More COVID-19 testing is going to be available this month in the largest city in western Massachusetts, as new challenges emerge to keeping the virus in check.
Originally scheduled to end this week, a free testing program for people with, or without, symptoms of COVID-19 will continue through at least the end of this month in Springfield.
Since the testing initiative dubbed “Stop the Spread” launched in Springfield last month, 2,567 people have been tested, according to Helen Caulton-Harris, the city’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services.
"The response has been excellent," said Caulton-Harris. She noted the testing is available to anyone and not just Springfield residents.
When Gov. Charlie Baker announced the program in July, the closest testing site to Springfield was about 90 miles away. Following complaints from local officials, the state expanded the free testing to more locations including Springfield, Agawam, and Holyoke in western Massachusetts. The end date for the program has twice been extended.
Springfield’s positive test rate is 3.2 percent. The rate for the state as a whole is .09 percent. Caulton-Harris said clusters of COVID-19 cases are still being tracked in the city.
"We know there are ZIP Codes where there are higher prevalence rates, so we are working with our community-based partners to do outreach," said Caulton-Harris.
The number of new daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in Springfield has held in the single digits for three weeks. There has not been a new fatality attributed to the virus in the city in two weeks.
Now with summer ending, people spending more time indoors, and college students back on campus the work to keep the number of cases low is entering a new phase.
"It is again important that we stay vigilant," said Caulton-Harris. "We are heading into a difficult season."
At his weekly COVID-19 briefing, Mayor Domenic Sarno implored people to continue to follow the public health guidance about social-distancing, wearing face coverings, frequent hand washing, and staying home when sick.
" I've said it from the beginning, I don't want to take one step forward and then end up taking two steps back," said Sarno.
While states outside the Northeast saw a surge in cases this summer, Massachusetts – with the exception of a bump in late July – has seen a slow decline.
On Memorial Day, the state’s positive COVID-19 test rate was 9 percent. There were about 2,000 people hospitalized with the disease back then. Hospitalizations are now down to just over 300, according to Dr. Robert Roose, chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.
" Here in Massachusetts we have shown ourselves and the entire country that it is possible to reopen safely," said Roose.
Massachusetts remains in the first half of the third phase of its four-part reopening plan, with large gatherings still banned, and bars and nightclubs closed.
Next week, about 70 percent of the public schools in the state will bring students and teachers back into classrooms, at least part time.
The Springfield public schools will have remote-only instruction through at least early November.