AMHERST, Mass. – As part of Gov. Charlie Baker’s expansion of COVID-19 testing, the University of Massachusetts Amherst will launch a major community asymptomatic testing program starting Monday, Dec. 14. Free testing will be offered, by appointment only, at the Public Health Promotion Center (PHPC) at the Mullins Center.
As the Commonwealth enters a holiday season in which COVID-19 infections are surging, the state-funded program will, with some holiday exceptions, run four days per week through Jan. 21, coinciding with the university’s winter break. As the spring semester commences, the program open to the general public will continue, but with more limited hours, through March 15, as students return and UMass shifts capacity and resources to resume testing of on- and off-campus students twice weekly to protect public health.
Full details of the community program, including how to make appointments, can be found at www.umass.edu/communitycovidtest. Adults and children ages 10 and older will be eligible for testing.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our administration has worked to increase the Commonwealth’s testing capacity and access to testing sites in all regions,” said Gov. Baker. “We are thankful for the partnership with UMass Amherst to stand up this new free testing site, providing Massachusetts residents with an additional resource to get tested in Hampshire County.”
UMass Amherst operates one of the state’s largest and most effective COVID-19 testing centers, having conducted more than 170,000 tests since Aug. 6. Through today’s $5 million grant from the Baker administration, the university will increase the COVID-19 testing capacity efforts of the campus at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). The IALS Clinical Testing Center (ICTC) is a newly created, local SARS-CoV-2 testing facility. ICTC will provide nasal swabs and tubes as well as analyze test results using RNA extraction/qPCR. The grant will support the testing materials and analyses for the community tests. The state money will also support the ongoing testing program for students, faculty and staff at UMass.
“UMass Amherst is well prepared and will act quickly to provide a vital public service to safeguard the health of our community,” said Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “As the Commonwealth’s leading public research university, our collaboration with the Commonwealth to expand our efforts in the fight against COVID-19 is aligned with our campus’s longstanding commitment to public service. We deeply appreciate receiving this support from Governor Baker as we leverage the skill and knowledge developed at our test processing site at IALS. The IALS team, led by Founding Director Peter Reinhart, has done extraordinary work in a short period of time to establish this new testing capacity.”
“I want to thank Governor Baker for investing and trusting in UMass to build COVID-19 testing capacity in this region of the Commonwealth, and commend Chancellor Subbaswamy and his team for their collaborative, strategic approach in developing a best practice testing program for UMass Amherst and the surrounding community,” UMass President Marty Meehan said. “By expanding testing capacity, particularly during this holiday season as cases are rising, the university and the Commonwealth are taking decisive action at a critical moment in the fight against this pandemic.”
The university’s PHPC will manage administration of the community tests, including registration, operation of the Mullins Center testing site, and notification of results. A key aspect of the PHPC’s success is the significant staffing role played by students in the College of Nursing and the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.
Regional legislators praised today’s announcement and the university’s commitment to meeting a pressing public health need.
State Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton said, “Members of the state's Hampshire County delegation have made it clear to the Baker Administration that Hampshire County needs and deserves a rapid, state-sponsored testing site. I am delighted that the very able team at UMass Amherst has stepped up to lead an important partnership with the state that will lead to greater testing accessibility for our region's people.”
State Rep. Daniel Carey of Easthampton said, “I’m so glad that the state and UMass are able to work together to bring increased testing to our area. As we continue to deal with this devastating pandemic, it is extremely important that tests are available to all residents of the Commonwealth. We must increase our vigilance and continue to make more tests available as we deal with the current surge.”
State Rep. Mindy Domb of Amherst said, “I greatly appreciate the efforts of UMass and the Baker administration to establish a Hampshire County test site and provide increased access to COVID-19 testing for Hampshire County residents. UMass’ testing operation is the gold standard, and I’m glad residents will benefit from it during this significant period of time.”