Baker blames supply chain for testing gap

Says self-administered swab should help boost numbers

MASSACHUSETTS IS NOT testing as many people for COVID-19 as it could because of limitations on gathering specimens and delivering them to testing labs, according to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Baker, eager to ramp up testing, has said the state has the capacity to do 30,000 tests a day but typically does less than half that. “The issues around specimen collection and transport create the distance and difference between those two,” Baker said Thursday in an interview on WGBH radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.

Right now, most testing for COVID-19 requires someone to insert a 6-inch-long swab up a patient’s nose into a space between the nose and mouth for 15 seconds and rotating the swab a few times. This collection, called a nasopharyngeal swab, is done in both nostrils, then inserted into a container and sent to a lab for testing.

CVS is now doing patient self-administered tests at some of its stores using a new, shorter swab that needs to only be inserted into the nostril. Baker said he expects that approach to accelerate this summer, which should increase specimen collection.

Baker said last week that the state’s goal is to conduct 45,000 tests a day by the end of July and 75,000 by the end of December. On Wednesday, the state reported 13,013 new tests.

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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.

The governor said acquiring swabs and other materials needed for testing is challenging because most of those products are manufactured overseas. As he has in the past, Baker said state and federal policies need to change to encourage greater domestic production of critical health supplies to avoid the free-for-all scramble that has characterized the coronavirus pandemic.

“It can’t be like that moving forward,” he said.