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Mass. AG Healey Says State's Coronavirus Testing 'Not Good Enough'

As Gov. Charlie Baker says the state is increasing testing for the coronavirus, other elected officials are sharply criticizing the state's testing procedures so far.

Attorney General Maura Healey calls the state response "not good enough."

Baker and other state officials have declined to update the public on how many people have been tested since Wednesday, when they said more than 200 people had received a test. There are 123 confirmed and presumed positive cases in Massachusetts as of Friday.

At a press conference Friday, Baker and state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Massachusetts now has the capacity to test 5,000 people, and is testing 200 people a day. The governor said next week, the state lab will double its capacity, to 400 people tested a day.

"This will make a big difference with respect to how many tests can actually get processed," Sudders said.

Both Baker and Sudders said they're working with the federal government to ramp up testing. They say one roadblock has been getting federal approval for additional labs.

Healey said they shouldn't wait.

"That's not good enough" Healey said of the response so far. "I understand the frustration with the federal government, but we should move forward without them. We're lagging behind other states in publicizing the number of tests done and we need more transparency. "

Baker indicated that waiting for federal approval for more testing had taxed patience in the state, but said there wasn't an alternative he was willing to take.

"We've been close [to federal approval] for a while," he said. "And that's enormously frustrating for all of us. I don't think the feds are moving quickly enough. But the idea that I would put our entire testing regimen or our health care delivery system at risk by literally violating federal law, I'm not going there."

Sen. Edward Markey called on the federal government to make a focused effort on improving testing. He said without more tests, the country can't get a handle on the extent of the pandemic.

"We need a historic wartime effort on testing," Markey said "We need a manufacturing moonshot that enables and ensures that we can make the test, make it quickly and accurately ensure that we have all the materials to conduct those tests so we can put them in the hands of hospitals and medical facilities that need them."

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health says Quest Diagnostics and Lab Corps are now able to test for the virus. From that commercial testing, one positive case of COVID-19 has been confirmed so far.

Next week the state will begin weekly postings of the total number of people tested. Secretary Sudders says those numbers will be posted every Wednesday.

Some Boston hospitals and academic centers had been waiting for approval to do their own testing. On Friday, Massachusetts General Hospital president Peter Slavin said that MGH had just started coronavirus testing, as did Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Slavin said the federal government relaxed some regulations "and so that allows us and the Brigham to start testing patents today. I think the Brigham is prepared to do about 100 patients a day; here at the MGH, about 30 but we’re hoping to ramp up capacity further."

He expects other major hospitals to begin testing as well, along with private labs. Ideally, experts say, the state would be able to test thousands of people a day.

DPH says it follows CDC criteria as to who gets tested. Many patients and health care providers have complained that they are not able to get testing, even when providers are unsure if a patient's symptoms are in fact COVID-19.

Hospital officials say that though the CDC relaxed its criteria for testing last week, tests remained in short supply and had remained effectively rationed and limited to patients who seemed likeliest to have the virus.

Dr. Lindsey Baden, with Brigham and Women's Hospital says CDC criteria should be updated based on how we now see the virus being transmitted and testing should not be limited.

"We need to not conflate availability with what we think would be best care," Baden said " So we need to stand up testing tens of thousands of people per day."

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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