Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday afternoon extended the stay at home advisory and closure of non-essential businesses until May 18. The original order was set to expire on May 4.
Additionally, Baker extended the ban on gatherings of 10 or more people until May 18.
“I know pushing these dates back a couple of weeks is probably not what many people want to hear,” Baker said at Tuesday’s press conference, but he said that there are “risks associated with going back too soon.”
He said that the measures the state has taken so far with the stay at home advisory and increased testing, among other things, have helped to flatten the curve in the Commonwealth. He added that while hospitalization rates have begun to plateau, they have not yet started to fall with the intensity that would suggest a serious decrease in cases. In order to reopen the state, Baker said the data has to be looked at closely.
“We’re moving in the right direction with respect to the virus, but ww are not where we need to be,” Baker said. “These mechanisms all need to remain in place.”
He thanked the people of Massachusetts for “playing their part” in limiting the spread of the virus. He said he recognizes how difficult the state’s decisions have been on people and families. “People have lost jobs, their careers, and in some cases businesses they have worked on for years,” he said.
But “since we’ve acted, we’ve avoided the humanitarian crisis we’ve seen…elsewhere around the world,” he said.
The Baker-Polito administration also announced the creation a 17-member reopening advisory board that will work together on a phased plan to reopen the state.
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said that government officials, industry employees, and customers “will need to work together for this to be successful.” She said that Massachusetts is “recognized as a leader in people taking personal responsibility” for social distancing.
“The board will bring a range of perspectives, including an understanding of workplaces and workforces, including insights” into things like education, local governance, manufacturing, and transportation.
She said it will be “a lot of listening” to main streets businesses and other small businesses, as well as metro mayors and local government officials statewide, and the 17 member board will be comprised of three public health officials, 11 leaders from businesses, including transportation secretary Stephanie Pollock.
“Their insight is key,” Polito said. “A lot of the decisions we will make need to be enforced and implemented at the local level.”
Baker said the first meeting of the advisory board took place on April 28.
Testing Increases and Regular Hospital Capacity
As of April 28, Massachusetts had 58,302 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 3,153 people had died.
Governor Baker also made several announcements late last week and early this week regarding increases in testing across the state. He said he was “ramping up” a program for testing with Quest Diagnostics in a number of community health centers across the state.
He also said that important factors when analyzing test results are how many people are tested, how many come up positive, and what the ratio between those two numbers looks like.
Baker also talked about the importance of seeking medical care if people are experiencing serious symptoms like chest pain or difficulty breathing. He said that hospitals across the state are equipped to deal with illnesses and conditions not related to COVID-19, such as stroke, cancer, and injuries, and people should not be afraid to go to the hospital if it is necessary to do so.
“If you’re not feeling well, if you have an ongoing medical condition, stay in touch with your clinicians,” Baker said on April 24. “If you need to go to the hospital, go.”
On April 24, Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel returned to Baker’s daily press coference to speak about her personal experience with COVID-19. Now recovered, she described her battle with the virus as including fever and muscle aches, but she still worked from home when she felt up to it.
Unemployment Assistance Update
He said that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which can help people who are self-employed, “gig workers,” contractors, or consultants, is up and running.
He said that this system has processed “well over 100,000 claims” as of April 24.
“The platform for traditional unemployment continues to process claims,” he added, and checks include the extra $600 a week from the federal CARES Act. Baker said there were over 650,000 new claims filed since March 15, and the state is paying around 400,000 people so far and is “working through the rest of the claims.”
$130 Million for Nursing Homes
On April 27, Baker announced a second round of funding of $130 million for the state’s nursing homes, as they continue to face challenges when it comes to battling COVID-19.
Baker said that as of April 27, 10,031 residents and staff at the state’s nursing homes, rest homes, and assisted living facilities had tested positive for the virus, and people in these facilioties represent 56 percent of the state’s total deaths.
“To date, the mobile testing unit has conducted testing at over 400 facilities,” he said. He said the National Guard “has done a tremendous job so far.”
He also said there are new requirements for nursing homes, including testing of all staff and residents and meeting PPE requirements, among other things. He said that facilities will be audited to make sure they are complying with the requirements.