BOSTON — Somerville and Medford public schools will deploy a new system to test students and staff for COVID-19 as part of a partnership with Tufts University, helping the densely populated communities ensure regular screening for the highly infectious virus as they scale up in-person learning.
The effort, jointly announced by university and municipal officials Thursday, will implement weekly testing of students in school buildings over the next few months using a novel pooled technique.
Under the pool testing system, which Tufts piloted this fall before launching, multiple samples are bundled together and screened in a single batch rather than one at a time. If any group comes back positive, every student or staff member in the pool will be re-tested at the individual level, a process that officials said will "dramatically" lower costs and the analysis required.
"With the addition of this novel pool testing program, we would have a greater ability to monitor potential cases in our schools and classrooms, allowing us to better track, trace and contain the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and the community as a whole," Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said at a press conference.
Tufts University will cover 50% of the testing costs as well as all of the logistics and back-end work to help the system function, according to Anthony Monaco, the school's president.
Monaco said the partnership with Somerville and Medford "holds great promise" and could serve as a roadmap for testing protocols in other K-12 school districts, many of which lack the frequent testing infrastructure found on college campuses.