Western Massachusetts Is Facing Another COVID-19 Testing Crunch

Jul 31, 2020

Summer travel has increased the demand for COVID-19 testing in Massachusetts, which means less capacity and longer waits for results.

Early in the pandemic, many hospitals reported a shortage of testing supplies, but after a few months, conditions improved.

Now, health leaders in western Massachusetts say testing has slowed down again, especially as people returning from out of state want COVID-19 tests rather than having to quarantine.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton reports the lab is overwhelmed by requests, so they've had to prioritize the sickest patients — and it can take up to two days just to schedule a test.

One primary care practice, Valley Medical Group, is planning to set up on-site testing for its own patients, but that could take weeks.

CEO Joel Feinman said testing conditions are likely to get even tighter as students return to the area.

"There's no national plan for this," Feinman said. "There still is no coordination among the states and the manufacturers and the processes."

A spokesman for Baystate Medical Center in Springfield said the hospital is still testing anyone who has a doctor's referral.

Tapestry Health, a nonprofit, has been hired by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to hold several COVID-19 testing clinics in Springfield and Agawam in August, since those cities have high rates of the virus, according to Tapestry spokesperson Amy Davis.

Davis said they will give a test to anyone who wants one, with a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time. But the testing hours are very limited. She said they have enough supplies for about 200 tests over the course of two weeks.

Feinman of Valley Medical Group said he's also starting to worry about flu season, when they'll start offering flu immunizations again while also doing COVID-19 tests.

For now, short of a national plan, he said the best course of action continues to be wearing a mask and social distancing.