Mass. is winding down its remaining free COVID test sites this month

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It was around three years ago this week that the onset of the COVID pandemic began affecting daily life here. Now, we’re kicking off the week with another step back toward the pre-pandemic “normal.”

Massachusetts officials are planning to close the remainder of the state-run free COVID testing sites that were once a focal point of the state’s pandemic response. WBUR’s Priyanka Dayal McCluskey reports that the last 11 sites will close by the end of the month. The move comes almost exactly a year after state officials first began winding down the free “Stop the Spread” testing program.

  • Why now? McCluskey reports that the demand for COVID tests has only continued to plummet. Last summer, state-funded sites performed 12,000 tests a week. Now, it’s less than 1,000 a week. And local wastewater data shows coronavirus levels continuing to fall from the uptick around the holidays.
  • Need a COVID test? They’re still available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies and urgent care centers, among other sites. The White House’s free at-home test delivery program is also still up and running — at least until they run out of supplies.
  • As a recent fatal COVID outbreak at a Cape Cod nursing home showed, the pandemic is still having a big impact on vulnerable residents. But at this moment, Boston Medical Center’s Dr. Sabrina Assoumou told McCluskey that it’s “reasonable to start peeling off some of those intensive measures that we had in place so that we can kind of ramp them up again if we need to.”

Heads up: Shuttle buses are replacing evening Mattapan trolley service today through Thursday so that the MBTA can demolish a long-closed staircase at the line’s Milton stop. According to the T, shuttle buses will begin subbing in around 9 p.m. each night.

  • The staircase demolition is actually a pretty contentious subject. Milton officials sued the T last fall in an effort to get the agency to repair — rather than demolish — the staircase, which used to directly connect Adams Street to the platform below. They even asked Gov. Maura Healey last week to step in.
  • MBTA officials contend that ADA-compliant repairs to the staircase would require extensive work — including a new elevator — that is too expensive right now. Eventually, the T does plan to replace the stairs — and overhaul the entire station — as part of its Mattapan Line Transformation project. The full project is currently expected to take eight to 10 years.
  • After they “carefully considered” Milton’s concerns, Healey’s administration signaled Sunday that they wouldn’t interfere with the staircase demolition. Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca is directing the T to “urgently move forward with design work for the new Milton Station,” including an accessible path to Adams Street. But for now, residents will have to keep going around the block.
  • Elsewhere on the T: Engineers are inspecting all subway stations after a corroded 20-pound ceiling panel somewhat horrifyingly fell onto the Harvard Station platform, narrowly missing a pedestrian. (The video is seriously scary to watch.) Officials say they expect to remove other ceiling panels that they cannot properly inspect.

UMass officials are pointing the finger at a TikTok drinking trend after 28 ambulances were summoned to off-campus parties during the annual “Blarney Blowout” this past weekend. Though there were no life-threatening cases of alcohol poisoning, officials said there were so many ambulance calls that neighboring agencies stepped in to help.

  • What’s the trend? UMass says many students were observed Saturday carrying jugs with various mixtures of alcohol, electrolytes, flavoring and water — otherwise known as “blackout rage gallons,” or “BORGs.” NBC News reports it’s a college trend that has been gaining traction for the last several years.

Break for whales: The Cape Cod canal remains closed to boats this morning, after three right whales were spotted passing through Sunday. (7News caught some footage of the whales here.)

  • Scientists estimate that there are only 340 right whales — which have endangered and protected status — left in the entire world.
  • Officials haven’t given a timeline for when the canal may reopen.

P.S.— We have a fun week ahead at WBUR’s City Space. Julian Shapiro-Barnum, the host of the hit web series “Recess Therapy,” is coming Thursday to talk about the show (and hopefully “corn kid“). On Friday, we’ll have a night of music, dancing and conversation with ¡Con Salsa! host José Massó. And across the river,”The Handmaid’s Tale” author Margaret Atwood is coming to town Thursday to chat with Here & Now co-host Scott Tong at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre.


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Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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