COVID Testing

COVID Testing

A couple of weeks ago, Jesse wrote about non-retail active uses, stressing that we should all be thinking about what non-retail active uses might populate the ground floors of buildings if retail is not viable, “uses that add vibrancy to our cities and create inclusive, diverse, and equitable places.”

One category on that list is medical. And while it’s right to infer that by medical we mean quick outpatient clinics, doctors, dentists, physical therapy and vets, we also mean something new: COVID testing. As I’ve written before, there is unambiguous agreement that widespread testing is key to any kind of return to semi-normalcy and having the testing infrastructure – the physical space in which the testing occurs — in place obviously helps us get there.

There are a number of entrepreneurial efforts afoot in Boston to make testing more available and affordable (see CIC Health), but a great example of a well-designed storefront for COVID testing is one that I happened upon by chance during a quick trip to New York City, sandwiched between a hair salon and a Swatch store on Columbus Ave on the Upper West Side.

There are a lot of empty storefronts in New York and in Boston and it’s interesting to the see the uses that have popped up, but what struck me about this COVID testing space were two things:

1) how mundane it was at this point in the pandemic to see a storefront repurposed for rapid PCR COVID testing, underscoring how different things are from a year ago today, and

2) that the design, while clearly done quickly and at minimal cost, was pretty effective. The storefront was open, highly transparent, and seemingly “friendly.” Nothing was hidden from view; I could see a waiting area in front, a place in back where tests were being done, and even the makeshift lab area where technicians were processing tests. The exposed ducts (looks like some updated HVAC!) and even lighting drove the point home even further. Testing is something that should be celebrated and made visible.

This particular storefront is being operated by Entertainment Industry Response (EIR), whose website states: “EIR’s goal is single-source COVID-19 health & safety services compliance resource for productions and events. At heart, we are live event, production, sports, logistics, touring and operations people.  We speak your language and are able to seamlessly fold into your existing production or event. We are using the manpower and resources from the entertainment and event industry to build temporary structures and facilities needed by local and state governments, health networks, and point of sale locations.”

This creative business pivot gives me hope. Coupled with the prospect of a Biden Harris administration and promising vaccine, this has been a hopeful week. I also hope to see more empty storefronts converted to COVID testing facilities throughout Boston in the name of bringing vibrancy back to our city and others.

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