Mass. Governor: Grocery Workers May Now Access Free COVID-19 Testing
Grocery store and supermarket workers across Massachusetts, many of whom have been working throughout the coronavirus pandemic as "essential workers," will now qualify for prioritized, no-cost testing for COVID-19.
Gov. Charlie Baker made the announcement Saturday. "Grocery workers are exposed all day long to a lot of people who may not be symptomatic, but may in fact be carriers," he said during a press event in Somerville.
The testing sites are at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. The drive-through sites were previously limited to serving first responders. In recent weeks, with the help of private labs and pharmacies, the state has been able to increase its ability to administer and process tests to broader categories of individuals who believe they may have been exposed to the highly infectious virus.
Until now, supermarket staff have been classed as "essential workers" but did not have "emergency personnel status," an essential designation for priority testing and for procuring priority access to PPE, or personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks. Saturday's order puts food store workers in the same category as first responders for those purposes.
Advocates for grocery and supermarket workers have been fighting for the emergency personnel designation for weeks. Governors in Michigan, Minnesota, and Vermont made the move early, Local 328 President Tim Melia told U.S. Sen. Ed Markey during a Facebook live chat.
"Our goal is to get this protection not just for Massachusetts, but across the country as well," Melia said.
The new priority order for Massachusetts followed the recent COVID-19 death of a 59-year-old Market Garden worker in Salem. Vitalina Williams had worked at the grocery store for 11 years.
Baker on Saturday also advised all people in Massachusetts to wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible, a new development in the state's fight against the novel coronavirus.
"This goes both ways. The point behind the face coverings is not just about protecting yourself from somebody else. It's also about protecting somebody else from you," Baker said.
Saturday's mask advisory builds upon other recent safety requirements for grocery stores, including occupancy limits and alternative hours for seniors. Measures such as social-distancing at checkout lines, sanitation supplies for shoppers and workers, enhanced cleaning, and the closure of hot bars and salad bars were ordered by the state two weeks ago.