Next month, 134 schools or districts in Massachusetts will be able to provide rapid COVID-19 tests to students or staff who feel the onset of virus symptoms during the school day, Gov. Baker and other state officials said yesterday.

Four local Berkshire County Schools will opt-in to participate in the no-cost rapid testing program, as part of Gov. Baker's administration's push to return to in-person learning. Berkshire Hills, Central Berkshire, Southern Berkshire districts along with Clarksburg Elementary school will take part.

The program is a first phase of a testing initiative by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Massachusetts is receiving about 2 million Abbott BinaxNOW tests for use in public districts, charter schools, educational collaboratives, and approved special education schools.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said yesterday during a press conference with Gov. Charlie Baker that the first phase of this testing is ready to launch in early December with schools that volunteered to participate in the program at no cost. Riley stressed that the results of the Abbot rapid antigen test, which performs best when the person is tested in the early stages of infection, "are probable". Because results from the tests come within minutes, Riley said tests will help districts identify possibly infected individuals and their close contacts more quickly, which will hopefully stop any further spread.

Tests will be given to students or staff who show symptoms of the disease while their school is in session. Symptoms that may lead to the use of a rapid test include a fever, cough, shortness of breath, and new loss of taste or smell. Parents must consent before a test is administered to students.

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