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Boston to keep expanding coronavirus testing, mayor says

COVID-19 Media Availability 5/6/20

Mayor Walsh said today the city is working with local health centers and hospitals to more than double the number of active-infection Covid-19 tests done each day in Boston, and is working on a long-term plan where residents can begin to get antibody tests at primary-care centers.

Separately, Walsh said at at a press conference at City Hall today that the city is not looking to fine people who don't put masks on in public, but acknowledged the city is asking supermarkets and other facilities where people would gather indoors to require mask wearing among customers. As he has said before, Walsh said he is reluctant to have police enforce a face-covering requirement - which went into effect statewide today - with fines. "Our approach is to support you, not to punish you, especially if you're already financially struggling." he said.

Walsh said the city hopes to have 1,500 daily swab tests done to test for active infection in Boston, which can help both the individuals who test positive get care and the rest of the city by helping public-health teams figure out where to put resources to dampen infection chains as the city and state move towards re-opening.

Last week, the city was conducting an average of 680 tests a day; the number has increased to 1,100 this week, he said.

In addition to ramped up testing at stationary sites such as community health centers, the city will also start a mobile testing lab next week that the city can send to areas that seem to need more immediate testing, or for populations that might have trouble getting to a stand-alone testing site.

Walsh added that the city will look at "universal" testing among groups or in areas that seem to be troublespots, similar to the testing the city is already doing for the homeless and for first responders.

Longer term, Walsh said he hopes the city can dramatically increase the number of antibody tests, which can indicate whether somebody has been exposed to the virus in the past but no longer has an active infection, to the point where somebody can just call up a primary-care facility and request one.

He said Massachusetts General Hospital should finish a randomized antibody screen of some 1,000 residents in East Boston, Roslindale and parts of Dorchester this week and should release results next week.

Walsh continued that, as they have statewide, Boston's hospital numbers are slowly trending in the right direction: New cases seem to have leveled off a bit and Covid-19 occupancy in local hospitals is down. "The curve is slowly bending," he said, but cautioned, "We still have a long way to go before we can safely build a recovery plan."

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Test and trace is the only way to suppress the spread. But we're gonna need a lot more tests.

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