by Brad Chavin, News Reporter & Alex Merkowitz, News Editor
photo courtesy of the Boston Globe
To accommodate the expected influx of COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 cases, two testing sites have been established in Newton in recent weeks. One site, situated in the Chestnut Hill Mall, is run by One Medical, a private health care provider. Another testing location is at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital.
Dr. Jodi Larson, the Chief Quality and Experience Officer at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and a Newton North parent, said that the hospital has been testing patients since March 14. Larson said, however, that the number of tests carried out daily by the hospital has increased exponentially.
“That first Saturday, the 14th, we tested 46 people at the tent,” Larson said. “On Tuesday [April 28], we tested 303 people. We’re averaging close to 200 people a day.”
One Medical’s testing site was established on April 5, and has tested hundreds of people to date. According to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s newsletter, there is a limit of 50 tests per day at the testing site. One Medical is not speaking to the media at this time.
Deborah Youngblood, the Newton Commissioner of Health and Human Services, said that essential workers, who generally have a higher risk of carrying COVID-19, have been given priority access to tests.
“Non-essential workers have to meet a criteria established by their doctor [to be tested],” she said. “It’s opening up a little bit now, but for some time it’s been difficult to get a doctor to order a test.”
Junior Maya Makarovsky, president of the Aspirations in Medicine Club, said she is concerned about the inequality of testing across the nation.
“Celebrities and wealthy individuals are getting tested while the working class, immigrants and the poor aren’t being tested,” she said.
Larson said that testing at Newton-Wellesley is available to people with symptoms and hospital patients.
“Anybody who’s got symptoms can get tested,” she said. “Anybody that is high-risk [amd] anybody who gets admitted to the hospital gets tested.”
South nurse Gail Kramer said that there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the student body. She said she has been working with the state to track Newton residents who test positive for COVID-19 and identify their contacts.
“If anyone tests positive that lives in Newton, we call them up and we find out any contacts they’ve been with,” she said. “We find out where they’ve been, we follow their case [and] we teach them about how to take care of yourself.”
Kramer said that contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 are told to self-isolate for 14 days.
Junior Mia Cohen was tested for COVID-19 after developing symptoms. She received her negative test result after just two days, but scheduling the test initially proved to be challenging.
“It seemed like what trying to audition for a game show would be like because it was like going through multiple stages of people,” she said.
Cohen said that her mom is an essential employee at a medical facility, which gave her higher priority to be tested. Although the test was uncomfortable, it was conducted quickly, Cohen said, and the drive-through testing site was not crowded. “There was like one other person behind us,” she said.
Youngblood said that it has been difficult for the city to navigate the rapidly evolving landscape of testing availability.
“We have been trying to facilitate people getting tests. It’s been very challenging because it changes all the time,” Youngblood said. “Either the federal government or the state government will set up a testing site. We might hear about it and then soon thereafter it will close, and we didn’t know that it was going to.”
Larson said that while testing was difficult at first, it is improving as more sites gain the ability to analyze test results.
“It’s getting smoother as we go along here,” she said. “The initial tests were sent to the [Massachusetts] Department of Public Health, and there was a delay in getting the responses and the results. So now that the results are available at other sites besides the Public Health Department, it’s been much smoother.”