Vaccinated, boosted, and double-masked, I arrived before the COVID-19 testing site in Jamaica Plain was even open on Sunday. There were hundreds of people ahead of me. I waited three hours and 20 minutes, leaving the test site after its scheduled closing, passing masses of others who had also arrived early or on time but were still waiting.
To keep warm while in line, I decided to light a fire under Governor Baker, on Twitter. Arguably the most powerful person in Massachusetts who can actually do something about this, he had declared instead at a press conference last week that when it comes to a lack of testing sites, we, his constituents, would have to just “be patient.” The uncharitable part of me thought he meant to say we would have to just “be patients.”
The “it’s your problem, not mine” school of governing is exactly what this moment does not need. And yet, that seems to be all Baker is capable of offering right now.
Two years into a pandemic as immense and bewildering as this, I expect more commitment, courage, resolve, and spine from our elected leaders, especially Baker. And it’s not as if this surge was unexpected. We knew there would be a horrendous spike in cases after last December due to indoor holiday gatherings, that the Delta variant was already ravaging through the country this fall and into Thanksgiving, and that the even more infectious, often vaccine-evading Omicron variant was now spreading wildly. So many conversations I’ve had lately have been of the variant, “Wow, they all have COVID?!”
Hey @MassGovernor, see where the traffic lights are? When you get there in the line, you’re only an hour and a half to two hours away from the front of the line for a PCR test. After almost two years, thanks, I guess? #mapoli pic.twitter.com/SbOpi8DntM— Heshan Berents-Weeramuni🗳 (@wheresmyporsche) January 2, 2022
The debacle over the lack of testing sites unfolding across Massachusetts is plainly a failure of the governor’s leadership. My experience was not an isolated one. On Monday, testing sites in Springfield, Brockton, Saugus, Braintree, and other locations were overwhelmed with huge numbers of people all trying to get tested.
Tens of thousands of honor-bound people want a test in lieu of voluntary self-isolation or being blasé, because they care about their health and the health of others. They don’t want to inadvertently pass on the virus to their families, friends, or colleagues. Likewise, employers and schools also want to do their duty in stopping COVID’s spread before it hurts their staff, customers, and students. They depend on testing sites like the one I visited to keep themselves open to the public. Let’s not forget that, in March 2020, it was school districts, employers, and colleges who waited for state leadership, saw none, and then took the measures necessary to move to remote work to protect themselves and others. Two years on, it seems the governor is once again abdicating authority and responsibility.
By contrast, the testing site staff at the Anna M. Cole Community Center in Jamaica Plain continues to be amazing, and I am grateful for their kind care. They kept the center open past closing time on Sunday to allow everyone who waited hours in line to test, and, since this testing site has been open, they have gone above and beyond their call to honor their duty of care. It was my second time getting tested there this winter, and as before, they kept their doors open long after the time it was supposed to close to test everyone still waiting in line.
Unlike them, Baker, a former health care executive, doesn’t seem able to rise to the occasion. People with far less access to resources than Baker have for almost two years cared for each other by masking up, getting vaccinated, and getting tested. We elect our leaders to provide care and respond quickly in moments of crisis, not make excuses or pass the buck. Baker must step up and accept responsibility for this dangerous debacle, and fix it. None of us can afford for him to be a reluctant leader.
Heshan Berents-Weeramuni is a Boston resident and a communications professional.