Baker Provides Updates on State’s Response to COVID-19

Governor Baker held a press conference on Tuesday where he provided some updates on the state’s response to COVID-19.

He said that as of Monday, more than 540,000 tests have been performed in Massachusetts, and the state “remains a top 5 player” per capita in the country for testing. He said that they are looking to bring more mobile and site based vendors to the state to increase testing even further. As of May 26, Massachusetts had seen 93,693 total cases of COVID-19, and 6,473 people had died.

With Phase One of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan now underway, Baker said that residents across the state “have a responsibility” to continue doing things like socially distance, wear face masks, wash hands often, and disinfect surfaces.

“The progress that we’ve made is only made possible by everyone’s willingness to do their part,” he said. Right now, Baker said that the public health numbers are trending in the right direction, but  he has said at previous press conferences that if numbers begin to rise again, the state could go back a phase and re-implement restrictions that have been lifted.

Baker said on Tuesday that after having “daily conversations with the healthcare community,” many of the field hospitals that have been erected across the state have “begun to close.”

One such hospital is the 1,000 bed Boston Hope medical center, which was set up in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston. Over the past several weeks, more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been treated on the hospital side, and has served many people on the homeless side as well.

Baker announced that as of Tuesday, in conjunction with Mayor Marty Walsh and the City of Boston, Boston Hope is suspending acceptance of new patients. The facility will continue to care for the patients who are there right now until they are discharged, and the beds will remain throughout the summer “should we need it,” Baker said.

Baker also talked about food security in the Commonwealth. Last week, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a $56 million program to “combat urgent food insecurity for some Massachusetts families and individuals as a result of COVID-19,” according to the state. Many people across the state have found themselves struggling for the first time with food insecurity, while others have been dealing with it for a very long time and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the situation.

The Food Security Task Force was created “n response to increased demands for food assistance,” the state said, and this funding was “consistent with the findings” of the task force. The task force is made up of “a broad group of public and private members charged with ensuring food insecurity and food supply needs are addressed during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” according to the state.

This “funding will jumpstart some of the Task Force’s new recommendations to address urgent needs and food supply chain issues,” Baker said on Tuesday. “Increasing food security is essential to protecting the health of the people of Massachusetts.”

The program includes $36 million for a food security infrastructure grant program, as well as $5 million to increase the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which includes access to local produce and will increase places that accept SNAP and HIP benefits.

MBTA Updates

Governor Baker on Tuesday held a press conference from Maverick Station in East Boston, where work on the Blue Line is being done in an accelerated fashion.

From May 18 to May 31, shuttle buses will replace Blue Line service from Airport to Bowdoin where 2200 feet of track is being replaced, removing a speed restriction between Maverick and Aquarium stations. Flood resilience will also be improved in the tunnel between the two stations.

“By diverting this part of the Blue Line for two weeks,” Baker said, the work will be completed more than two months early.

Baker, along with State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, provided updates and information on the MBTA as the state moves forward with its reopening process.

“The T has continued to run every single day throughout COVID-19,” Baker said. “Providing public transportation is an essential service.” He thanked all of the MBTA workers for their continued dedication to getting other essential workers where they needed to go throughout the pandemic.

Pollack said that during Fiscal Year 2019,  for the first time ever, the MBTA invested more than $1 billion in capital projects—“the most in a single year,” she said.

“The MBTA expects to exceed $14 billion this fiscal year despite COVID,” she said. She said that closing parts of the system to accelerate work is something that had already been planned by the MBTA and will continue this summer as planned on the Green Line.

“Life as we know it has changed in many ways,” Pollack said. “We’re expecting to see changes in how people travel and how people work.”

She said that “we hope and expect that telecommuting will continue,” and having many employees continue to work from home “can help the MBTA from becoming undesirably crowded.”

If employers also implement staggered start times for their employees, it will also help put less pressure on the highway system as well as the growing demand on the MBTA.

MBTA passengers are required to cover their faces when riding, and are encouraged to practice social distancing.  

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said that right now, ridership on the MBTA is a “fraction what what we see” during a typical May day, “but increasingly, riders will come back,” he said.

He said that the MBTA is “dedicated to providing essential service that tracks” with the different phases of the Governor’s reopening plan. The “Ride Safer” campaign will also continue to be promoted throughout, which includes reminding people that face coverings are required, the importance of social distancing, and information about the increased cleaning that is happening system wide on vehicles and in stations.

Right now in Phase One, the MBTA is running on reduced service, and as other phases come, service will be increased, Poftak said.

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