Charlestown has been plagued by low testing numbers – the lowest in the City by far – throughout the COVID-19 response, but now NEW Health Charlestown has stepped up to try to bridge that gap by establishing the first testing site in the Town.
Starting on Monday, NEW Health began testing by appointment in a tent outside their clinic on Tufts Street near Hays Square.
“We’re starting off testing in 15 minute increments and probably 12 a day,” said Kristen Simonelli, who is running the logistics of the operation. “Once we get in the groove of it, we believe we can begin triple booking appointments. Initially it will be 12 a day and we’ll ramp up.”
The site will be open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, and appointments can be made by calling (857) 238-1100. The hotline will take the call and screen for symptoms, and if it’s deemed appropriate, will issue an appointment for testing at the site.
Board Chair Jason Aluia said it is critical to begin doing more testing in Charlestown.
“The biggest point to make here is this is the first testing site in Charlestown,” he said. “We saw that there is a need in the community. The Board and CEO Jim Luisi recognized Charlestown needed testing. We saw the data and the lack of testing and we had the staff and space to carry it out.”
Medical Director Anne Murray-Chiriboga said testing is the only way to fight the virus until there is a vaccine. So, expanding testing access is critical.
“The only way we’re going to minimize the effect of this is by testing people when they come in contact with someone is sick and by testing those who are identified with the contact tracing efforts,” she said. “We need them tested and if they are positive, get them isolated. The more we do testing, the better off we will all be.”
The Boston Resiliency Fund helped get the effort off the ground, and was a key ingredient in getting testing availability out to community health centers like NEW Health Charlestown. The grant was key in getting PPE and the tent facility set up. Testing will be performed on site, but a partnership with Quest Labs – and perhaps MGH – will help process the tests. It will take two or three days for results.
NEW Health CFO Vincenzo Scibelli said they look forward to ramping up operations and getting the testing numbers up in the Town.
“The goal is to ramp up testing in Charlestown and through our partnership with MGH and Quest, we’ll be able to have a successful testing program that includes walk-up and drive-thru,” he said. “Our goal to start is to get 60 tests per week and the eventual goal is to ramp up and do more testing as time goes on…One of the biggest reasons we decided to open a test site here was to provide testing to our patients, many of whom are residents of Bunker Hill Housing development. They are our most vulnerable patients and we want to keep that from being a hot spot.”