Domb presses governor for National Guard testing sites

  • REP. MINDY DOMB, D-Amherst REP. MINDY DOMB, D-Amherst

Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2020 10:24:32 PM

AMHERST — As “Stop the Spread” sites in western Massachusetts are flooded beyond demand with hundreds per day seeking a COVID-19 test, state Rep. Mindy Domb is calling for Gov. Charlie Baker to deploy the state National Guard to establish free testing sites in every county.

Domb’s proposal also calls for an investigation into 30 COVID-19 clusters identified at K-12 schools in Massachusetts.

As COVID-19 cases surge around the state and the country, and as people gather for holidays despite public health officials warning against travel and gathering with members of other households, many turn to free, state-sponsored testing sites in an effort to limit spreading the disease. But a spike in demand for testing is outpacing the daily capacity of testing centers, such as the one at Holyoke Community College.

At a recent visit to the HCC Stop the Spread site, Domb “was really concerned and disheartened by what I saw,” she said. The Amherst Democrat witnessed “hundreds of cars waiting in a very long line to get tested,” and two hours before the scheduled closing, people were sent away because the testing center had reached its limit for the day.

In previous weeks, people have reported two to three hour waits in long lines at Stop the Spread sites in Holyoke and Springfield — the only two communities in western Massachusetts that host these sites, which offer free COVID-19 testing for symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals without an appointment. The HCC site can accommodate around 200-300 people per day, according to Holyoke Board of Health Director Sean Gonsalves.

To meet this increased demand for testing, Domb says it’s time for the National Guard to get involved, as health care providers are “stretched thin” with hospitalizations and illness once again on the rise. Domb said that the HCC testing center seemed “significantly understaffed,” with two people carrying out the tests while another two took basic registration information.

The proposal to establish testing sites in every county would also cut travel time to these locations for many in the western portion of the state. There are currently no Stop the Spread sites in Hampshire, Franklin or Berkshire counties. Domb is also pushing for the state to collect more information about who is using these testing sites and why.

The Stop the Spread sites are not the only places people can get tested — some pharmacies and medical offices such as CVS and Cooley Dickinson Hospital also offer testing. But some of these sites require a doctor’s referral, only test those who are symptomatic, or require an appointment, which may complicate the process and further delay results.

With what public health officials have forecasted as a “dark winter” ahead, these testing sites are all the more important, Domb said, especially with further increases in cases anticipated due to Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.

Domb isn’t sure how long the proposed National Guard testing sites would last, but she said that availibility through at least mid-January would help to catch cases associated with surges around the holidays.

School clusters

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s weekly COVID-19 report, 30 clusters were recorded in K-12 schools between Oct. 25 and Nov. 21, comprising a total of 97 cases. The state defines a cluster as two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a facility that had not previously reported a case in four weeks.

Domb believes that a deeper dive into what risks are present in school buildings could help families and schools decide the best course of action for students, teachers and staff.

“In the pandemic, there’s a lot of real risk and there’s also perceived risk,” Domb said, “and my hope is that such a study will clarify which is which in that setting.”

The state has previously conducted cluster studies in youth hockey and houses of worship.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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