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Virus Testing Ramping Up In Hard-Hit Lawrence

A new 9-lane COVID-19 drive-thru testing center opened in Lawrence at 1 Canal Street as Gov. Charlie Baker spoke there Friday afternoon. Baker wears his mask before speaking. (John Tlumacki/Boston Globe/Pool)
A new 9-lane COVID-19 drive-thru testing center opened in Lawrence at 1 Canal Street as Gov. Charlie Baker spoke there Friday afternoon. Baker wears his mask before speaking. (John Tlumacki/Boston Globe/Pool)

Massachusetts officials are focused on making COVID-19 testing more widely available as they seek to gain more information about the prevalence of the respiratory disease, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday during a trip to Lawrence.

Joining the governor for a press conference outside a new drive-through testing site for city residents, Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera announced that the city would invest $1 million from its cash reserves toward a goal of testing 1,000 residents per day.

"No one knows what budgets will bring in the fall, but we are facing a crisis of magnitude no one has seen in generations," said Rivera, who serves on Baker's reopening advisory board. "But I feel that the city of Lawrence is in a strong enough financial state to be able to weather this storm."

Rivera, who delivered his remarks in both English and Spanish, said the virus has been a "perfect storm" for his city and asked doctors who treat Lawrence residents to be "be liberal with your testing referrals."

Lawrence has some of the poorest census tracts in the state and its residents serve as the "workforce of the Merrimack Valley," in many cases still reporting in-person to essential jobs, Rivera said.

Lawrence has the fourth highest COVID-19 infection rate of any community in Massachusetts, and Rivera said 109 city residents have died from the coronavirus.

Rep. Frank Moran, a Lawrence Democrat, said he'd lost both a brother and an uncle within the past two months, and his brother spent 25 days in intensive care, unable to see his family.

"For me, this is personal," Moran said. "We need to make sure we follow all the guidelines that are currently being provided out there."

Speakers at Friday's press conference stressed the need to continue to keep distance from others, wear face coverings and practice good hygiene, particularly as more people spend time outside with the coming Memorial Day long weekend and the arrival of warmer weather.

To understand the seriousness of the pandemic, Rivera said, "all you've got to do is go through the obituaries in the newspapers."

"People are dying," Rivera said. "We sent tons of kids to fight in Vietnam. Nineteen Lawrence boys lost their life in Vientam. In this short period we've lost 109 souls. The governor's right, we have to respect this virus.

He continued, "And you can drink with a mask on. Just take a drink, put the mask back on. Trust me, I'm going to find my way to get my hands on a burger this weekend. Trust me, I will not be deterred. But I'm going to have a mask."

Also referencing Memorial Day, Baker urged people to remember that "there are a lot of people who died for your right to live in a free democracy."

"If you don't want to wear a mask because you don't like wearing a mask, if you don't want to social distance because you don't want to social distance, please think about those families, those moms and dads, those brothers and sisters, those sons and daughters of those who lost their lives fighting for your freedom to put on that mask, and just do it for them," Baker said. "Socially distance for them. Wash your hands for them."

Baker called the new testing site in Lawrence "a huge step forward to dramatically scaling up testing" in the city.

"There's no doubt that COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on gateway cities like Lawrence," the governor said. "Many of these municipalities, at one time or another have emerged as hotspots, and to support these communities statewide we focused on partnering with our community health centers to ramp up their testing. Greater access to viral testing helps us better understand infection rates and who's infected with COVID-19, so we can support efforts to trace and help isolate and support people in isolation, and reduce the spread."

State officials have said they intend to submit to the federal government a plan calling for boosting testing capacity to 45,000 tests a day by the end of July and 75,000 per day by the end of December.

Baker said Friday that plan will be made available "when we file it next week."

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