Officials pushing for more COVID-19 testing sites in Western Mass (WGGB)
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Springfield city officials are calling for free COVID-19 testing sites in the western Massachusetts region.
This comes days after Governor Charlie Baker announced eight free testing sites would open in the eastern part of the Commonwealth.
According to state numbers, the four western most counties in Massachusetts have generated more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Add in Worcester county and that's nearly 20 percent of the cases in the overall state.
With none of the free COVID-19 testing sites open west of I-495, local leaders said there's a regional disparity in who is being granted this potentially life-saving information.
“Those eight sites are open to anybody in the Commonwealth,”
However, in many cases, those who want a free, walk-in COVID-19 test will have to drive more than 70 miles east to take advantage of the state's new offering.
“There were no sites outside of I-495, including here in the city of Springfield,” said Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman.
Lederman and several other council members are filing a resolution, after the governor announced the locations of these eight testing sites.
The sites are free and open to those who are asymptomatic, as well as symptomatic, and don't require an appointment or doctor's note.
The resolution will call for more testing sites to be made available in western Massachusetts, where Lederman said there are high-risk groups of people with less access to health insurance.
“The big concern is always are those people able to get to testing sites? Are they able to get there and know that they’re not gonna be charged?” Lederman explained.
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris added, “we have several hotspots in the city of Springfield.”
Caulton-Harris said the need is especially great for those in the city, who don't have a regular doctor and, therefore, the ability to get a physician's order for a coronavirus test.
“It can be an overwhelming task. Many times, primary care physicians during COVID-19 are not doing in-office visits,” Caulton-Harris explained.
Caulton-Harris said that testing asymptomatic people on-demand will give health officials an understanding of the extent to which the virus has permeated the local community.
Lederman said he'd like to see test sites in Springfield and Pittsfield, where people can learn their COVID status without the fear of a bill.
He said, otherwise, “Are they really going to go and get tested? Whether they are symptomatic or not, that’s a big, big question.”
According to the state, the eight communities east of I-495 have seen an eight percent positive test rate in the past two weeks, whereas the rest of the state's rate is two percent.