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Health

Maine Schools Get Priority On More Than 250,000 Rapid COVID-19 Tests

State officials have secured more than 250,000 rapid COVID-19 tests that will be prioritized for schools to help them stay open.

In a briefing on Tuesday, Education Commissioner Pender Makin said that schools have largely been able to remain open this school year because of requirements including masking and social distancing. She says extra tests will make it easier to test symptomatic students and staff, as well as any potential close contacts, which can help them get back into the classroom faster.

“This new addition of expanded testing availability is going to increase, as an other layer of safety and health, for our students and staff. And I do believe people will realize this is adding to what we had in place already,” she said.

DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said that with access to tests, teachers can more quickly find out if they can return to their classrooms.

“If there is a teacher who has been a close contact of somebody else in the school with COVID-19, with regular testing, with these rapid tests, that teacher can find out if they can be back in school. And if they test negative, they can be in classrooms, rather than quarantining,” she said.

Staff shortages caused by quarantines have forced some schools in Maine to temporarily move to remote learning.

About 80 schools are already using rapid tests for students and staff. The new batch of tests will also be prioritized for health care and long-term care settings.

State officials say the rate of COVID-19 cases in schools is less than half of the statewide average.