COVID

Mayor Wu vows Boston will address its ‘unacceptable’ COVID-19 testing wait times

City officials say they're considering creating a mass testing site to help meet demand.

A line of people waited on Allston Street Monday for COVID-19 testing at the West End House in Allston, including many children who are returning to school. Suzanne Kreiter / The Boston Globe

Mayor Michelle Wu is vowing to take on the long waits facing many people seeking a COVID-19 test at the city’s testing facilities as demand balloons amid the omicron surge.

The delays have left some standing hours outdoors in hopes of snagging a coveted nasal swab. On Sunday night, Wu reacted on Twitter to a tweet reporting over an hour-and-a-half-long wait to one site, calling the situation “completely unacceptable.”

Wu convened her staff on Monday to talk solutions.

“It’s unacceptable that our residents are waiting hours to get a test to stay safe and protect their families,” Wu said in a statement to Boston.com that night. “Our team met today to ensure that we are increasing the number of test sites, expanding capacity, and speeding up operations at each of our sites across the city.”

The continuing pandemic

Cities across Massachusetts are experiencing similar, continuing testing challenges, as several drive-thru sites have experienced long lines this week.

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“We have more testing infrastructure than just about anybody else,” Gov. Charlie Baker said last week. “But people are going to have to be patient.”

On Monday, Boston opened another free testing site at the West End House in Allston, according to Wu.

Detailing further potential plans on Tuesday, Wu told reporters that officials are looking to open more sites, including a higher capacity site.

“Many of the sites across the city run by our partners require booking and appointments, and so we know that there’s a strong, strong demand for walk-in sites. That will continue to be a focus for the city,” Wu said. “And we are also looking at right away, before we open new sites or as we are opening up new sites, managing the lines more effectively and efficiently as well.”

Boston Public Health Commission Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu said the city has a goal to open at least three new testing sites in the coming weeks throughout Boston.

The aim is to provide residents with an array of options for testing, so a high capacity testing site in addition to neighborhood facilities is part of that approach, Ojikutu said. The city is reaching out to the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, which served as a popular mass vaccination site last year, as a possibility, she said, although officials are still considering other locations, too.

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“We’re trying to make this as easy as possible for people to get tested,” Ojikutu said.

Additionally, the Wu administration is looking at several ways the city can improve facilities already in operation, according to Ojikutu.

The long lines are “very concerning to all of us,” she said.

A few possibilities she mentioned include diverting people waiting in line to open spots at nearby community health centers and putting out tents in waiting areas for inclement weather.

Ojikutu said the city would “hopefully” have updates by the end of the day, Tuesday.

“We’re working really hard on this,” she said.

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