Walk-up, free, neighborhood-based COVID-19 testing conducted by Seven Hills Behavioral Health will continue in New Bedford through the end of March, instead of closing down on January 15, the city's Beacon Hill delegation announced.

Since July, Seven Hills has offered COVID testing at 754 Brock Avenue and 350 Coggeshall Street. The health center was selected by the state's COVID-19 Command Center to provide testing in the cities of Fall River and New Bedford as part of the Stop the Spread Initiative. However, in December, state lawmakers were notified that the neighborhood testing sites would close down.

The entire delegation then pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders to reconsider the decision, said Senator Mark Montigny. The delegation argued that a lapse in neighborhood-based testing would damage efforts to combat the virus, seeing that many city residents lack access to transportation or to a computer to book appointments.

After reviewing the appeal from Montigny and state representatives Antonio Cabral, Christopher Hendricks, Paul Schmid, and William Strauss, Sudders on Jan. 6 informed the delegation that the program would be extended through March 31, Montigny said.

"Rapid, accessible testing is a critical tool to combat this deadly pandemic, and our residents can rest assured that they will continue to receive this vital service," said Montigny in a statement.

"Free, neighborhood-based, walk-in testing has been the backbone of our response to this public health crisis," said Cabral.

"Working together with my colleagues at the State House, we were able to persuade the state to continue this essential service to our community," said Hendricks.

"The Seven Hills testing location is a vital resource for the New Bedford community and it is important that we maintain our current testing capacity during the winter months," said Schmid

According to state data, New Bedford's coronavirus numbers continue to climb. The most recent two-week datasheet shows 11,302 tests administered with 1,568 positive results, for a positivity rate of 14 percent, one of the highest rates in the state. 

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