Testing & Contact Tracing
At the beginning of the pandemic, testing was performed only by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or its delegated public health labs.
Testing capacity was soon overwhelmed with unacceptable delays. Next, a pair of national commercial labs assumed responsibility, but they too fell behind within days. BH began an exhaustive lobbying effort which was ultimately successful on March 27, with BH being named an essential regional testing center by Marylou Sudders, Secretary of Health and Human Services for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Chair of the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force. Within weeks, BH was performing hundreds of tests on three separate commercial platforms. There were daily appeals for reagents and swabs, which continue to this day. However, by the first week in April, turnaround times had fallen to less than a day, and the criteria for obtaining a test were broadened.
Between March and April, BH stood up six drive-through testing centers, three in Springfield, and one each in Westfield, Greenfield, and Ware.
As of early December, the system had performed over 175,000 tests, of which over 4,000 were positive. Over a third of the tests were on non-BH patients. These were gathered by collaborative agreements with other healthcare providers or long-term care facilities, outreach events in public housing and homeless shelters, and mobile testing initiatives that were part of state-based screening activities. All inpatients are also now screened for the coronavirus as well. At the end of 2020, turnaround time for testing remained at <24 hrs, putting BH in the top 20% of labs in the country.
Once individuals have been tested, it is important to alert close contacts so that they might quarantine to limit further spread. Early on in the pandemic, BH began working more and more with local Boards of Health to inform them of potential clusters and to advise on strategies to limit spread. The BH-sponsored Public Health Institute of Western MA served as a coordinating organization for a state-wide initiative called Partners in Health that provided telephonic contact tracing to supplement the efforts of local Boards of Health.