Mayor Michelle Wu held a press conference on Tuesday at the Bruce Bolling Building in Roxbury, the site of a new high-capacity COVID-19 testing site which also opened on the 18th.
Before getting into specifics about the testing site, Wu reported that as of 8am on Tuesday, 17,861 City of Boston employees were “in full compliance with vaccination policies.” She also said that this includes 1000 additional employees who had become compliant since January 10.
Wu said that vaccination clinics continue to offer the vaccine at locations throughout the city, and the city will review compliance of employees throughout this week. After that, “employees will receive individual notifications” letting them know who needs to still upload proof of vaccination. Beginning on February 24, those not in compliance with the mandate will be placed on unpaid administrative leave, Wu said.
The new testing site at the Bruce Bolling Building will offer free COVID-19 testing Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12pm to 8pm, and test results will typically be available within 24 hours. The site is run by CIC Health, which ran a number of vaccine clinics in the city and state last year, including the one at Fenway Park in early 2021.
Wu said that flyers in multiple languages will be distributed throughout neighborhoods letting residents know about this new site.
The need for additional testing sites in the city comes from long lines at sites like the Anna M. Cole Center in Jamaica Plain, where residents waited hours to get a test.
The Anna M. Cole Center has the capacity to test 11 individuals at once, Wu said, while the Bolling Building can test 20 people at the same time. It also allows for 50 people to be in line at one time. To ensure that people are not waiting hours for a test, CIC Health will offer time cards to any remaining people after the first 50 in line, which will allow them to come back for their test at a specific time so they are not standing and waiting.
Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), also said that the testing site does not require appointments.
“This is really a vital resource for the Roxbury community and nearby communities,” Ojikutu said, adding that the city is “proud to open this site in the heart of Boston’s Black and African American community.”
The site will have the capacity to test 1,000 people each day, she added.
Wu also announced other clinics in Dorchester and Mattapan, and mentioned that hours have been expanded at the existing Anna M. Cole site, which has resulted in fewer people in line waiting.
“We’re really trying to open up this resource and make it easy for people to access testing,” Ojikutu said.
Wu also spoke about small business relief, saying that the administration is working with the Boston City Council on “replenishment of the small business relief fund” in the amount of $5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. She said this funding will support 300 small businesses, including those “who have already been applying through the existing fund.”
New applicants will be able to apply for funding early in February, Wu said.
Ojikutu also touched on the surge caused by the omicron variant, saying that she is “cautiously optimistic” looking forward as the city’s positivity rate is down 5.2 percentage points from last week. It is now at 26.5 percent, down from 32 percent last week.
“This is still very high,” she said, but she added that reported positive cases in the city are down 33 percent from last week.
Also down are emergency room visits, by 23 percent, and she said that 81 percent of Boston residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “As a city, we’re almost 70 percent fully vaccinated,” Ojikutu said.
However, hospitalizations have gone up—adult hospitalizations are up 35 percent, while pediatric hospitalizations are up 56 percent.
She urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted, wear masks that fit well, and get tested.
Rodrigo Martinez of CIC Health spoke a little bit about the testing process at the Bolling Building. He explained that the tests are self-administered PCR tests. individuals who show up to get a test will receive a swab and a tube, and will stand in a specific area to perform the test. The completed tests will be brought to the Broad Institute and results will be reported “within 24 hours on average,” Martinez said.
The CIC team said that surgical masks will be provided to all individuals who come for a test to put over their existing mask, and people will be placed six feet apart while waiting their turn. They also said that the lines are anticipated to move quickly, so as to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
A couple of Boston City Councilors also spoke at the conference, including District 7 Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson and At-Large Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune.
Fernandes Anderson said that it’s important to assist small businesses during the pandemic, and to be “meeting people where they are.” She encouraged business owners to reach out to her office if they have any questions about the process for applying for grants.
Louijeune said that she is “encouraged to see a new testing site open up in Mattapan,” and that vaccination efforts need to continue.
“We know that we have large immigrant populations,” she said, and there is “a lot of work to do to meet people where they are.”
She also spoke about dispelling misinformation about the vaccines. “In the Haitian community,” she said, “we need to get the message out there that these vaccinations are safe.” These testing sites will be “open as long as they need to be open,” Ojikutu said. She said that the contract is for three months, but the city is prepared to extend it beyond that if need be