What’s causing long lines for COVID-19 tests in Mass.? There are a few factors at play

BOSTON — Long lines, nervous people, and turnaround times growing longer for COVID-19 test results. Both problems are being made worse by a growing demand for tests.

In Lawrence on Tuesday getting a coronavirus test could test your patience. We found a line of vehicles around the free testing site near Lawrence General Hospital.

In line we found Donna Wright who needed a test after she was traveling.

“It’s not as bad as it was when I came 2 weeks ago,” said Wright. “I expect to probably wait at least three [hours].”

For others, the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday got them in line on Tuesday.

On Monday in Worcester, Boston 25 News found a similar scene: long lines snaking around the free COVID testing site there.

Driving the long lines are surging COVID-19 cases and asymptomatic people testing before or after travel or trying to make holiday plans.

“It’s an issue, I agree,” said Governor Charlie Baker.

Baker says the state is continuing to work through federal guidelines that can constrain testing. But he thinks some relief, though not immediate, is on the horizon.

“I think you’re also going to see some new products come into the marketplace. They’re going make it possible for people to significantly expand testing without necessarily having to use the pathways in the routes that we’ve used traditionally to make this happen,” Baker said.

The City of Boston has largely avoided long testing lines because the city requires an appointment.

“Sometimes people want to show up and get tested without an appointment. It is a challenge for our first responders for that process. You make an appointment and get a test same day, it is possible,” said Marty Martinez Boston’s head of Health and Human Services.

Elsewhere, you typically need to be showing symptoms to get a test by appointment. If you need a test, your best bet is to call your doctor and discuss your options.

The crush of COVID tests is also impacting test results

One of the biggest labs, Quest Diagnostics, says turnaround amid this surge is now slightly more than two days. The lab says their orders for COVID-19 molecular testing have increased by about 50% compared to the last week of September.

And, they say the lab industry, on the whole, is seeing more constraints on supplies like test kits and reagents.

Does this foreshadow lines for vaccine distribution?

At this point, it’s tough to compare how the testing lines could compare to demand for COVID-19 vaccine.

Governor Baker said Tuesday so much of the distribution of the vaccine will depend on what the federal government decides to do, since it is approving them and funding them.

But the state has been working on a distribution plan since August. It will likely utilize existing medical facilities and pharmacies.

But, the Pfizer vaccine for example requires ultra-cold storage. So that will be a factor in where it’s distributed.


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