BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts' pooled COVID-19 testing program for the state's schools has tested nearly 159,000 people and found a positivity rate of lower than 1%, state officials said Monday.
Under the program, which started last month, teachers, staffers and students in groups of up to 10 are tested. The swabs are then placed in a single tube and shipped to a lab for testing. If the tube is tested and comes back negative, every person in that pool is presumed to be negative for COVID-19.
But because the average pool included seven people, individual prevalence among those tested is well below that number. State officials said it showed there is extremely little evidence of in-school transmission of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.
If the test for a tube comes back positive, the people are tested individually and once positive individuals are identified, they must follow isolation guidelines, while their close contacts must quarantine.
“The science is clear that it is safe for kids to be in the classrooms, and this initiative has proved to serve as an invaluable tool for schools throughout the Commonwealth as they return to in-person learning,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.
The state also announced that it will cover the cost of pooled testing through the end of the school year.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
There were more than 1,400 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 Monday, while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 15.
The new numbers push the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 16,790 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 594,000.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were more than 670 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 160 in intensive care units.
The average age of those hospitalized was 63. There were an estimated 31,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 8,926.
More than 3.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 2.1 million first doses and nearly 1.2 million second doses.
Nearly 1.3 million people have been fully immunized.
Hotels in the Boston area were hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than just about any other major U.S. city, and the recovery could take years, hospitality industry officials said.
The occupancy rate in Boston and Cambridge fell to less than 26% last year, driving revenue per available room — the performance measure used in the industry — down more than 80%, according to the hotel consultant Pinnacle Advisory Group, The Boston Globe reported Monday. Only New York fared worse.
The area's hotels are projected to hit 42% occupancy this year, half of what it was in 2019, while hotel revenues aren’t expected to get back to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.
About 8,000 hotel employees in the area are still out of work.
The Omni Parker House in Boston, which dates to 1855, fully reopened on Wednesday, but still has no food or beverage service, while international and corporate travelers are almost nonexistent, management said.
The hotel had 350 workers before the pandemic.
“Given the trajectory of the business that we see now,” general manager John Murtha said, “I think it will take us two-and-a-half to three years to get back to that level.”
More than a dozen hotels in Boston and Cambridge remain closed, including the 1,200-room Sheraton Boston Hotel, the biggest property in the city.
At least six Boston-area hotels have let go a large proportion of their staffs, resulting in more than 800 permanent layoffs, according to the hospitality workers union, Unite Here Local 26.
SCHOOL DISTRICT SURGE
A Cape Cod school district will remain in fully remote learning for at least another week as COVID-19 numbers in the town surge.
Barnstable Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown said Sunday on the district's Facebook page that the decision came after consulting with the district’s physician, Dr. Katie Rudman, and Barnstable Public Health Director Tom McKean, the Cape Cod Times reported.
The town is seeing the highest COVID-19 figures since the start of the pandemic in March of last year, she said.
Last week, there were 70 positive staff and student cases, and more than 225 close contacts are currently in quarantine, she said in the post.