Baker Promises More Coronavirus Testing Is On The Way. He Can't Guarantee The Same About Equipment

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A health care worker places a cotton swab into a vial after taking it from someone being tested for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing area at Somerville Hospital. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A health care worker places a cotton swab into a vial after taking it from someone being tested for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing area at Somerville Hospital. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

So far more than 23,000 people in Massachusetts have been tested for coronavirus. That's up nearly tenfold from from about 2,600 state residents tested a week ago.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the state continues to make progress to aggressively test people.

"But more tests means more people know for sure whether they have COVID-19," he said during a daily press briefing Thursday. "And from there, those who test positive can work with their health care providers and others to take the steps that they and we need to limit the spread."

The state reported a big jump in positive results Thursday — 579 more confirmed cases of coronavirus than the day before. Twenty-five people have died. Testing has been slow in the state, but Baker said there are now 21 labs testing in Massachusetts.

The Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT went on line this week, saying it can provide results in 24 hours, and that, with more automation, it will be able to cut that turnaround time in half. The Broad will soon be processing 2,000 tests a day.

The most testing in Massachusetts is being done by Quest Diagnostics, which began processing tests at its facility in Marlboro last week. Quest says it expects to process 30,000 tests at all of its labs nationwide by this weekend.

Even so, Quest said demand is greater than testing capacity, so it's prioritizing testing for hospitalized patients and health care workers. Right now, results from the company's tests take 4-5 days.

But many doctors and patients say they're not getting test results fast enough. Several doctors have said the results take days.

Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders, who runs the state's Coronavirus Command Center, said it takes the state DPH lab 24-48 hours to process results. She promised that the private lab testing will get faster.

"I'm expecting that we're going to see much faster turnarounds — 24-48 hours — but we do know that for some of the commercial labs, that the lag time was up to about 7 days," Sudders said.

Both Sudders and the governor said delays at the federal level are also hampering Massachusetts efforts to deal with the pandemic.

A clearly frustrated Baker said the state is trying to order much needed medical equipment and finding obstacles in the supply chain. He said the state sent out more than 150 shipments of supplies in the last two weeks.

The Command Center has placed more than $50 million in orders for personal protective equipment PPE and is trying to expedite getting it, according to Baker. But Sudders said only about 17% of the state's equipment requests to the National Stockpile have been filled.

Baker said his biggest challenge has been trying to get health care providers the supplies they need.

"We are doing everything we can through an incredibly messy thicket that is enormously frustrating for all of us," he said.

Baker has criticized the federal government for outbidding states' orders for equipment and said he has told federal officials to allow states to "land orders." He brought up the issue during a governors conference call with President Trump last week, and said the issue still hasn't been resolved.

"We've literally gotten to the point where our basic position is that until the g— until the thing shows up here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, it doesn't exist," Baker said. "I'm telling you, people have spent hours and hours and hours trying to get this stuff here."

This segment aired on March 27, 2020.


Deborah Becker 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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