Baker details plan to drastically expand coronavirus testing by end of 2020

BOSTON (WHDH) - Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday said Massachusetts needs to “do more” when it comes to coronavirus testing before announcing an aggressive plan to drastically expand lab capacity and testing infrastructure to ensure that the state has everything it needs to fight COVID-19 for the longterm.

While speaking during a news conference at the State House, Baker said he would like to have the capacity to administer 75,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the year.

Baker has repeatedly said that testing needs to be ramped up before the state can reopen and return to a new normal, in addition to seeing a sustained drop in a number of coronavirus data trends.

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“With over 410,000 tests conducted to date, Massachusetts is currently a top-five testing site per capita and we’re going to continue to expand our capacity where we can,” Baker said.

Massachusetts currently has the capacity to process about 30,000 tests per day, but labs are only processing about 10,000-12,000 tests, according to Baker.

“That’s good progress, but we need to do more,” Baker said.

CVS is working with the Commonwealth to expand testing and is launching 10 new COVID-19 drive-thru test locations in Charlton, Worcester, Raynham, Northampton, Bridgewater, Carver, West Springfield, Danvers, Westport, and Wellesley, Baker announced.

In addition to the new CVS sites, the state has expanded testing with Quest Diagnostics and 18 community healthcare centers, according to Baker.

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“By working with a wide range of partners like CVS and our colleagues in the health care community, Massachusetts has significantly increased COVID-19 testing and is a national leader in per-capita testing,” Baker said.

Baker also announced that “important groundwork” has been laid to expand lab capacity and testing infrastructure. The state is in the process of submitting plans to the federal government to obtain testing resources included in COVID-19 legislation that was passed by Congress on April 24.

The plan calls for boosting overall testing capacity to 45,000 tests per day by the end of July and 75,000 tests per day by the end of December, according to Baker. That would mark more than 27 million tests per year.

“We also plan to help labs expand their processing capacity, in part to prepare for a potential surge in testing in the fall,” Baker said. “We also plan to make sure that we have the testing capacity to test workers who are often found in regular contact with COVID-19 patients.”

The state is also aiming to expand testing for residents and patients in high-risk, congregant settings like hospitals, group homes, and correctional facilities, Baker said. Guidelines will also be set for individuals who are symptomatic or who are close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases or whose employment places them at high risk. Randomized testing will also be utilized for surveillance purposes.

Those who suspect they are COVID-19 positive would also find a lot sooner after taking a test, according to Baker.

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“The plan also calls for faster turnaround times on tests so healthcare providers can make same-day or next-day decisions based on results,” Baker said.

Communities with low testing availability, hot spots with high positive rates, and high-density areas will be targeted under the state’s plan.

“In order to meet these goals, we will need support from the federal government. Thankfully the CARES Act offers a funding mechanism and a program model for states to apply,” Baker said.

Baker said Massachusetts will find out if the plan is approved in about 30 days.

“Our testing plan will improve our ability to rapidly identify new cases of COVID-19 so individuals can quickly isolate, seek treatment, and limit their exposure to others at home or at work,” Baker said.

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Baker also announced that the state’s Department of Public Health has expanded testing criteria to include both symptomatic individuals and close contacts of confirmed cases, although universal testing is not being pursued at this time.

“While that’s a significant testing expansion, we are not pursuing universal testing because our healthcare experts agree that testing has its limitations and it should be more strategically applied,” Baker explained. “This expanded but targeted approach is both attainable and recommended by our medical experts.”

Baker added that universal testing is “too far off” to rely on for the state’s reopening.

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