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Long Lines, High Demand For Mass. Coronavirus Testing Persist After Thanksgiving04:20
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People line up inside a tent outside the Tufts Medical Center coronavirus testing site on Tremont Street. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
People line up inside a tent outside the Tufts Medical Center coronavirus testing site on Tremont Street. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It’s just after 8 a.m., and nurse manager Gina Giarusso is welcoming several dozen people from the line outside the building into the line going through a maze of plastic partitions inside.

"Good morning! Thank you for being patient! Come on in and warm up," she tells them.

It is just the third day of operation for the new coronavirus testing site that Tufts Medical Center set up on Tremont Street in downtown Boston, and business is booming.

The 40-plus spots along the indoor labyrinth fill up instantly, and there’s still a line outside. It’s not as long as just before Thanksgiving, when the queue to the old Tufts Medical Center testing site in the cafeteria stretched for blocks around the hospital. But Director of Emergency Management Nick Duncan says the demand for testing is elevated and expected to remain so.

"Over the next couple weeks, we’re definitely anticipating a large increase in testing," he says. "Not only are we dealing with COVID symptoms, but people who have a slight respiratory illness that they want to get tested to be reassured they can be around their family and loved ones."

And the holiday season isn't over.

"Also, we’re thinking about Christmas and New Year’s," he adds. "People are going to travel again. We know that. How do we prepare for that?"

Add flu season to holiday season and the current surge, and the outlook is clear: lots of testing all this winter — and even beyond.

"I can say we’re preparing until the end of 2021," Duncan says. "We’re prepared to COVID test for the indefinite future."

Testing is not as convenient and easy as everybody would like it to be, including myself.

Boston Health and Human Services chief Marty Martinez

At the state and the local level, efforts are under way to adjust testing to the colder weather and to new levels of demand.

"There’s no question, from the city’s end, that we’ve been working to try to increase capacity and increase usage," says Boston Health and Human Services chief Marty Martinez.

Before getting to the testing area, people must wait in line in a labyrinth of barriers set up in order to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another at the Tufts Medical Center coronavirus testing facility. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Before getting to the testing area, people must wait in line in a labyrinth of barriers set up in order to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another at the Tufts Medical Center coronavirus testing facility. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Those efforts include more testing at community health centers and mobile test sites, including a new one this week in Jamaica Plain, he says.

Before Thanksgiving, Martinez issued public warnings that “you can’t test yourself into a normal holiday.” Now, he’s encouraging people who may have been exposed to test themselves coming out of Thanksgiving — even if it takes some time and effort.

"Testing is not as convenient and easy as everybody would like it to be, including myself," he says.

The top priority is making testing accessible for the most vulnerable communities, with high rates of infection and low rates of testing, Martinez says.

"And we're going to continue to do that," he says, "and we're going to bring on some more capacity so we can give people the access they need, and remind people that testing is one piece of this larger puzzle" that also includes public health measures like masks and social distancing.

Meanwhile, testing sites like the new one at Tufts Medical Center are working out how to increase their capacity by making the process flow as smoothly and quickly as possible — even with high demand and cold weather.

"So far, in two days, we’re just churning through people," says director of registration Shana Bellus.

Bellus says the new site, which accepts walk-ins but encourages pre-registration, can test eight people at once while four others are being registered, and these parts of the process combined only take about six minutes.

Even so, lines since it opened have persisted, says registrar Jessica Matos.

"It’s been crazy," Matos says. "The line’s usually really long. I don’t know how people do it. With three-hour waits, four-hour waits. I’ll give up after 30 minutes."

But, Matos says, people tend to be grateful for the service, and she thanks them for getting tested.

Medical technicians, including "swabbers" and registrars, at the Tufts Medical Center coronavirus testing center prepare for the day's testing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Medical technicians, including "swabbers" and registrars, at the Tufts Medical Center coronavirus testing center prepare for the day's testing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This article was originally published on December 03, 2020.

This segment aired on December 3, 2020.

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Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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