LAWRENCE — As Gov. Charlie Baker and state public health officials are cautioning against group gatherings as the cooler weather hits and people head indoors, Mayor Daniel Rivera, too, is urging personal responsibility in the fight against COVID-19. 

"Only you can beat this virus," Rivera said in a social media message to residents posted Monday. "Individual responsibility is all we have left."

Densely populated Lawrence has been one of the hardest-hit Merrimack Valley communities struggling to contain the coronavirus spread since the pandemic began in March. Once the state Department of Health began using a color-coded map to identify cities with the most cases, Lawrence consistently was designated in the red, high-risk zone. 

The high-risk designation presents not only a public health risk, but also an economic worry because it prevents the progression to the next phase of reopening, while low-risk communities can move forward. According to state metrics released Wednesday, Haverhill, North Andover and Methuen joined Lawrence in the red risk category.

"It's been a slow and steady increase (in cases)," said Lawrence Board of Health Director Mike Armano, adding that the city has been red-zoned for eight weeks running. "We've found that people are traveling and gathering. We have a strong workforce: People want and have to work to survive. People don't want to get tested because they don't want to miss work and quarantine. They might go home to a multi-general family. It's not unusual to come home to a family of 10."

To increase testing for COVID-19, the Baker-Polito Administration has extended the free Stop the Spread program that brings personnel to five locations in Lawrence. As one of the hot spot coronavirus spread zones, the city is one of 18 designated testing locations for residents across the state to receive testing free of charge. Methuen is another Stop the Spread location.

According to the governor's office, approximately 4.8 million tests have been administered to more than 2.4 million Massachusetts residents since March. Lawrence General Hospital's Stop the Spread team, for example, accounts for close to 44,000 tests, said hospital spokesman Benjamin French. 

“Thanks to a unique collaboration between Mayor Daniel Rivera and the City of Lawrence, Lawrence General Hospital and Gov. Baker’s Stop the Spread initiative, Lawrence General has tested nearly 70,000 people since March," the hospital's President and CEO Deborah J. Wilson said. "Between our eight-lane drive-through testing center and new mobile testing efforts, we’re now testing close to 1,000 people per day. We encourage people to get tested not only for themselves, but for their families, friends and coworkers. Testing, masking, social distancing and other precautions are all critical to stopping the spread and keeping our community healthy.”

Testing is available for Lawrence residents at five locations throughout the city: The MVRTA City Lot on Canal Street; Stadium Plaza at 179 Osgood St.; Plaza 114 at 67 and 73 Winthrop Ave.; and La Fruteria at 76 Manchester St. Tests are administered by Lawrence General Hospital, Fallon EMS and Greater Lawrence Family Health Center Monday through Saturday. More information on each testing location, including hours of operation, is available by visiting mass.gov and searching for Stop the Spread. 

A mobile COVID-19 testing unit has also begun to travel Lawrence as part of a new partnership between the city and Lawrence General Hospital. The bright blue-and-yellow vehicle is scheduled to stop this week in the main parking lot of Stadium Courts, 179 Osgood St., for free testing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Any resident is eligible and is only required to leave their name and phone number to receive a test. No insurance coverage is necessary. 

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