Tufts announced in a statement on Oct. 6 that they will offer up to 300 free COVID-19 tests every week to residents living on select streets in Medford and Somerville.
Testing began yesterday and will be available to neighbors living in areas roughly bounded by George, Main and Harvard streets in Medford and Powder House Boulevard and North Street in Somerville.
“This is one more way in which the university, Medford and Somerville are working together to support each other through this pandemic,” University President Anthony Monaco said in a statement.
Residents must be at least 18 years of age, asymptomatic and register for the test online at least a day in advance. The university is administering the tests at Breed Memorial Hall at 51 Winthrop St. in Medford. Residents must provide a photo identification or utility bill with their address before receiving the test.
The 300 community tests represent a small fraction of the nearly 15,000 tests Tufts administers to its students, faculty and staff on a weekly basis in collaboration with the Broad Institute. At a cost of $25 per test, the 300 tests will add about $7,500 a week to a program that has already cost the university well over $2 million.
The university’s announcement won praise from the mayors of Medford and Somerville, who have been working closely with Monaco to coordinate their responses to the pandemic.
“We are very thankful to Tufts University for opening up asymptomatic testing for residents in the Tufts area,” Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said in a statement. “The availability of community testing will allow us to continue to track and monitor cases within our community, especially asymptomatic spread, and will hopefully provide some peace of mind for residents in the shorter term.”
Prior to the beginning of the semester, Joe Curtatone, mayor of Somerville, expressed caution against Tufts’ reopening plan. However, he praised the university’s efforts to offer free COVID-19 testing to community members.
“Robust testing is a key part in containing this disease, so anything that can be done to make testing easier and more convenient is a boost for public health,” Curtatone said.
During the summer, Tufts received backlash from residents and politicians in Somerville and Medford as it moved to reopen the campus and welcome students. Elected officials argued there were significant gaps in the reopening plan and residents worried that the return of students and faculty could lead to an outbreak.
More than a month into the university’s reopening, those fears have yet to materialize. The university reported two positive COVID-19 tests as its seven day total through Oct. 11, while four individuals are currently quarantined and one is in isolation on the Medford/Somerville campus as of press time, according to the COVID-19 dashboard.
In August, Nicole Morell, a Medford city councilor at large, expressed concern about Tufts’ reopening plan in a letter she co-authored with other elected officials. She said she is now pleased by the low number of positive tests from the university.
“I’m happy to see the [COVID-19 test results] have stayed low, and it seems that Tufts has a good handle as far as their testing and responding to positive tests … especially when you compare it to some other universities around the country that are really struggling with this,” Morell said in an interview with the Daily.
Edward Beuchert, a board member of the West Somerville Neighborhood Association, also commended Tufts’ new testing initiative.
“I could certainly see lots of people taking advantage of [the free testing],” Beuchert said.
While Somerville already offers free COVID-19 testing through a Cambridge Health Alliance testing center in Assembly Square, Beuchert explained that the testing location at Tufts is more convenient for neighborhood residents.
Beuchert also said that he did not necessarily object to the university’s reopening plan, as upperclassmen would return to Medford and Somerville and live off campus, regardless of whether the university went fully remote.
So far, he believes the reopening plan is going well.
“In general, I am not seeing Tufts students flouting the regulations,” he said.
Beuchert encouraged students to continue to adhere to health guidelines.
“You’re smart people. You know that this isn’t a hoax and people’s lives are at stake,” he said.