Eight communities in Massachusetts are to receive free COVID-19 testing, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday. The “Stop the Spread” program will target areas that have seen higher numbers of positive cases.
Asymptomatic individuals are encouraged to get tested.
“We urge people in these communities to take advantage of the availability of these test sites,” Baker said during the press briefing, “even if they don’t have symptoms.”
As a part of the initiative, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough and New Bedford will have free testing sites from July 10 to August 14.
Mike Armano, board of health director in Lawrence, Mass. said these locations were chosen in accordance with the population density and vulnerability of these communities.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera allocated about $1 million to increasing testing at Lawrence General Hospital, Armano said.
“We started that initiative a few weeks ago and it didn’t go as well as we had hoped,” Armano said. “We wanted to see more tests, but they just weren’t there.”
Under Baker’s new Stop the Spread proposal, Lawrence is working with the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services to expand the community’s existing testing system.
Armano said testing helps control the spread and allows for improved contact tracing when an individual does test positive.
“We can reach out to the close contacts, ask them to quarantine,” Armano said. “We can reach out to the employers and see if there’s any clustering, see how the business practices are going, if we see large clusters of positive patients from our residents at a particular business.”
Armano said Lawrence plans to prioritize community service-oriented workplaces such as food pantries where there’s a “high level of workforce” flow.
Outside the workplace, the testing initiative comes at a time when less careful behavior might foster more spread than ever before.
According to a recent poll conducted by Suffolk University, significantly fewer people are social distancing in Massachusetts.
In May, 69 percent of residents polled said they were strict in their adherence to public health advisories, but by mid-June, 44 percent said they were maintaining strict social distance measures.
Although testing can be inconvenient or uncomfortable, Armano said it’s imperative to maintain focus on public health.
“It might be intrusive, it might be scary to get tested, [people] might not even want to know [the results],” Armano said. “But by doing it, they’re really doing a service for the community.”
Stop the Spread will ultimately create a more health-conscious environment, Armano said.
“If you know that you’re COVID-19 positive, then you’re going to act differently,” Armano said. “If you… refuse to get tested, even if you’re feeling good, then you might be tempted to live your life a little bit more normally than you should be.”