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Free Coronavirus Testing Up And Running In Hard-Hit Communities

LAWRENCE (CBS) - A new push to test is up and running in the Commonwealth. The state's Stop the Spread testing program launched Friday. For the next month, there will be free testing at eight sites across parts of central and eastern Massachusetts.

"We're very much supportive of anything and everything that will encourage people to get tested for COVID. And this new initiative by the governor is really targeting places at highest risk in our state," said Helen Boucher, chief of Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center.

Lines formed as people came out for free coronavirus testing Friday. (WBZ-TV)

You don't need to have symptoms to get tested. The program is open to everyone and zeroes in on eight hard-hit communities: Marlborough, Lawrence, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lowell, Lynn and New Bedford. Many maintain high infection rates, like Chelsea and Lawrence. The Essex County city is currently seeing a rate triple the state average.

"If we can address the infections, and isolate the people who are infected, and get to their contacts to make sure it doesn't spread, that's the most effective way of preventing us from having another surge," Boucher said.

At Marlborough Hospital, a line of cars snaked out of the parking lot. Hospital officials said people lined up as early as 7 a.m. In Lawrence, nearly 300 people were tested by midday.

For the next month, there will be free testing at eight sites across parts of central and eastern Massachusetts. (WBZ-TV)

"If we have a day today where we have 500 people tested, that's great. That's the type of pace we really need to be at," said Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera.

Rivera says they've tested just under 20 percent of the city's 85,000 residents. He hopes loosening the criteria to test may help them reach more people.

"Long term what we want to do is get as many people, as many adults tested as possible. So we can lower the infection rate, less people actually have it, less people can spread it. And we can get to a place where we can contain it until we can get a vaccine," Rivera said.

And as we settle into Phase 3 of the state's re-opening, experts say remaining vigilant is crucial.

"When we look around at what's happening around us in the United States, I think that's even more motivation for us to not become complacent," Boucher said. "Continue to do the hard work that everyone has done so well in Massachusetts."

None of the free testing sites are located in western Massachusetts. State Senator Eric Lesser, who represents Hampden and Hampshire districts, is calling that unacceptable. He's asking Governor Baker to add more locations in that area.

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