Expert Advisory Panel 4 unveils cohesive plan for pooled testing



Expert Advisory Panel 4 outlined a new plan for pooled testing this Friday. The plan involves cooperation with different testing sites in the Greater Boston area. One such testing site, mPathy, will soon be closing doors at its Brookline location.

Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety and Logistics met on Feb. 26 at 3:15 p.m. to announce their plan for pooled and individual testing in Brookline Public Schools.

Coordinator of Student Health Services Tricia Laham released the panel’s March testing plan.
The four-week plan stipulates that asymptomatic testing be launched on Mar. 2, with voluntary pooled tests done across Brookline Public Schools. Each week, the plan would be extended to a broader grade range, with all interested student-facing staff (educators who have contact with students) taking priority. Students 9th through 12th grade will have access to testing on Mar. 9 and 11, 6th-12th grade on Mar. 16 and 18, and PreK-12th grade on Mar. 23 and 25.

All initial tests will be nasal swab PCR tests (tests that detect the virus’s genetic material). Five to 10 tests will be pooled together into one sample to test for COVID-19. All samples will be collected by 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and driven from the public schools to Cambridge to be processed. Schools will receive the results in the following 24-48 hours, but individuals will only receive results if their pool test returns positive. If the test returns as negative, all individuals in the pool will be presumed by the school to not have contracted COVID-19.

If a pool tests positive, each member is tested individually with an Abbott BinaxNOW Rapid Antigen Diagnostic Test. These Antigen tests (tests that detect specific proteins from the virus) return results in 15 minutes and provide individuals with a quick diagnosis. In the case of every individual in the pool testing negative with the Antigen tests, each person will be tested again with PCR. Both samples for the Antigen and PCR test will be collected at the same time to reduce wait time (on Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m. for Tuesday pools and on Fridays from 1-5 p.m. for Thursday pools).

This testing program was designed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), along with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. DESE will oversee the testing and provide staff to assist with procedures. This state-sanctioned program provides Brookline with resources and materials without the otherwise large financial cost. This means Brookline must follow the structure and logistics that DESE has put in forward.

According to Laham, the town will continue this partnership with DESE as long as it sees fit.

“We’re trying to understand exactly how they {DESE} want us to execute it, work with the vendors that have been provided to us, and work with the materials provided to us,” Laham said. “We’ll have flexibility, and then we may make a decision to continue on the same path if it works wonderfully for us, or we might change direction if we find that a different structure works better for Brookline.”

Before the panel concluded, Co-Chair David Gacioch brought up that the mPathy testing site in Brookline is likely to close soon. At the Feb. 23 Select Board meeting, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and Director of Health and Human Services Swannie Jett announced that the mPathy testing site at the Brookline Health Department may soon close due to “funds running out and diminishing usage.” Since there have been fewer people getting tested, costs of tests are going up. According to Gacioch the prospect of mPathy discontinuing their operations in Brookline is a “real possibility.”

If the Brookline mPathy testing site closes, there will still be other testing options for people living in Brookline. Gaioch shared a link to find an alternate nearby testing facilities.

Laham said the town is currently looking into other clinics to provide a centralized location for Brookline residents to get tested.

“We are actively seeking information on other available clinics that might be able to fill that gap and provide an obvious place for people to go, ideally for both symptomatic testing with rapid turnaround time and also maybe even for close contact testing,” Laham said.