Charlie Baker pushes to expand coronavirus testing, urges Massachusetts residents to wear masks Memorial Day weekend

Gov. Charlie Baker doubled down on his plans to significantly expand coronavirus testing in the commonwealth over the next few months as he urged residents to play it safe over the holiday weekend.

Baker will submit a plan to the federal government next week, asking for help in boosting testing from roughly 10,000 tests per day currently to 45,000 per day by the end of July and 75,000 per day by the end of December.

“That plan, if implemented, would make us the largest testing per capita entity in the world,” Baker said at a press conference Friday.

Lab space would be expanded under the plan, as would testing in “high-risk” places such as hospitals, group homes and correctional facilities, he said.

Baker said Massachusetts remains a “top-five player in per capita testing across the country.” There are 250 testing sites statewide, with some 10,000 to 15,000 swabs taken each day and the capacity for up to 30,000.

And more tests are on the way in Lawrence, one of the cities hardest hit by the virus.

Baker joined Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera on Friday to announce the city would be using $1 million in taxpayer money from its cash reserves to conduct up to 1,000 tests a day for residents in a nine-lane drive-up center at 1 Canal St.

“For Lawrence, this virus has been a perfect storm,” Rivera said. “Lawrence residents are the workforce of the Merrimack Valley, and so many of them are continuing to work as essential workers.”

Lawrence has the fourth-highest COVID-19 infection rate in the state of 3,041 per 100,000 residents, according to data released weekly by the Department of Public Health.

But the mayor believes the number of infections is much higher and is “something that this testing facility will help us clarify.” He urged doctors to be “liberal” with referrals.

Baker praised the testing ramp-up, saying “there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on gateway cities like Lawrence.”

With summer-like weather ushering in the long Memorial Day weekend, Baker implored residents to “respect the virus” and continue to abide by public health guidelines.

“People have worked really hard and given up a tremendous amount over the course of the past eight or 10 weeks to bend the trend on this — and we succeeded,” Baker said. “Don’t let a few nice days step on that.”

The state’s “safer at home” advisory remains in effect, as does Baker’s order requiring face coverings in public.

“This is not about vanity,” Baker said. “It’s about the safety and the health of your friends and your families. And it’s about our ability as a commonwealth to continue to move forward on a phased basis and make it possible for a lot of people who lost their jobs … to maybe have a chance to go back to work.”

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