BOSTON — The state has dramatically increased testing for COVID-19 as health officials try to get a handle on the scale of the outbreak and what it will take to reopen businesses.

Like many states, Massachusetts struggled to get full-scale testing underway amid conflicting directives from the federal government but has accelerated its efforts.

To date, the state has conducted nearly 245,000 tests, according to the Department of Public Health, one of the highest per capita levels in the country.

The state and private labs tested 14,614 people for the coronavirus last Thursday, the largest number in a single day since the outbreak began last month.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is averaging 8,000 to 10,000 tests a day, but that number needs to ramp up further to get a better handle on the outbreak.

"I think that's much better than we were doing," Baker said at a Monday briefing. "Six or seven weeks ago, we were only doing only a few hundred tests a day."

Massachusetts is a national hotspot for COVID-19 infections, with 56,462 cases as of Monday and 3,003 deaths.

Health officials believe the number of infected people is much bigger but undetected because of a shortage of tests.

Members of the state's National Guard are conducting mobile testing at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which have been hardest hard hit by the outbreak.

Researchers at Harvard University's Global Health Institute say the state needs to increase its daily testing to nearly 30,000 a day to safely reopen the economy.

Health officials are also conducting pilot tests for antibodies, created by an immune system fighting the virus, to gauge what percentage of people may have been exposed to the virus without developing symptoms.

Researchers say it's not yet clear if people develop an immunity to the COVID-19 virus, as they might for other respiratory illnesses.

A random sample of 200 voluntary participants in Chelsea, conducted earlier this month by Massachusetts General Hospital, found at least one-third of the subjects had coronavirus antibodies, indicating they'd had the virus but didn't realize it.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Sunday the city will be conducting a similar program with MGH by testing about 1,000 people in the city’s hard-hit neighborhoods.

Nationwide, more than 5.4 million Americans have been tested for the new coronavirus, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

A new report from the Rockefeller Foundation said the country will need to conduct 20 million tests per day by mid-summer to fully re-mobilize the economy.

Congress passed a relief package last week that includes $25 billion to expand testing and a strategic testing plan for states.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said over the weekend that the U.S. will need to double its coronavirus testing capacity to safely reopen portions of the economy and prevent a second wave of infections.

"You need enough tests so that you can very easily identify, test, contact trace and get those who are infected out of society so they don't infect others," he said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

 

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