The state has opened 50 pop-up testing sites this week for people who attended recent demonstrations so they can be tested for COVID-19.
On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said anyone who has attended a large gathering in the last two weeks is encouraged to get tested.
“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, meaning more and more people are moving around with each other,” he said. “And anytime large groups of people come together, there’s a risk for transmission. We certainly support people’s rights to express their views peacefully, but we need to keep up our fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 here in Massachusetts.”
The testing sites are open to everyone — with or without symptoms — at no cost.
“I think that is the way that we have to approach this, and recognizing that people have a right to protest,” said Dr. Katherine Gergen-Barnett, residency director of family medicine at Boston Medical Center. “People have a right to show their solidarity in the movement and, yet, from a public health perspective, we are very worried that people are gathering in such huge numbers.”
The pop-up sites were busy Wednesday and will be open again Thursday. Some sites will be appointment only and people are asked to call ahead to those sites.
Click here to find a pop-up site near you.
Managers at the testing sites said the locations are not limited to protests-goers, but that people are being asked if that’s why they’re here.
“We’re just asking if that’s how they heard about us or if that’s why they’re coming to get tested. But we’re not collecting any of their individual information,” said Health Center Director Mimi Jolliffe.
A similar two-day test site run last week by the city of Boston found fewer than 1 percent of people tested positive.
“I felt (protesting) was something I wanted to do. Of course, I was risking my health. But I was wearing a mask and I felt that could be good enough,” said one protester.
Experts say it may never be known what impact the protests have had on the virus’ spread because the demonstrations started about the same time as businesses began reopening.
“So it’s pretty much impossible to tell if any changes in numbers are attributable to any particular event or demonstration or just people being out and about,” said Dr. Shira Doron, a Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist.