Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A Covid testing site is set up Sept. 29, 2020, at Somerville’s Assembly Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Somerville resident Margaret Hughes has had Covid five times over the past year.

“That means I’ve spent about two months of my life over the last year in quarantine in my apartment sick,” she said at a City Council meeting Thursday. “And it’s not because I haven’t been taking precautions, it’s not because I was high risk. I just got unlucky.”

Hughes spoke at the council meeting to support an order to allocate funding for the city to continue providing Covid rapid tests and masks at public libraries.

When Hughes went to pick up her free Covid tests from the West Branch Library, she was told that the city had discontinued providing the tests and masks. The city then told her that since the federal government had declared the pandemic to be over in May, state provisions on providing masks and tests have ended.

“The pandemic isn’t over for me. It’s not over for Somerville’s disabled and chronically ill residents. And unfortunately, it’s not over for all of the people in Somerville, who are going to keep getting Covid,” Hughes told the City Council.

Councilor at large Willie Burnley Jr., one of the councilors to submit the order, said the highest surge of Covid cases in the past two years is happening now. He and some fellow council members have received many emails from residents who have “felt abandoned by their city” because of the end of free tests and masks.

“This is an abdication of our own duty to ensure the public health of our residents,” Burnley said. “It is on us as local officials to do everything in our power, politically and financially, to make sure that our residents are safe.”

Covid, he said, is both a health and disability justice issue. Many immunocompromised residents have said the free tests and masks have been “life-saving” for them.

“Putting the burden back on them – the financial burden, the physical burden to go find and procure these tests that are getting more and more difficult to find as the surge increases – is unacceptable,” Burnley said.

A resident told him that they spent $75 in the past two weeks buying tests, Burnley said.

“At a time where unaffordability is causing many residents to leave our community, I think it’s on us to try to do as much as we can to make sure that they feel settled and saved in Somerville,” Burnley said.

Another order about Covid tests came from councilor at large Kristen Strezo asking the director of Health and Human Services to discuss the availability of city-funded tests now that temporary relief funds are gone.

“I wish to discuss how we can perhaps collaborate with community partners such as our hospital systems – can they donate supplies to help the city?” Strezo said. “As a community, it’s a joint effort of all of us. And if it is not on municipal funds, can we find another solution? There’s always a plan B.”

Councilor at large Jake Wilson added that he missed inauguration at the start of the year because he had Covid. He and his family spent $270 on tests during the two weeks they were infected with the virus.

“That’s a ridiculous amount of money, and that could wreck a family having to pay for that. So people are left for the choice of testing and knowing or just not knowing,” Wilson said. “I would love to see us do everything in our power to try to get some some test to the community.”

The orders were sent to the Public Health and Public Safety Committee.