BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is expanding COVID-19 testing options and deploying more National Guard troops to hospitals as the state continues to battle a record surge of infections and hospitalizations.
On Tuesday, Baker said the state will be distributing more than 26 million rapid antigen tests over the next three months under a contact with a manufacturing company.
Details are still being worked out, but Baker said the public schools and childcare facilities will be prioritized in the distribution of the at-home tests.
“We expect we’ll see a regular supply over the next several months,” Baker said at a Statehouse briefing. “Our two priorities are K-12 schools and child care.”
Baker said he is also activating another 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to help overwhelmed hospitals deal with staffing shortages.
Additionally, the state Department of Public Health issued new guidelines Tuesday advising residents to get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have come into close contact with an infected person.
The agency also said people who’ve had a negative rapid test don’t need to get a second PCR test to confirm the result before returning to school or work from isolation.
“We’ve heard from many of our testing sites that they are seeing increasing volumes of people who are seeking PCR tests specifically because their employer or school is requiring it to return from isolation,” Baker said. “We believe the antigen tests, which are enormously accurate, are a perfectly suitable solution.”
The Baker administration’s stepped-up response comes amid a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations following the holiday break, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
On Monday, the state Department of Public Health reported 60,986 new COVID-19 infections and 53 deaths related to the virus over the weekend.
The seven-day average of positive COVID-19 tests has skyrocketed to more than 22%, according to the state agency.
More than 2,900 people remain hospitalized with the virus, with about 430 of them in intensive care.
Public schools, many of which have been conducting pool testing, have reported a record number of infections among students and staff returning from winter break.
Meanwhile, residents wait in long lines in frigid temperatures to get tested for the virus as pharmacies and retailers are struggling to stock rapid antigen tests.
Last month, the Baker administration distributed 2.1 million rapid at-home tests across the state to 102 hardest-hit communities, including Gloucester, Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, Rockport and Salem. The state has also negotiated with drug manufacturers to provide discounted rapid tests to other communities.
At least five state-run COVID-19 testing facilities, including one in Lynn, have been set up to help deal with the increased demand.
The Baker administration has extended a masking requirement for public schools through February and imposed restrictions on hospitals to help them deal with the dual challenges of a flood of COVID-19 patients and chronic staffing shortages.
But Baker has resisted calls from Democratic lawmakers and some public health groups to set a statewide masking requirement and other precautions as the state battles the latest surge.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.