By SCOTT JACKSON
Gov. Charlie Baker said Massachusetts could become the worldwide leader in COVID-19 testing by more than doubling its capacity to test for the virus by the end of the year.
The governor also urged residents to “respect the virus” and keep taking steps to halt the spread of the disease.
Baker and Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera appeared together at a press conference Friday to announce the launch of a drive-through testing facility in the Merrimack Valley community with the ability to test up to 1,000 residents each day. The city of Lawrence provided $1 million in funding to open the test center.
There are now more than 250 COVID-19 test sites located throughout Massachusetts, Baker said, with the capacity to perform some 30,000 tests each day. He said the state has prepared a plan to increase that number to 45,000 by the end of July and 75,000 by the end of the year.
If implemented, Baker said that would make Massachusetts the worldwide leader in per capita testing.
The growth in testing capacity means anyone who is symptomatic or has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive is now eligible to be tested, he added.
The governor said, however, that testing capacity alone won’t be enough to stop COVID-19. The state’s residents, he said, need to continue their efforts to slow its spread – including social distancing, frequent handwashing, wearing a mask or face covering when needed, and cleaning surfaces.
“While testing is a valuable tool in the fight against COVID, it is not…the only one. People have a big role to play in this with respect to the behavior that you exhibit and the behavior you deliver every single day – social distancing, hygiene, covering your nose and your mouth and wiping surfaces frequently,” Baker said.
“If you keep doing your part, we’ll keep doing ours and we will get through this together.”
Rivera compared following the steps that Baker outlined to following the recipe for baking a cake.
“You have to do the testing and the masks and the hygiene and the distancing and staying home if you’re sick – that makes a nice cake,” Rivera said. “Otherwise, you have a coronavirus cake. No one wants to eat that.”
With Memorial Day on the horizon, Baker said it is important for residents to keep social distancing and cover their faces if necessary.
“Respect the virus and understand that distancing and face coverings if you can’t stay distant are your two greatest allies in preventing the spread,” the governor said, adding that between 20 and 40 percent of people who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 never show symptoms of the disease.
“If you feel healthy and you feel good…if you can’t distance yourself, you should wear a face covering, because you may in fact be a carrier.”
Baker said the steps taken by residents to date has allowed the state to begin a phased re-opening of businesses, but it is too soon to let up.
“People have worked really hard and given up a tremendous amount over the course of the past eight or ten weeks to bend the trend on this and we succeeded. It’s because of the work that everyone did that we are now in a position…we can start talking about a gradual, careful, data-driven phased re-opening,” the governor said.
“Don’t let a few nice days step on that. We need to continue to make the kind of progress that we have all made in battling this thing for the past two or three months.”
Rivera – who announced all public events in Lawrence would be cancelled through December – said anyone who doubts the seriousness of the pandemic should look at the obituary pages in newspapers.
“People are dying,” he said. “We sent tons of kids to fight in Vietnam. Nineteen Lawrence boys lost their lives in Vietnam. In this short period, we’ve lost 109 souls.
“The governor is right, we have to respect this virus.”