Baker announces that 26 million rapid antigen tests are forthcoming

The Baker administration on January 11 announced that the Commonwealth will be receiving 26 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests over three months in a contract with iHealth, a company who produces the tests.

Baker said that the tests will be “prioritized” for K-12 education and childcare across the state, adding that the “rapid tests are convenient and efficient. They are also accurate in detecting when someone is about to infect others.”

These new tests will be in addition to the 2.1 million tests distributed to 102 cities and towns across the state, Baker said. 

He also spoke about a new public health advisory from the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) released earlier this week that provides guidance on when residents should be tested for the virus.

He said there are “two key scenarios” when the state “advises” that someone should be tested: if they have symptoms of COVID-19, and if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. In that case, the test should be done five days after the exposure.

Baker said that the new DPH guidelines “recommend,” but do not “require” a test five days after exposure, and quarantining is not required if a person is fully vaccinated but not eligible for a booster, if a person is fully vaccinated and has received a booster, or if a person had been infected with COVID-19 within the past 90 days. 

Additionally, according to the state, “the new isolation protocols do not require a COVID-19 test to exit isolation after having COVID,” which is also applicable to K-12 educational and childcare settings. 

“Rapid tests, in most situations, are a very good alternative to PCR tests,” Baker said, for which results can take 24-72 hours. Rapid tests provide results within 15 minutes in many cases, and are “highly accurate in determining” when someone infected with the virus is the most contagious. 

“DPH advises that a positive COVID-19 rapid antigen does not need to be confirmed with a PCR test,” according to a release from the state. 

However, if a person with COVID symptoms tests negative on a rapid antigen test, they “should isolate and either repeat an antigen test or get a PCR test in 24-48 hours if they continue to exhibit symptoms,” the state said. 

A negative test is not required “after returning from COVID isolation,” Baker said, and “DPH does not advise employers, or schools and childcare, to require a test as a condition of returning to work or school,” according to the state. He said if employers are asking employees to provide a test, the state recommends not requiring a PCR test. 

Baker also stressed that “getting vaccinated and boosted remains your best possible protection from getting really sick.”

He also assured residents that “the vaccines are safe and effective for adults and kids,” and that more than 5.1 million Massachusetts residents are fully vaccinated. 

“If you haven’t gotten a vaccination or a booster, please book an appointment and get one now,” Baker said, adding that five “state-sponsored vaccine and booster sites” have been opened in recent weeks in Boston, Lynn, and Taunton. 

For more information about the public health advisory, testing, and to book a vaccine or booster appointment, visit mass.gov/covid19.

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