After weeks of calling Cape Cod a COVID-19 testing desert, local officials conducted a dry run Tuesday at a new testing site at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds in Falmouth.
It’s one of two locations — the other at the Cape Cod Melody Tent Hyannis — expected to open early next week. In addition, Outer Cape Health Services will begin providing asymptomatic testing in about two weeks at its Wellfleet and Provincetown facilities, where testing for people with symptoms is already available.
Funding comes from a mix of state and county dollars and a donation from Cape Cod Healthcare.
About a half-dozen cars drove through the fairgrounds’ Marketplace building on Tuesday so the staff could practice distributing and collecting tests, which patients self-administer in their vehicles.
The Marketplace is a high-ceiled metal building with a large garage door open at either end. Three lanes are marked off with cones.
Representative Dylan Fernandes, a Democrat who represents Falmouth and the Islands, led a press conference next to the testing area. He said the tests will be discounted, but not free.
“The lack of testing remains a big concern for all of Cape Cod,” he said. “And the governor, I believe, misspoke yesterday when he said that these testing sites would be free.”
In a press conference Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker listed Barnstable County among locations receiving free testing.
The cost has not been finalized, but Fernandes said no one will be turned away because of inability to pay.
Appointments are required, and Barnstable County is still working out the details of how to make an appointment.
The Hyannis site will be open seven days a week; the Falmouth site will be open two or three days a week.
County health director Sean O'Brien said they'll be able to process about 2,000 tests a week.
"We wish we could have offered free testing,” he said.
Cape Cod Healthcare staff and the Hyannis Fire Department will manage the Hyannis facility, while Barnstable County will staff the Falmouth site.
State Senator Julian Cyr said the expanded testing will help ensure everyone on the Cape has better access.
"Outer Cape services is essential in particular to getting testing,” he said. “Eastham, Truro, Wellfleet, and Provincetown are the furthest from a hospital emergency room compared to any other community in the commonwealth."
But the new test sites won’t be enough to meet the demand, he said.
Cyr said he will continue to lobby the governor to supply free COVID-19 testing for the region.