In Boston, Focus On Vaccine Overshadowing COVID-19 Testing

BOSTON (State House News Service) — New coronavirus infections are down in Boston, but so too is the number of people getting tested for the virus and city public health officials are becoming concerned that all the news about vaccine availability is overshadowing their messages about the importance of testing.

Last week, Boston tested an average of 4,111 people each day, which Mayor Martin Walsh said was "down significantly from the week before" with a 16 percent decline. The same week saw an average of 239 positive results each day, down by 31 percent compared to a week earlier.

"We're seeing a significant drop in our positive cases, so what we'd like to do is to be able to get our testing up. If we see our testing go up and our case numbers go down, that shows that we're definitely headed in the right direction," Walsh said at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon. "So I'm asking people, encouraging people, to get tested."

Boston Health and Human Services Chief Marty Martinez said he is "absolutely" concerned that the focus on COVID-19 vaccination among the media, public officials and health care providers could be distracting from the continued importance of getting tested for the virus.

"I don't want people to focus just on the vaccine. I also don't want health care providers and messaging to just be about the vaccine, as important as it is," Martinez said. "We need to remind folks that there's testing access. It's why this week, yesterday, myself and [City Council] President [Kim] Janey visited the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner, which has a lot of access. Today, people can go right now and get tested. So it's really, really important that we don't lose sight of that."

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Martinez did not pinpoint the cause of the decline in testing, but attributed it to the fact that infection rates are down and the holidays that drove many people to get tested before seeing family members have passed.

"The reality is this, I mean, people have done so much heavy work after the holidays to stop social gatherings, which is great, or at least attempted to do that, and obviously our rates are lower," he said. "We saw a decrease in testing, but also a bigger decrease in positive tests. So there's less infection in the community, which means less people are getting infected, which is important ... but we just want to encourage folks if you're out, if you're connecting, if you're seeing people, you should get tested to be safe."

The mayor said there are more than 30 testing sites available in Boston, including the city's mobile sites. This week, the mobile testing units are available at the Anna Cole Community Center in Jamaica Plain, in Hyde Park at the Boston Renaissance Charter School, and at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Dorchester's Grove Hall.

"As a reminder, we encourage everyone to make testing part of your regular routine. We'd like to see people, I'd love to see people try and get tested once a week, if at all possible, just to continue to get tested so we can get ahead of this virus and beat this virus back," Walsh said.

As has been the case since he was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as labor secretary, Walsh made opening remarks at his Wednesday press briefing but did not take any questions from reporters. That task was left to Martinez, who fielded questions about the city's COVID-19 response.

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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