MASSACHUSETTS WILL SET up 52 free pop-up COVID-19 testing sites this week, and Gov. Charlie Baker is urging anyone who participated in protests over the last two weeks to get tested.
“Any time large numbers of people come together, there’s a risk of transmission,” Baker said at a press conference Monday. Baker said while he supports people’s right to express their views, “We need to keep up the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.”
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, protests have erupted across the country, despite the continued presence of the highly contagious virus. In Massachusetts, Baker said there have been almost 300 gatherings with more than 100 people, some with thousands of people. Several states have urged protesters to get tested for COVID-19.
Last week, Boston set up two days of pop-up testing, on June 10 and 11, in Roxbury, and Mayor Marty Walsh urged all protesters to get tested. Between 1,200 and 1,500 people got tested, and the results have not yet come back.
The state initiative will take place this week on Wednesday and Thursday. There will be 52 sites around the state at hospitals, community health centers, and CVS stores. Some sites will be appointment-only, while others will take walk-ins. (A full list of sites is available on a state website.)
State officials have until now been encouraging tests for anyone who is symptomatic, who does not have symptoms but came into contact with someone with COVID-19, or who is in a particularly vulnerable or high-risk population. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said Monday that anyone who attended a large gathering should be considered high-risk and get tested regardless of whether they show symptoms or not.
“It’s important any individual who participated in a large gathering over last few weeks get tested,” Sudders said. “It’s free and you can help stop the spread, and help keep your loved ones and close contacts safe.”
The governor said it is too early to tell if the protests will lead to a spike in new cases, since it can take two or three weeks for people to show symptoms of COVID-19. “Any time you have a big group that gets together like that, it can be risky in this environment,” Baker said. While Baker noted that a lot of protests wore face coverings and were outdoors and moving – all factors that reduce transmission risk – he said there was also a lot of chanting and yelling, which can heighten that risk.
The protests have prompted fresh debate about the pandemic and whether the demonstrations are irresponsible at a time when people are being urged to avoid large gatherings. Adding a layer of complexity to the arguments are growing calls to recognize racism as a public health crisis, which come in the midst of public health efforts to combat the coronavirus crisis. Walsh issued just such a declaration last week.
Nationally, more than 1,000 public health experts, infectious disease specialists, and other stakeholders recently signed an open letter declaring the protests crucial to fighting health inequities rooted in racism.
Until now, Massachusetts has been slowly reopening the state economy as the data regarding new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are moving in a positive direction. Baker would not say whether a protest-related spike could require him to roll back the reopening. He said his goal all along has been to use testing and contact tracing to deal with hotspots. “We’d much prefer that strategy than some other,” he said.