The Strand, now a testing site, may soon add vaccinations

City Council President Kim Janey, center, toured the Strand Theatre on Tuesday with the city’s Health and Human Services chief Marty Martinez, left. They are shown speaking with Christin Price of Brigham & Women’s Hospital, which is conducting Covid-19 testing from a mobile unit at the Strand. Katie Trojano photo

City Councillor Kim Janey, who will become acting mayor when Mayor Walsh resigns to join the Biden cabinet, toured a Covid-19 testing setup at the Strand Theatre on Tuesday morning, where she and Marty Martinez, the city’s chief of Health and Human Services, discussed with officials from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who are managing the testing, the possibility of using the site for vaccinations.

Wanda McClain, vice president of Community Health and Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s, said that while the goal is to use the Strand for injecting vaccines, there is “still some road to go” to get there.

“This space would be ideal,” said McClain, who, noting the supply issues with the vaccine, said officials were thinking they maybe could take up vaccinations on days when they aren’t testing.

“Right now, we’re thinking two days a week to start,” she said, adding McClain, who said that “if we have the supply” as many as 1,000 people could get the vaccine over the couple of days.

The Strand, at 543 Columbia Rd. in Uphams Corner, is open for walk-in testing on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. All individuals can be tested, no appointment necessary, for free-- regardless of symptoms or insurance and are also supplied with care kits containing masks, hand sanitizer and community resource information on-site.

Brigham & Women's provides information about resources and wraparound services in the area and connects patients with access to healthcare and urgent care through a partnership with Uphams Corner Health Center.

Mayor Martin Walsh, in a press conference Wednesday highlighted the testing availability at the Strand and encourgaged residents to "make testing a part of regular routines."

“This past week chief Marty Martinez and Council President Kim Janey visited the Strand Theatre. We see an opportunity to increase the capacity at the site, and we’re looking for ways to work with community partners and offer more tests as the Strand continues to move froward," said Walsh.

"Testing does remain critical even as the vaccine becomes available to more groups. Get tested once a week if at all possible."

Martinez, who has led the Walsh administration’s response to the pandemic, said that bringing the Strand and other community assets online for “walk-in sites” would “be huge for our communities when we get to the point where everyone is eligible” for vaccinations.

“If we don’t have walk-in sites we’re going to struggle,” he said. “This is all great and if we can be helpful on the city side while this is in the works, we’d obviously love to help. We want more in-community sites, and this location would be great for it.”

Said McClain: “These are all goals. I want to make it clear that no plans are yet in place, but the goal would be that we would vaccinate both patients in our system and non-patients. Those who are patients would already have medical records, but we could enter non-patients into our system on site so that we could know when their second dose is due and do all of the outreach so they can come back.

“The key component right now we’re thinking about is supply and not wasting any vaccines. That’s one of the reasons for having appointments so that you know who’s coming and can make sure you have the right amount of doses,” she said, “But I agree, the more barriers we can eliminate, the better.”

Janey brought up zip code prioritization for testing at the site and asked if that would also be incorporated into any eventual vaccine planning.

“It’s good to hear that the majority of people coming to get tested here are from 02125,” the councillor said. “And obviously we still have to get down the list of who’s eligible. But once we get that, I’m interested in how we ensure that the local zip code is being prioritized.”

Replied McClain: “We’ve already begun thinking about that. In terms of access, we are going to really try to attract the residents from zip codes in the city that are the highest priority neighborhoods. We’re trying to ensure equity in how we vaccinate. We’ve all seen the news reports that when you open a site in a neighborhood where a majority of people of color live, you don’t necessarily draw in that population. We’re trying to combat that by being proactive.”

Dr. Christin Price, testing site lead, program director and medicaid ACO at Brigham and Women's, noted that the hospital has created a Vaccine Equity Task Force that is “staffed by physicians and non-physicians and we're communicating with parishes, churches, and community centers to build those relationships and give them a priority to be scheduled for a vaccine. Those partnerships will be key,” she said.

Price noted that Brigham and Women’s is collecting race and ethnicity data at the site. “Our positivity rate is 16 percent. Among Black patients, it’s 22 percent, and in Hispanic patients about 17 percent, so obviously the disparities still exist,” she said.

Health care workers at the Strand said on Tuesday that they saw a spike in the number of people coming in for testing around the holidays, but that the influx has since slowed down.

McClain later reiterated that planning for vaccinations at the Strand is still in the beginning stage. “We still have some road to go before we can say we’re open for business,” she said, “ but we are actively exploring it.”