Brookline testing sites provide useful data for preventing COVID-19



The Brookline Health Department at 11 Pierce St. houses the town sponsored testing site. Their testing program gives further insight to the town on the spread of COVID-19

Long q-tips and medical professionals in face shields and masks. People patiently waiting for a turn to be tested, then spending the next day awaiting results isolated at home.

Brookline’s new testing sites and programs are part of the continued effort to fight COVID-19. The town has sponsored a site through the town health department since the fall and the school system has created a program to test staff, which has performed roughly 1,600 tests. The school system will also be participating in a new pooled testing program.

According to Dr. Richard Serrao, an infectious disease doctor and academic faculty member at Boston University, 40 to 60 percent of COVID-19 transmissions occur from people who are unaware that they are infected and thereby pose a risk of transmitting the disease.

“With SARS COV 2, testing is important because of the way it is being transmitted. So I could have it now, have no symptoms and in the absence of me knowing that, I am transmitting,” Serrao said.

The school system is running a six-week testing program which is sponsored by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, according to the Coordinator of School Health Services, Patricia Laham. Brookline will be able to take advantage of five weeks after finalizing details. It will use pooled testing, which is a process where individual samples are combined with a number of other tests for a collective result, which shows if any of the many people tested together are COVID-19 positive.

According to Laham, at the high school, testing prevents further spread by giving health officials important information, in addition to social distancing and wearing a mask.

“Testing is one more layer of looking at what we are doing and determining if we have any asymptomatic cases. If we can identify those sooner than we might if we weren’t testing, we will know what the numbers look like and we can keep people out of school,” Laham said.

According to Emergency Management Coordinator of Brookline Cheryl Snyder, one of the goals of the town’s testing site, which is located at the Health Department, is to allow people without health insurance to get testing.

“The town wanted to make it easier for people to get testing without having to see their primary care doctors. Particularly, it wanted to be able to provide testing to people in town without healthcare,” Snyder said.

According to Serrao, while testing is an incredibly useful tool for identifying positive individuals, it cannot be held as an alternative to social distancing, mask wearing, and handwashing.

“This pandemic is a ripple phenomenon. Ultimately, it reaches someone who has a weaker immune system and those are the ones that end up in the hospital. It is a social type of illness in which how you behave on an individual level impacts the society at large,” Serrao said.

According to Synder, testing can aid in the effort to stave off interactions with infected individuals, as quarantine and isolation are also essential measures to fight infectious diseases.

“You want to know who is infected as soon as possible, in order to have them isolate and quarantine themselves so they don’t get other people sick. It is especially important in a disease like COVID where many people have it but are unaware because they are asymptomatic,” Snyder said.

Even though preventative measures can be difficult to enforce in a school setting, they are still worth doing, according to Laham.

“Social distancing is key, wearing a mask is key and we know it’s not perfect. We know that kids get closer together and they need reminders. It is imperfect, but the more we do most of those strategies, the better off we will be,” Laham said.

With vaccine rollout underway across the country and in Massachusetts, the end of the pandemic is in sight. However, following public health guidance from officials is still important.

“It is really important that people pay attention to information coming from both the state and the town about COVID, how to stay safe, and when to be tested. I hope that everybody is planning on being vaccinated when it is their turn,” Snyder said.