By SCOTT JACKSON
Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday said non-essential businesses in Massachusetts would remain closed for another two weeks until May 18 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and announced the formation of a task force to determine how businesses can re-open in a phased manner going forward.
Baker also said the state’s stay-at-home advisory to residents and a ban on gatherings of more than ten people would remain in place until that date. All three orders had been set to expire May 4.
During a State House press conference Tuesday afternoon, Baker said the number of residents hospitalized for COVID-19 has leveled off in recent days, but there has yet to be a downward trend in hospitalizations.
“We have plateaued, but we have stayed at a high level of hospitalizations,” the governor responded when asked why he extended his orders another two weeks.
Baker said he understood residents might want the restrictions lifted sooner but said doing so could cause infections to surge.
“We’re all incredibly eager to move on to the next phase, but if we move on too soon, we risk a spike in infections,” he said, which would require additional closures.
“We are moving in the right direction with the virus, but we are clearly not where we need to be.”
Baker announced the formation of a 19-member task force, led by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kenneally, to determine how to re-open the economy going forward. The task force includes the mayors of Lawrence and Easthampton, the chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the state’s commissioner of public health and transportation secretary, health care experts and representatives from various industries.
Polito said the task force planned to meet later Tuesday and would continue to meet daily going forward.
“This is a process that needs to be smart, needs to put safety first, and needs to be phased,” she said. “This is a process that must and will be guided by the public health metrics we watch every day.”
Baker said he would also work with his counterparts in New England and other Northeastern states.
“We need to talk to each other and stay in touch,” Baker said, to ensure one state’s action does not put other states at risk.
The state Department of Public Health on Monday reported 1,524 new cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, bringing the total number of cases to 56,462. The statewide death toll increased to 3,003 on Monday, with 104 new deaths reported. The DPH also said 8,787 new tests were reported on Monday, raising the total to 244,887 tests since the outbreak began.
The DPH said 3,892 patients were hospitalized in Massachusetts for COVID-19 as of Monday. That is an increase of 38 patients from Sunday, but still fewer than the 3,977 patients who were hospitalized on April 21.
There were 1,089 patients in intensive care units as of Monday, up 12 from Sunday.
COVID-19 cases have been reported at 308 long-term care facilities across the state, according to the DPH. As of Monday, 10,635 of the state’s cases were residents or workers at those facilities and 1,698 of the deaths in the state have been reported in long-term care facilities.
Mayor Thomas Koch on Monday said there were 739 COVID-19 cases in Quincy, up from 647 on April 24. The mayor, in a video update to residents, said the increase in cases was “mainly because results have come in from some of the nursing homes that were tested about a week ago,” and noted COVID-19 has been confirmed in less than 1 percent of the city’s residents.
“We are one of the largest cities in the commonwealth, so we do expect our numbers to be proportionally so, but certainly far less than 1 percent of our population at this point has been confirmed cases and many of them are in nursing homes,” Koch said.
Fifty-nine Quincy residents had died from COVID-19 as of Monday, according to the city’s statistics, and 252 of the residents who were infected have since recovered. Those numbers are both unchanged from April 24.
In his remarks Monday, Koch said he was grateful for the leadership of Baker and Polito during the pandemic.
“Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito have been phenomenal working with us at the local level and leading the state through one of the most unprecedented times we have seen in our lifetime,” Koch said. “They have been terrific leaders in providing resources to the local level including us in Quincy and other municipalities in so many ways. I am grateful for their leadership.”
In addition, Koch said he has been talking with U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch on a regular basis since the pandemic began to discuss how the federal government’s actions impact Quincy.
“He has been keeping me posted throughout this process,” Koch said of Lynch.
“I am very grateful for him and all my colleagues locally, the City Council, School Committee, and the state legislators that are working on your behalf in Beacon Hill. Everybody is rowing in the same direction, unsure of when this will truly end, but hopefully soon. We are all working together to make sure we are doing the right thing on your behalf which is keeping you safe and healthy.”
Baker last week announced schools would remain closed through the end of the academic year in June, with students learning remotely from home. The Quincy School Committee on Wednesday was set to discuss how graduations for the city’s two high schools would be handled this year.