Worried that surging demand for coronavirus testing is shutting residents out from state-sponsored testing locations in their communities, officials in some hard-hit cities are starting up new, resident-only testing sites to ensure access to the crucial resource.
Revere hosts two testing sites under the state’s “Stop the Spread” targeted testing initiative: One run in partnership with Transformative Healthcare at the high school, and a regional “express” site run in partnership with Project Beacon at Suffolk Downs.
But as increased demand for testing around the holidays drove long lines at the high school and made appointments at Project Beacon scarce — and daily new infections reached levels not seen in Revere since the spring surge — the city decided to add a third site for residents only.
“We do know that a lot of our neighboring communities utilize them more frequently,” Lauren Buck, Revere’s public health nurse and director of public health, said of the two larger-scale testing sites.
At Suffolk Downs, the high-volume regional testing center where roughly 1,000 tests can be administered per day, just 13% of those swabbed last week were Revere residents. In recent weeks, only about 10% to 15% of those getting tested at Suffolk Downs were from its host city, according to data provided to Revere officials.
“We want people to get tested. Having them come is always a good thing,” Buck said. “But we do know it can be harder for our Revere residents — for anyone — to get into the Project Beacon site or the Revere (High School) site.”
Revere used CARES Act money to open its new, resident-only site for three days a week at the Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center. The site, which opened in early December, was expected to close at the end of the month when the current round of federal funding ran out. But Buck said the city is making it “a priority to potentially continue” the service.
“There’s a big need for testing and there’s a big demand,” Buck said. “We were reacting to what we were hearing from our own community and we needed to provide another resource for Revere residents only.”
Framingham also set up a resident-only walk-up testing location shortly after its Project Beacon site launched this month, in part to help expand access to testing for residents without cars.
“It’s been really good,” Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer said of the new Project Beacon site. “But the fact that this is a drive-through site really puts those who don’t have a vehicle at a disadvantage.”
Like Revere, Framingham tapped into its CARES Act funding to open a residents-only site six days a week at the South Middlesex Opportunity Council. Spicer said the city would run the site “as long as we have some of the funding to continue.”
“I feel very fortunate that the drive-through site is a ‘Stop the Spread’ site and that anyone in the state can access it,” Spicer said. But she added that the city wanted “to make sure residents are not squeezed out of any opportunity to get a test.”
Asked if the state was concerned about “Stop the Spread” communities feeling compelled to open more resident-only testing options, a COVID-19 command center spokeswoman cited how there are more than 350 testing locations in the state, including free, state-run sites in 23 communities after an expansion this month.