WOBURN - Thanks to the broad support of city officials, Beth Israel Lahey Health Systems (BILH) will likely within a matter of weeks begin processing patient specimens from a brand new drive-through COVID-19 testing site off of Presidential Way.
During the latest gathering of the City Council, the aldermen voted unanimously and without controversy to sanction BILH's proposal to construct a winter-ready emergency test site within an unused parking lot at a sprawling 14-acre commercial property by the Wilmington line.
Eight conditions were placed on the special permit, which was needed for the drive-though use and because the accessory structure contains more than 900 square feet. Some of the more notable stipulations included:
• That the approval is for a temporary arrangement which will lapse one year from the issuance of an occupancy permit;
• The site cannot be used to administer vaccinations;
• The petitioner is required to meet with the police department's traffic bureau to discuss potential traffic concerns;
• and a directional signage plan, showing how motorists will access and exit from the rear testing area, must be filed with Building Commissioner Thomas Quinn's office before operation's begin.
According to local attorney Joseph Tarby, representing the hospital and medical care provider, BILH has since 2017 used space within an existing two-story office building for information technology, but all employees are currently working remotely from home due to the pandemic.
For that reason, the petitioner contends that traffic will easily be able to flow in and out of the proposed temporary testing site in a rear parking lot with hundreds of parking spaces. The test building itself, which will comrpise a total of 3,000 square feet of space, will reportedly include a pair of trailers for staff breaks and storage needs.
Testing will only be offered to those with valid doctor's orders, and the clinic will be opened on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Patients will also be able to get tested over the weekend between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"Since the pandemic started, all staff haas been working remotely and they are not expected to return until sometime in the summer of 2021," the local lawyer explained.
"As we move forward into colder weather, the site will provide some protection from the elements. The drive-through, as you can see, will allow for three lanes and six vehicles to enter the facility and be tested at the same time," Tarby added.
First pitching the drive-through clinic last month, BILH officials say the emergency use is needed in order to expand the medical provider's testing capabilities in the face of a second COVID-19 surge. Since first running the proposal by municipal leaders, the state's Department of Public Health (DPH) says the number of statewide COVID-19 cases have reached levels not seen since the crisis reached a crescendo late last spring.
With Mayor Scott Galvin leading efforts to contain the spread of the viral infection within the community — a task that is dependent upon testing and subsequent contact tracing work — members of the City Council considered the Presidential Way proposal as needed.
"This is a good thing," said Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately. "W're in the middle of a pandemic and we're looking for more stations to do testing This is perfect where it is and won't hurt anybody."
"I agree. Let's move forward and get this done tonight," Ward 3 Alderman Jeffrey Dillon later remarked.