Charlie Baker plots massive expansion of coronavirus testing, but universal testing no-go for now

BOSTON, MA – MAY 14: Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during his daily coronavirus briefing at the State House on May 14, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (POOL Photo by Chris Van Buskirk/State House News Service)

Millions of residents will be tested for the coronavirus by the year’s end making Massachusetts a world leader in testing, said Gov. Charlie Baker who added universal testing is “too far off to rely on.”

“We’ll be the largest and highest tester on a per capita basis anywhere in the world — actually by a significant margin,” the governor said Thursday, speaking at the State House.

Baker’s plan calls for an ambitious expansion in daily testing capacity, ramping up to 45,000 daily tests by the end of July and 75,000 by the end of December, with the goal of bringing the positive rate below 5%.

About 14% of the 8,536 tests recorded Wednesday were positive. The state is conducting around 9,000 tests on average every day and has done more than 424,000 since the pandemic hit Massachusetts two months ago.

Baker said the state has the lab capacity to process about 30,000 tests per day — but actual testing lags far behind. The most tests logged in a single day is 20,137, performed on April 24.

“We have capacity. What we need to do is create additional testing to fill the capacity that we have,” Baker said, announcing CVS will open 10 new drive-through testing sites around Massachusetts.

Baker has repeatedly said testing — along with downward trends in deaths, hospitalizations and new cases — will be a key component in the state’s gradual reopening as the coronavirus pandemic loosens its deadly grip. Universal testing — something many public health experts say will be critical to resuming normal activities — isn’t part of the plan, Baker said.

“There’s no path currently to achieving what many refer to as ‘universal testing,’ which has its own limitations – and it’s frankly too far off to rely on for our reopening.”

Instead, Baker said testing will focus tests on people who are most at risk.

“People who are symptomatic, people who are close contacts, symptomatic people who work on a regular basis with people who have COVID-19 or suspected of having it, folks who work in congregate care settings and 24-hour settings. Those are the populations that I think we all agree are the ones that are most at risk, and that’s where our primary focus is going to be,” Baker said.