After police had to turn away people hoping to get tested for COVID at Springfield’s Eastfield Mall due to long lines, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno asked the state for another COVID testing site and National Guard assistance.
“After being updated early Sunday morning that the Eastfield Mall regional testing site is being overwhelmed even with the Herculean efforts of AMR, our Springfield Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department the site is now temporarily turning people away,” Sarno said in a statement Sunday. “With that I have once again reached out to Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito requesting another regional testing site be opened and National Guard assistance as soon as possible to alleviate this log jam.”
Police began turning away cars around 9:30 a.m. Monday.
“As of 9:30 a.m. no additional cars will be allowed access to the Covid Testing Site at the Eastfield Mall due to high demand,” Ryan Walsh, police spokesman, tweeted. “It is unclear at this point if any additional cars will be allowed in the lot today before it closes. Thank you for your cooperation.”
The Eastfield Mall’s COVID testing site made plans over the weekend to turn people away if the long lines began causing a safety hazard.
“Once the parking lot is backed up to Boston Rd. officers will temporarily restrict access to the lot & ask drivers to come back later to prevent a traffic safety issue,” Walsh previously tweeted.
Sarno said the holiday season has caused the “perfect storm,” which is why Eastfield Mall is so crowded.
“They’re being overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s the only regional site really in Western Massachusetts. So we’re taking on the brunt not only Springfield but Western Mass and even Connecticut coming this way. They’re doing record numbers.”
Eastfield Mall began allowing additional cars on the site around 12:45 p.m. Monday. Cars would not be accepted after 3 p.m., however, Walsh tweeted.
Sarno also noted that even without turning people away, having to wait three to four hours for a COVID test is too long.
In April 2020, Massachusetts also opened a testing site at the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds in West Springfield. That has not reopened but it could, Sarno said.
“Another regional site here in the Springfield vicinity area needs to be opened up,” he said. “As they did with the Big E. That would take a tremendous amount of pressure off the Eastfield Mall and my Springfield residents.”
Sarno said Sunday he had “reached out to the governor and Lt. governor for assistance which is essential in order to not only provide for our/my Springfield residents but also the many residents of Western Massachusetts and even Connecticut who are flocking to the Eastfield Mall regional site.”
He confirmed to MassLive Monday that the state has responded to his requests and that they’re working on it.
Until then, residents who get turned away might have to search for at-home COVID tests at Walgreens, CVS or Walmart. Although they’re not easy to find.
CVS and Walgreens have limited the sales of at-home COVID tests this holiday season. iHealth allows residents to buy tests that can be shipped to their homes but there’s a chance of waiting upwards of 15 days for the tests.
Sarno is also working on buying more COVID tests for city employees. But he’s running into supply chain issues there too.
“I have to wait on the state government, who in turn is waiting on the federal government on the supply chain issues of the home testing kits,” Sarno said.
He also encouraged residents to get vaccinated.
Springfield remains one of the state’s major population centers with a lower vaccination rate. As of Dec. 28, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported the city was 56% fully vaccinated with 66% having had at least one dose of vaccine. Boston was 68% fully vaccinated and Worcester was at 63%. Many smaller communities across the state have achieved 95% or greater.
“People will wait three to four hours to get tested but yet you can get your shot or your booster within a half hour’s time frame,” Sarno said. “There’s no issue with accessibility about getting the shot.”
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