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Stuck in a long line for a COVID-19 test in Mass.? Here's why03:02
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A long line of people inches slowly around the corner at the Bowdoin Street Health Center, many waiting over three hours, to receive a COVID-19 test. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A long line of people inches slowly around the corner at the Bowdoin Street Health Center, many waiting over three hours, to receive a COVID-19 test. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Traducido en español por El Planeta.

Images of people standing in line for testing have become so common in recent weeks that an explanation by CIC Health Chief Executive Tim Rowe may come as a surprise.

In many cases, he said, there's not actually a shortage of testing equipment. There's a shortage of sites and people to operate them.

"It's really just the health care logistics work to stand up testing sites and hire people and all of that," Rowe said.

Rowe's firm is one of several state contractors that has run vaccination and testing clinics across Massachusetts, but he expected to be winding down those operations by now — not ramping them back up.

In the fall, before the omicron variant emerged, demand at CIC Health's testing centers had slowed to a trickle. The company reduced staff and let a lease expire in Cambridge.

"It's really just the health care logistics work to stand up testing sites and hire people and all of that."

Tim Rowe

Rowe said he understands why people might second guess the decision not to keep the region's large-scale testing infrastructure in place.

"In retrospect, it's super clear, right?" he said. "But if you asked, like in November, was anyone clamoring for that? Nobody was."

Rowe said CIC Health is now suddenly "hiring like crazy" and considering new testing sites. But that process takes time.

In the meantime, some people are scrounging for tests wherever they can find them.

Boston's New Year's Eve bash last week doubled as a chance to get tested or vaccinated. And the Whittier Street Health Center's mobile clinic was more popular, at times, than any food truck in Copley Square for First Night.

"The mission of our mobile health program is removing barriers: transportation, accessibility, people's work hours, the inconvenience," said the center's CEO, Frederica Williams. "Meeting people where they are."

Testing is not a challenge for everyone. Many people access routine testing through their employers or schools. But others rely on public options, like the 38 free test centers run by the state.

State Sen. Jo Comerford said that might not be enough.

"The state really has to expand, like we did at the beginning of this pandemic, with greater access to testing," she said.

A line of people wait at the Bowdoin Street Health Center for COVID-19 tests on Monday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A line of people wait at the Bowdoin Street Health Center for COVID-19 tests on Monday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

For now, however, the Baker administration does not plan to open more testing centers. Instead, it is adding staff and extending hours of operation at existing locations. The state has also distributed some home testing kits to selected cities and towns to use.

The long lines for testing have also been an issue in other states. This week, the White House announced plans to open additional federal testing sites in six other states, including Maine.

Some cities and towns are also trying to ramp up more testing. Boston officials said they plan to open at least three new COVID-19 testing sites by mid-January.

WBUR's Steve Brown and Walter Wuthmann contributed reporting.

This segment aired on January 7, 2022.

Related:

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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