A testing program for the coronavirus in Massachusetts communities with higher infection rates is starting in Springfield, but its effectiveness is being questioned.
Free testing for the coronavirus is available to people with no symptoms under the “Stop the Spread” initiative announced last month by Gov. Charlie Baker.
In Springfield, tests will be available at three sites on three dates for two hours each day. That limits to 24 the maximum number of people who could be tested on each day, according to city officials.
An urgent care clinic will offer tests daily through August 14th, but with a turnaround time for results of up to 10 days.
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said the limited testing is likely not going to be able to gauge the penetration of the virus in the city.
" That is what we are dealing with and we should say 'shame on ourselves as a nation'," said Caulton-Harris.
Still, limited testing is better than none.
"It is our goal to try to get as many as want to be tested during this time," said Caulton-Harris. She emphasized the testing is for asymptomatic people and it is free of charge.
A long wait for test results does no good when it comes to identifying clusters of COVID-19 and controlling the spread of the virus, according to Dr. Mark Keroack, the president and CEO of Baystate Health.
" When you do contact tracing you have to be there in a day or two and quickly get your arms around it or else people continue to spread and you lose control of it," said Keroack.
The wait for results of COVID-19 testing done in hospital settings can range from a few hours to no more than two days, according to Keroack. But hospitals are being hampered by a national shortage of testing supplies and growing demand to test patients being admitted for non-COVID care.
The testing program announced on July 10th by Gov. Baker was for eight communities – all in eastern Massachusetts. The announcement immediately led to complaints that western Massachusetts was being snubbed.
State Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow noted the closest testing site to Springfield was 70 miles away.
"Totally unacceptable," said Lesser. " It was simply unacceptable that somebody living in Springfield or anywhere else in the Pioneer Valley or in western Mass had to drive 70, 80, or 100 miles to get tested."
The Baker administration later added more municipalities to the testing program including Agawam and Springfield in western Massachusetts.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he appreciates the state’s efforts to expand testing and denounced a lack of federal resources.
"Enough of the charade that is occurring on the federal level at times," said Sarno. "We really have to get a full-court press on this testing across the nation."
Testing under the state program is being done in Springfield by Tapestry Health and by AFC Urgent Care on Cooley Street.
Details about how to obtain a test at each site are available on the city of Springfield’s website.