Baker wants to be world’s biggest COVID-19 tester

Sets ramp-up goals for end of July, December

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER unveiled a COVID-19 testing initiative on Thursday that he said would make Massachusetts the biggest tester on a per capita basis in the world.

Massachusetts is already a worldwide leader in testing. The state averaged 10,377 COVID-19 tests a day in May and has the capacity to do 30,000 tests a day.

The governor wants to ramp capacity up to 45,000 a day by the end of July and 75,000 a day by the end of December. The goal is to reduce the positive test rate (positive tests as a percentage of all tests done) to below 5 percent. The positive test rate was 12 percent on Thursday.

The testing goals and the timetable for them are another signal that reopening the state’s economy will be a long, slow process. In announcing the new goals, Baker casually mentioned that the buildup in capacity is needed to prepare for a possible surge in testing in the fall. He also said the state would not attempt universal testing because it wouldn’t be available in time for the state’s reopening, suggesting the July and December testing targets are part of the state’s phased approach to reopening.

Many of the indicators the Baker administration is relying on in deciding when and how fast to reopen the state’s economy trended in a positive direction on Thursday. The percent of all COVID-19 cases currently hospitalized fell to 3 percent, the number of hospitalizations fell below 3,000 for the first time since April 12, and COVID-19 patients in intensive care declined by 13 to 781. Deaths increased by 167 — 102 in nursing homes and 65 elsewhere.

Baker said federal funds will be needed to build the infrastructure necessary to ramp up testing in the state. The governor said the state will apply for the funding, which was part of the CARES Act, by the end of this month.

“If we reach the testing goals that we’re seeking to achieve, we’ll be the largest and biggest tester on a per capita basis in the world – actually by a significant margin,” Baker said.

Top five states for total COVID-19 tests per 1,000 people. (Graphic by Sarah Betancourt)

The state, according to guidance from the Department of Public Health, is targeting those with COVID-19 symptoms; contacts of those who have tested positive or are exhibiting symptoms; those who work around people with COVID-19; and people in congregate care settings, group homes, state hospitals, and prisons. Medical officials are given leeway to even test people who they believe have COVID-19 but are asymptomatic.

CVS, the national pharmacy chain, said on Thursday it is beginning a national rollout of testing operations at 1,000 of its stores using self-swab kits. The company said it expects to ramp up to 1.5 million tests a month.

In Massachusetts, CVS is rolling out its self-swab test sites at stores in Charlton, Worcester, Raynham, Northampton, Bridgewater, Carver, West Springfield, Danvers, Westport, and Wellesley.

People tested at CVS will arrange a time online, pull up, be handed a test kit, administer the test themselves, and put the swab in a container for transport. Baker said the long test swabs that used to be inserted into the nose and down the throat are being replaced by smaller swabs that individuals can administer themselves by swabbing the nose or the inside of the cheek.

Baker, in graphically describing the long-swab testing approach, revealed that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were tested for COVID-19 after Tom Turco, the secretary of public safety and security, tested positive on April 6.

Massachusetts currently ranks second in the nation in tests per thousand people, behind only New York, according to calculations by CommonWealth using data as of May 13. Massachusetts administers 59.4 tests per 1,000 people, while New York administers 64.7 tests per 1,000 people.

Top five countries, and Massachusetts, for total COVID-19 tests per 1,000 people. Data through May 12. (Graphic by Sarah Betancourt)

New York has administered a total of nearly 1.3 million tests, compared to 410,032 in Massachusetts. Massachusetts ranks seventh in the nation in terms of total tests, behind New York, California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey.

According to Our World in Data, a project based at the University of Oxford, the top five countries for COVID-19 tests per 1,000 people are Iceland, Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, and Italy. The United States is sixth on the list at 28 tests per 1,000 people. The rankings are based on data as of Tuesday.

If Massachusetts were a country, it would rank second behind Iceland. Iceland, with 346,000 people, administers 160 tests per 1,000 people.

Here are the top five states in the nation for testing per 1000 people

New York – 64.73 per 1000

Massachusetts- 59.4 per 1000

New Jersey- 50.16 per 1000

Illinois- 38.62 per 1000

Florida- 27.72 per 1000

Here are the top six countries (and Massachusetts) for testing per 1000 people:

Iceland- 160.44 per 1000

Massachusetts- 59.4 per 1000

Estonia- 48.98 per 1000

Norway- 37.86 per 1000

Switzerland- 36.61 per 1000

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Italy- 28.81 per 1000