BOSTON — Anyone who's been at a large gathering in recent weeks can be tested free for COVID-19.
The governor's office made the announcement on Monday that 50 pop-up sites would be offering the confidential tests on Wednesday and Thursday, July 17 and 18.
"Obviously, there's been a significant increase in the number of people participating in demonstrations across Massachusetts and around the country," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "Thousands of people have been congregating in large groups over the past several weeks to exercise their First Amendment rights in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
"These gatherings are coinciding with reopening [of the state], meaning more and more people are moving around, and around each other."
There are only two popup sites in Berkshire County available for the free testing: Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington. Regular testing is only available at BMC and CVS, also in Pittsfield.
Berkshire Health Systems is using its COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-262-5465 for making appointments. Individuals who want to be tested can be given a physician's order and appointment at either BMC or Fairview. The two testing locations will have expanded hours this Wednesday and Thursday for this special testing, with the drive-thru tents open from noon to 7 p.m.
Tens of thousands have marched in almost daily protests since Floyd's murder in police custody at the end of May. While many protesters appear to be taking precautions — washing hands or using hand sanitizer, wearing masks and attempting social distancing — the nature of the protests bring large numbers of people together.
Berkshire County has had several protests related to Floyd as well as two educational rallies, and a number of small graduations.
Baker said people who attended large events should be tested even if they are feeling fine.
"We need to keep up our fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 here in Massachusetts. Some people who have the virus don't show symptoms and could spread the virus to others including family members," the governor said. "By getting tested, you can help keep yourself and your close contacts safe from the virus."
Massachusetts is in its second week of the second phase of a four-phase reopening process. This also has brought people out into stores, outside dining and back to work.
The positive rate for the novel coronavirus has dropped dramatically since April and there are now fewer than 1,000 people hospitalized for the deadly disease, a drop of 90 percent.
Berkshire County's numbers remain low compared to other areas of the state and nation at 579 confirmed cases and 42 deaths since March.
There has not yet been a spike in cases seen since the large demonstrations in Boston two weeks ago but the governor said it was too soon to tell.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said testing in Boston after the large demonstrations was 1,200 to 1,500 a day but those results are not yet back.
There is an anticipation of 10,000 new tests being done statewide on Wednesday and Thursday. More than 700,000 people have been tested statewide to this point.
"I think the most appropriate thing we need to do is make sure that our testing ability can ramp and that we do have a pretty significant tracing program in place to be sure that we can actually reach out connect with and help those people isolate," Baker said.
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