Codman Square Health Center: COVID-19 tests underway, screenings happening in tent

A tent has been erected outside the Codman Square Health Center's main entrance to screen visitors before entering the facility. Bill Forry photo

Sandra Cotterell

It's not the first time there's been a big tent set up outside the Codman Square Health Center on Washington Street.

But, in the past the tent has been set up to house one of Dorchester's biggest parties of the year: the Men of Boston Cook for Women's Health gala, held in the fall.

This is no party.

Today, the tent set up right outside the front doors of the health center is screening patients and staff for symptoms of COVID-19. Yellow caution tape blocks the path to stairs that normally lead to the lobby. Signage in English, Spanish and Haitian Kreyol read, "For patient safety, all patients and visitors will need to have a brief screening before they enter the Health Center."

Codman's CEO Sanrda Cotterell says the outside screening is one of several new measures put in place over the last week as the facility braces for what everyone expects will be a surge in virus cases.

"This is changing quickly," she said on Wednesday afternoon (March 18). "This is no longer a day-to-day situation. It's hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute."

"We are telling people who don't have an urgent care issue or immunizations not to come in," said Cotterell, who says that many routine patient matters are now being done over the telephone— something she calls "tele-health."

"Right now, there is no walk-in testing for people without symptoms," says Cotterell. But Codman does have test kits for COVID-19 and is testing some patients who are symptomatic. She and her team are currently weighing the idea of creating a testing site - possibly another tent- outside of the health center to conduct tests "as this escalates," and as the supply of test kits improves.

Cotterell, who has led the health center since 2011, says the stress of juggling the logistics of preparing for COVID-19's anticipated surge has been "hard" on Codman's staff, many of whom are juggling child care issues since schools are not in session.

"It's stressful being on the front line. We are practicing social distancing in here too, limiting the dining room to no more than 25 people and moving all of our meetings to virtual. We are trying to support them and keep morale high. It's a challenge."

The health center has modified its hours slightly. It is now open 9 a.m.- 7 p.m., Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. on Sundays.

"Even though we may have staff there, we want to use those 'off' hours to monitor our inventory," said Cotterell.

For more information on Codman Square Health Center's hours and instructions for patients, see Codman.org. If you suspect you may have COVID-19 symptoms, please call 617-822-8271 before coming in.

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