Mass House employee tests positive after reporting to Beacon Hill this week. A Massachusetts House employee who tested positive for COVID-19 had most recently reported to work in person on Beacon Hill on Monday, Speaker Ron Mariano’s office said Wednesday afternoon.

The disclosure comes after two House employees who were last in the Massachusetts State House on Dec. 22 subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. The names of the infected individuals were not released due to health privacy concerns, according to the messages shared with MassLive by Mariano’s office.

The State House has remained largely shuttered to the public since the onset of the pandemic. A House official on Wednesday did not answer MassLive questions about how the Omicron variant may have altered return-to-work plans.

In both messages to elected officials and staffers this week, Keith Johnson — the House’s director of employee engagement — said all close contacts were notified. Johnson said the definition of a close contact is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“You are considered to have been in close contact with an infected person if you were within 6 feet of that person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period,” Johnson wrote in his latest message, sent just after 4 p.m. on Wednesday. “We urge all Members and staff to continue to practice consistent social distancing and to be attuned to the self-care and precautionary measures recommended by the CDC.”

Johnson said the House has an “ongoing partnership” with the Cambridge Innovation Center for COVID testing among elected officials, officers and staffers. But as of Wednesday afternoon, no testing appointments were available for House personnel at the Cambridge or Newton sites until Monday, according to the center’s scheduling page.

Mariano and the House’s Working Group “are continuing to explore ways to safely reopen the State House,” Johnson wrote in both of his message this week. On Dec. 13, the House began Phase 2A of its reopening plan, which states “all Officers and Employees, including all non-Core Officers and Employees, will be required to be available and able to work in person at the StateHouse as a condition of their employment with the House ofRepresentatives.”

“All in-person activities are at the scheduling discretion of the employee’s supervisor or House Human Resources (HR) and subject to additional mitigation measures,” the House policy continues.

Phase 2B, meant to bring back larger cohorts of elected officials and staffers, was slated to begin in “Winter 2022.” But a House official on Wednesday said that date is “still TBD.”

“The House Working Group continues to work on it and an accompanying policy,” MassLive was told.

Cheaper COVID rapid tests available to Massachusetts cities, towns, Gov. Charlie Baker announces

Massachusetts cities and towns can start ordering bulk shipments of rapid COVID-19 tests to distribute to residents scrambling to secure precious kits amid the omicron surge.

The Baker administration on Wednesday afternoon said Massachusetts has signed contracts with three rapid test manufacturers so far in an effort to make prices more affordable for municipalities.

The manufacturers include Ellume Limited, iHealth and Intrivo, with prices ranging from $5 to $26 per test, the Baker administration said in a news release. Massachusetts will roll out more deals in the coming weeks “as the rolling contracting period continues through March 2022,” state officials said.

“While the Administration has assurances from each manufacturer that there is significant supply, given the high demand across the country, and the level of interest from a wide range of organizations and entities in purchasing these test kits, municipalities and eligible entities should review their options and take steps toward making orders should they be interested in purchasing these products,” officials said.

Municipalities can use federal COVID relief money to buy the rapid test kits, officials said.

Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month had promised to provide more affordable at-home test prices for municipalities, pending negotiations that were finalized Wednesday. In the interim, the governor also unveiled a stopgap solution to distribute 2.1 million free tests kits to 102 low-income communities across the state ahead of the Christmas celebration. But in that initial push, many municipalities — such as Boston, Lowell, Brockton and Salem — received just a fraction of the volume of kits needed to cover all residents.

The new contracts signed Wednesday apply to “cities, towns, district, counties, and other political subdivisions,” plus the “Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, including all departments and elected offices,” state officials.

The lengthy purchasing eligibility list also encompasses local public libraries, public school districts, private schools, charters schools, early childhood centers, state-owned public hospitals, public and private colleges, and certain nonprofits.

“As demand for these test kits remains high across the country, these contracts are another tool for commonwealth residents to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19,” state officials said. “COVID-19 rapid tests are one of many risk-reduction measures, along with vaccination, that can protect individuals by reducing the chances of spreading COVID-19.”

State officials pointed out residents can access rapid tests at local pharmacies or online, too — though Massachusetts residents have found little luck with those options during the holiday rush to get screened for the virus.

In Wednesday’s announcement, the Baker administration made no mention of mask-wearing as another COVID mitigation tool. Baker has stopped short of reinstating a statewide mask mandate, though he’s empowered local officials to pursue stricter COVID protocols as needed.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this week announced the state will distribute 500,000 iHealth test kits to the public, plus N95 masks, starting on Thursday. It’s part of a larger state initiative to distribute a total of 3 million rapid at-home tests and 6 million N95 masks.

This Burncoat High School graduate has been named the next Worcester youth poet laureate

Adael Mejia, a graduate of Worcester’s Burncoat High School, has been named the city’s next youth poet laureate, officials said Wednesday.

Mejia will begin his term in 2022, following the two-year term of the city and state’s first youth poet laureate, Amina Mohammed.

“I’m going to continue to lead the artistic revolution that is giving Worcester its brand new look. I am going to normalize events dedicated towards art and youth,” Mejia said.

Mejia will receive mentorship from Worcester Poet Laureate Juan Matos, whose own term continues through 2022.

The poet laureates serve as ambassadors to Worcester’s cultures of poetry and literature, using their positions to promote local writers and the transformative qualities of poetry and the written word, the city said.

“Congratulations to Adael Mejia, whose talent stood out among an exceptional field of applicants,” said City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. “We’re thrilled to be able to provide a platform for Adael to share his artistic vision through poetry to the Worcester community. During these turbulent times, we rely on creative people like Adael to help us process the ups and downs life sends our way. We are looking forward to seeing where Adael takes us.”

Mejia began writing at a young age while in Ecuador with his father, a teacher, the city said.

“I would go to school with him and he would have me write different stories, and practice my ABS’s,” Mejia wrote in a personal statement. He learned to express himself at an early age, turning to writing when he had trouble fitting in. He also found a love for theater, dance, music, art, and performing, the city said in a statement.

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