Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday defended the state’s performance on making COVID-19 tests available, telling reporters Massachusetts has consistently led the nation on that front and warning that residents will have to “be patient” as they seek tests amid heightened demand with Omicron surging.
“Massachusetts is number two in the country, and has been either number one or number two in the country, on testing per capita pretty much since the beginning of this year,” Baker, a popular centrist Republican, told reporters at the tail end of an unrelated briefing on the Green Line extension project.
“And we have over 100 sites where people can access tests, and we never took down any of our stop-the-spread sites, even when the case counts got really low,” Baker said, in response to a question about testing.
Baker added that Massachusetts is “the only state in the country that I’m aware of” that went directly to manufacturers to negotiate the purchase of 2 million test kits.
Those, he said, were ”distributed before the holidays to 100 communities” that “had significant issues with respect to access, because of the nature of the communities that they serve and represent. And every community in Massachusetts can now buy rapid tests off of the contracts that we negotiated with three different vendors.”
Baker said state officials will continue working to enlarge their testing infrastructure.
“We have more capacity per capita than any other state in the country,” Baker said. “But people need to understand that they’re probably going to have to wait. ... We have more testing infrastructure than just about anybody else, but people are going to have to be patient.”
Baker’s comments came one day after the Globe reported that residents have swarmed testing sites this week, some looking for assurance they aren’t infectious and can travel or attend social gatherings, others suffering from fever and coughs and seeking confirmation of their worst fears.
Lines crawled past churches, restaurants, and shops. They stretched along bike paths and filled entire parking lots. Some leaked into roadways, disrupting traffic and prompting police intervention.
At 13.58 percent, the seven-day average statewide positivity rate is higher now than at any other point this year, the Globe reported Wednesday. The last time Massachusetts hit that measure of the prevalence of the virus was May 12, 2020, when testing was fairly sparse — just 15,000 a day compared to the current daily average of 92,000 — and was largely limited to those with symptoms, thus skewing the percentage higher.
“We’re going to continue to do what we can to make our testing infrastructure bigger, but we have some of the same issues with staffing, it’s primarily a staff issue, that almost everybody else in today’s economy has,” Baker said. “But we know it’s important. We really appreciate the fact that people take advantage of these sites and take advantage of these tests as they are available. ... But people need to understand that they’re probably going to have to wait.”
Baker also addressed the masking issue at Thursday’s briefing.
“We have distributed millions of masks to people already, and we continue to talk to people about where we can make them best available,” Baker said. “The other thing I’d say about masks is, we are again one of the only states in the country that actually created with our colleagues here in Massachusetts an N95 manufacturing facility that’s completely domestic, with respect to its entire supply chain.”
That was done, Baker said, “because we didn’t want to ever be in a situation where we wouldn’t be able to access PPE on behalf of people here in the Commonwealth.”
As he has said repeatedly, the governor also urged unvaccinated residents to get inoculated against COVID-19.
“The best protection, no matter what variant we’re talking about, is vaccinations,” Baker said. “And in Massachusetts 5.2 million people are fully vaccinated. If it’s not the highest vaccination percentage in the country, it’s one of the highest. And we now have a year’s worth of data, which I talked about last week, two weeks ago, with respect to the performance of the vaccines with respect to hospitalizations and deaths. And the data is overwhelming that the vaccines are safe, effective, and they work.”