By Bob Katzen

The House 159-0, approved and sent to the Senate a $55 million COVID-19 response bill. A key provision provides $30 million to increase the number of COVID-19 testing sites and purchase COVID-19 tests—with $5 million of that earmarked to expanding vaccination rates among kids ages 5 to 11 in communities disproportionately affected by the virus.

Another $25 million would be used for the acquisition and distribution of high-quality personal protective masks, including N95s and KN95s, to be distributed by February 28, 2022 to children and faculty in elementary and secondary public school districts. The measure also mandates that the Baker administration pursue the highest allowable rate of federal reimbursement for the $55 million package.

“In the last couple of years we have learned a lot about how to treat, prevent and reduce the risks associated with the virus,” said Rep. Bill Driscoll (D-Milton), the House chair of the Committee on Covid-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. “We held additional oversight hearings in December and January because we wanted to understand the administration’s current and evolving plans to address Omicron and what might be around the corner in the weeks and months ahead. The funding included in this legislation aims to close several gaps regarding accessibility to testing and high filtration masks, particularly in schools. By providing the funding resources and several other extensions, like remote participation in public meetings, the commonwealth can take stronger and focused measures toward driving infection rates down and hopefully keep them down in the months ahead.”

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