State officials are eyeing ways to add COVID-19 testing capacity in Massachusetts and could make an announcement as to those efforts in the next few days.
That's one of the messages Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders delivered to more than 100 local officials Friday on a call the Massachusetts Municipal Association coordinated with the Baker administration.
During a Friday afternoon visit to a booster clinic in Brockton, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said they used the call to encouraged communities to work with the state to stand up clinics and help make more booster shots available. The discussion also featured talk of other efforts to combat the pandemic, including through testing.
The conversation took place one day before state health officials announced that the first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 had been officially detected in Massachusetts, and Sudders said at the time that it was "hard to imagine" there would not eventually be a case of the new variant here.
"Our best defense is getting people vaccinated, and then having both diagnostic and surveillance testing," Sudders said, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association's audio recording.
Sudders asked the municipal leaders to "stay tuned," saying the state was "hoping to make some announcement next week about additional testing capacities for communities."
"The governor and lieutenant governor [have] directed us to explore some other testing opportunities for communities and residents of the commonwealth, and we should be able to make an announcement next week about that," she said.
Later in the call, Sudders said state officials were "hoping to be able to make some announcements next week about rapid tests in Massachusetts."
Baker has recently been vocal with his frustration that the federal government has not done more to make rapid COVID-19 tests more available and affordable to Americans, as they are in European countries. Last week, President Joe Biden announced plans to require health insurers to reimburse their members who purchase at-home rapid tests.
"I've been banging on the White House on this issue for months," Baker said Friday. "And I have to tell you, I'm glad they finally got the message, but you should all know that I'm going to go to them, and I'm going to say, 'I'm glad you finally figured out this matters, but you're going about it the wrong way.'"
Instead of having a limited distribution and creating a process where people have to seek repayment from their insurance after the fact, Baker said the federal government should "cut a deal with the manufacturers that basically creates a price point at the retail stop that's a buck, and they should be sending these to every single retail outlet in America they can possibly find so that these things are stacked on ... pharmacies' shelves as high as you can see."
"They should be available in tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of locations, they should cost a buck, and people should be able to go in there and buy five, buy 10, and then give a ton of them to the community health centers so the community health centers can do the same thing."
Baker raised concerns that Biden's plan would be too complicated and that people would not expect to actually receive reimbursements or understand the process.
"No one's going to buy 10 tests thinking they're going to get their money back from an insurance company that they don't trust already, and they won't get their money back for a while, so, I don't know, I'm kind of bummed about the way they did this," he said.
Pushes around testing and boosters come as people plan holiday gatherings and travel and as winter's approach moves more social activities back indoors.
COVID-19 case counts have also been elevated in Massachusetts -- on Monday, the Department of Public Health reported 11,199 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, a three-day total that was more than double the previous Monday's report.
In neighboring New Hampshire, officials announced on Monday, Nov. 29, that residents of that state would be able to order free rapid test kits for home delivery through the Say Yes! COVID Test program, an initiative from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, test manufacturer Quidel, and health care technology company CareEvolution.
"As we move into the winter months, these at-home tests are a valuable tool for Granite Staters to easily test themselves and get back in the game quickly," Gov. Chris Sununu said at the time. "As the first state in the nation to run this program statewide, we're excited for the ease of access this program provides to individuals and families across New Hampshire."
A day later, Sununu cited high demand and said the initial test supply had already been requested and just over 800,000 tests would be delivered across the state in coming days.