Health director concerned with lack of access to COVID-19 testing

March 31, 2020 | Chris Maza

WESTFIELD – While Westfield had reported 46 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of March 30, the city’s health director stated his belief that the numbers in and of themselves are not truly representative of the virus’ impact on the community.

“I was hesitant to release any numbers because those kinds of figures can cause panic. We should just assume it has been here all along and act accordingly,” Health Director Joe Rouse said.

Westfield first reported five confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 24, but by March 26, that number jumped to 24, the result of a technological glitch at the state lab’s electronic reporting program. Once the error was corrected, it resulted in the dramatic jump.

Gov. Charlie Baker at a recent press conference touted the fact that the state has steadily increased the number of labs that were able to analyze coronavirus tests, but Rouse said that does not address the true nature of the issues experienced in Western Massachusetts or statewide.

“We have plenty of labs that are ready here in Western Massachusetts; the problem is we don’t have enough tests,” he said. “From where I’m sitting, I don’t see that getting better anytime soon and that is one thing people should understand when reading about the number of confirmed cases.”

Rouse explained the shortage of tests means only public officials, first responders and people who are symptomatic and have underlying medical conditions may receive tests at this point.

“You can’t just call and expect to get tested,” he said. “Most people who are symptomatic are just being instructed to self-quarantine.”

Rouse did indicate that the manner in which cases are spread out across the city does offer a level of optimism.

“We are not seeing clusters of people testing positive,”?he said. “When you start seeing clusters, that is when you run the risk of exponential spread. If you had a group of people who all live in the same apartment building, for example, in close proximity to each other and with common areas, there is a greater risk of the virus spreading."

The city of Westfield is now updating its total number of confirmed cases daily at 10 a.m. on its website at Rouse said numbers are expected to increase as more testing is performed and the public should continue to heed the standing state and federal guidelines such as Baker’s stay at home advisory.

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