three COVID-19 testing programs: symptomatic testing for individuals who present symptoms while at school, routine pooled testing in which multiple test swabs are put into a single batch, and the test-and-stay program in which asymptomatic individuals who have had close contact with an infected person can take rapid tests daily to monitor for COVID-19 instead of going into quarantine.
This is not the first time Baker called in National Guard to address staff shortages at schools in his state. In September, he activated as many as 250 Guard members to drive children to school, citing a scarcity in certificated school bus drivers.
“Once it became pretty clear that there were going to be some communities shorthanded—it wasn’t going to be a vehicle issue, it was going to be people with [commercial drivers licenses]—we started talking to the Guard,” Baker said at that time, reported CBS Boston.
The school bus driver shortage has also prompted other states to explore unusual solutions. In New York, at least one state lawmaker has asked Gov. Kathy Hochul to put the Guard members behind the wheel.
“The last thing any family should have to worry about on the first day of school is whether or not the bus will show up in the morning to pick up their child,” state Assemblyman Michael Lawler, a Republican, said in September after urging Hochul to activate the National Guard to transport students. “And for far too many families across New York state, the lack of bus drivers is causing serious headaches and problems.”