As of the end of April, First Parish has suspended its weekly COVID-19 Testing Tuesdays that began a year ago in April 2020, only one month after the Pandemic was declared. More than 2000 tests were performed. We’re hopeful that other testing resources will be available and that the availability of vaccines will reduce the need for testing. On a non-profit basis, tests have been done at First Parish in collaboration with the Bedford Research Foundation. BRF Director Ann Kiessling adds, “Appreciative of the approval of the First Parish Board, Testing Tuesdays began when much of the biology of disease transmission was still unknown. It is estimated that each positive person identified probably prevented another 4 to 5 infections to the community.”
These tests were provided to all people, regardless of town of residence, symptomology, or ability to pay. Of the 2,098 total tests, 526 (25%) were provided free of charge. Bedford town employees – police, fire, first responders, teachers, and others – were provided 172 free tests.
The public has been enormously supportive and appreciative of Testing Tuesdays. Volunteer Sarah Dorer says, “In addition to Bedford residents, many residents from surrounding communities and even out-of-state relied on us. Unlike our service, most doctor’s offices and even Urgent Care facilities were unwilling to test anyone who was asymptomatic until it later became clear that everyone should be tested. Other states and countries often required documentation of negative results before entry or upon return to Massachusetts. Last summer, over and over again, we heard how thankful people were for this service: Bedford camp counselors who were working with children, college students who were heading to in-person classes, and grandparents needing testing before being allowed to be with grandchildren for childcare purposes. When school started in the fall, we had numerous teachers and staff who came for teaching each week. Every single person who came through our doors over the course of the year thanked us for providing this critical service.”
With federal approval on an emergency basis, the Bedford Research Foundation, which is primarily focused on stem cell and HIV research, temporarily adapted their local laboratory to provide PCR COVID-19 testing. Due to its central location on the Bedford Town Common and its wide network, First Parish provided a convenient site and many volunteers. With more means of testing now available, BRF scientists can return to the work they were doing prior to the Pandemic.
As stewards of the Bedford Town Common, First Parish feels a responsibility to the common good and public health is a vital component. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve our community so early in the Pandemic when so little was known about the virus or the possibility of a vaccine, and we appreciate the many generous financial contributions and support.