25 Investigates: Experts say we need more testing to safely reopen Mass. economy

BOSTON — As Massachusetts look at reopening its economy and returning to some sense of normal, experts across the board seem to agree it can only happen with widespread access to coronavirus testing.

Anchor and 25 Investigates reporter Kerry Kavanaugh found, right now, some doctors still must tell patients they can’t get tested.

“I actually was shocked. They said no, you don’t qualify.” Erika Anderson says that’s what her doctor told her in March. As coronavirus was beginning to sweep across Massachusetts, the Lynn mother of four believes it swept through her family. She told Kavanaugh they all had some virus symptoms. Erika says hers were the worst. For 10 days she could barely move.

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“Our main concern was that my husband was working at the airport,” Anderson said. “He's an ironworker. So, he was like, directly around lots of people coming in and out.”

But Anderson and her husband couldn’t get tested.

Massachusetts has greatly expanded its coronavirus testing capacity since then. Some say it’s still not enough to have a true sense of the rate of coronavirus infection.

“At this point is about three to five patients get rejected per day,” Dr. Rafay Mehdi is a physician at a practice in Hanover. He told 25 Investigates he believes more testing means saving lives.

“There is no finger-pointing is just there’s a lack of. And, from a frontline first responder standpoint, if I don’t have a gun, how do I shoot as a soldier? And if I don’t have a kit, how do I test people? So, then I send them to testing sites and they have very stringent criteria.”

“The message about needing more tests can’t be abandoned,” said Dr. Thomas Tsai a surgeon and health policy research at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Tsai says test kit supply chain issues, which lead to nationwide shortages, have improved. She believes nows the time for the nation to overhaul its entire approach to testing.

“Now we are at a stage where we can think about opening up and increasing the number of tests and changing our whole approach to testing, so we’re actually casting a much wider net,” Tsai said. “We aren’t quite there yet and I think the important thing to keep in mind is that we still have to make incremental progress.”

Progress is happening across the state, including in Somerville where now the only criteria here is being a resident.

“It hasn’t been easy we’ve had to not just advocate but fight more testing kits,” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone says Massachusetts Department of Public Health gave Somerville 3,500 test kits to start. He says continues to ask for more.

“We need to all be doing this so no community should, on their own, have to fight for testing supplies. We need to be doing it at a minimum as a region, the metropolitan Boston region,” Curtatone said.

The experts we spoke with believe lack of testing is what led to Massachusetts’ economic shutdown, a situation no one wants repeated.

“The reason we’re still shut down is we don’t have enough testing,” Tsai said. “Let’s make sure once we do open, that we can stay open and not let the lack of testing in the way of having to shut down again.”

DPH tells 25 Investigates it is currently focusing testing resources on hot spots and on at-risk communities like nursing homes and for frontline workers.

As of this Tuesday, the Commonwealth had tested more than 330,000 people.

How do we get to widespread testing for all? Governor Charlie Baker told Boston 25 News it continues to be the role of the federal government to ramp up testing.

When asked about testing April 30th, the governor said:

“I will say this: if you look at Massachusetts’ current testing per capita, and you measure it against sort of all the countries in the world, we’re like a top-five player. And I think the, the real challenge is not just how much you test, it’s where you test, and, and what your strategy is with respect to certain populations. So, I think what you’re going to see us work on, while these folks are working on the reopening stuff, is what would be the appropriate strategy with respect to who to test, and how often to test, and how much, on a go-forward basis. Those questions are just as important.”

The Administration has made a list of testing sites across the Commonwealth available to the public.

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