Massachusetts orders 26 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts can expect to receive 26 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests over the next three months, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.

Baker said the state has placed an order with iHealth to supply Massachusetts with the tests. The agreement allows for shipments to arrive on a rolling basis although the exact timing and amount of each shipment could vary depending on changes in international shipping and production.

Baker also announced Tuesday that he has activated an additional 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to support the state’s health care system during the ongoing COVID-19 surge brought on by the omicron variant.

The order expands the National Guard activation of 500 members that was originally announced on Dec. 21 to support non-clinical functions in the state’s hospitals.

The newly activated 500 members will be used to provide additional non-clinical staffing at community hospitals and high-volume emergency departments, public hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and dialysis centers beginning the week of January 17.

The administration also released a public health advisory instructing residents when to seek tests for COVID-19.

The advisory suggests all residents seek COVID-19 tests when exhibiting COVID symptoms, or five days following a known close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.