BOSTON (WHDH) – The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Tuesday issued new guidance on when residents should get tested for COVID-19 with wait lines at testing sites across the state increasing by the day as infections fueled by the omicron variant surge.
Baker announced the updated guidance at a news conference, saying residents should now get tested under two key scenarios:
“One, if they’re exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, and two, if they’re are a confirmed close contact of someone who has COVID-19,” Baker said.
Baker added that the new quarantine guidelines recommend but do not require all exposed residents to get a test five days after exposure, while new isolation protocols do not require a COVID-19 test to exit isolation.
Exposed individuals do not need to quarantine in the following circumstances, according to health officials:
- If fully vaccinated and not yet eligible to receive a booster
- If fully vaccinated and have received their booster
- If they had COVID and it is less than 90 days since they were diagnosed
Baker, citing the new DPH guidelines, also said a positive COVID-19 rapid antigen test does not need to be confirmed with a PCR test and that employers, schools, and child care should not require a test as a condition of returning to work or school.
“Rapid tests, in most situations, are a very good alternative to PCR tests,” Baker said. “Rapid tests are highly accurate at determining when an individual is at their most transmissible period of COVID-19 and they have many advantages to PCR testing, especially at this point in the pandemic.”
The DPH is recommending that people who have COVID symptoms and test negative with a rapid antigen test should isolate and either repeat an antigen test or get a PCR test in 24-48 hours if they continue to exhibit symptoms.
Vaccination and getting a booster shot remain the best possible protection against COVID-19, Baker reiterated.
Baker also announced a new contract that will bring 26 million rapid COVID-19 tests to Massachusetts over the next three months.
The iHealth test kits will first be prioritized for public schools and child care settings in an effort to keep kids in class before they are made available to other entities.
“I think the most important thing we need to do with these tests and with other tools is make it possible for people to continue to be in school,” Baker said.
The governor did warn of possible delays in the shipment based on ongoing supply chain issues across the country.
“We will play this one a little bit based on how the supply arrives as it gets distributed, but the idea is we will like to make them available more broadly if we can,” Baker said.
Last week, state education officials reported 38,887 positive cases among students and 12,213 cases among staff between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5, marking a total of 51,110 new cases. The spike in cases was more than two-and-a-half times the number of new cases reported in the previous two-week span.
The state has no plans to open any additional testing sites, despite long wait times as infections surge, according to Baker.
About 500 additional National Guard members are also being activated to help medical facilities amid staffing shortages.
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