Massachusetts currently has capacity to process 30,000 tests a day for COVID-19, but its daily testing numbers fall short of that. On May 20, the state reported processing only around 13,000 tests.
Governor Charlie Baker told Boston Public Radio on Thursday this is due to issues in the supply chain related to necessary materials and transportation.
"It's the issues around specimen collection and transport that create the distance and difference between," the actual daily test number and the capacity, said Baker.
The diagnostic test for COVID-19 involves an invasive nasal swab, conducted by a trained medical person. Baker said self-administered tests may be more widely available in the future.
"There's a lot of work that's gone on in that space over the past few months," Baker said. "I fully expect by the time we get to the summer, you'll probably see cheek swabs that can be self-administered, nasal swabs that can be self-adminstered, a big change in the mechanism that's available to collect the sample in the first place, and a lot more transport media to get it to testing facilities."
But he acknowledged the global supply chain that medical facilities rely on to conduct testing proved a major challenge as states tried to ramp up testing.
"This is a great example of where nobody was thinking we'd get to the point we needed to do millions of these a day," he said. "That whole global supply chain became a giant issue with respect to accessing materials and stuff required to actually execute on a massive testing strategy ... For the better part of the past two or three months, there's just this constant game of catch up."
Baker said the state needs to "make sure we have domestic ability to manufacture and distribute" personal protective equipment and testing materials that "we've been spanning the globe to deliver to people. It can't be like that going forward."
In early April, Massachusetts officials were able to secure more than one million masks directly from China to distribute to frontline workers after the Patriots volunteered their team jet to pick up the supplies. That came after the state ordered three million masks through BJ's Wholesale Club that were "lost" at the Port of New York. Baker and others in his administration have said they believe the federal government confiscated the masks for the federal stockpile.
In the wide-ranging interview, Baker said he and Lt. Gov Karen Polito have both been tested once, after having a conversation "at a distance" with Tom Turco, secretary of public safety and security, days before he tested positive for COVID-19. They both tested negative.
The governor also discussed the situation at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, where dozens of veterans have died from COVID-19 over the past two months, prompting multiple agencies to investigate the facility's response.
Baker said he would not comment on the situation before he receives a report commissioned from attorney Mark Pearlstein, who he said the state hired "two days" after the story broke.
"I expect his report will be done sometime soon. I'm not going to speak to these issues until I see the report," said Baker. "There's a lot of talk about who said what to who, and in the end, documents and emails and interviews will answer a lot of these questions."
The Mayor of Holyoke, Alex Morse, alleged the facility did not communicate with the state about the spread of the coronavirus inside the home. Members of the Baker administration have repeatedly said they did not know about the scope of deaths and illness at the home until the mayor called state officials late in March. The superintendent of the facility, Bennett Walsh, has been placed on administrative leave. He maintains he was in communication with the state on an ongoing basis.
"I can certainly tell you the lieutant governor, the secretary [of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders] and I were shocked by that call with Mayor Morse," Baker said.