Baker Urges Continued Caution Around Coronavirus

By SCOTT JACKSON

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday said the state is prepared for a rise in COVID-19 cases during the coming months and urged residents to remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus.

“There is no question that there will be more cases this fall. That prediction was made last spring by researchers and public health experts,” Baker said during an hour-long State House press conference.

“We needed to be prepared to identify those cases early, keep our health system strong and protect the most vulnerable among us from the uptick. We’ve done the work, we’re prepared to respond to this virus like never before, but our preparations are of little use without the people of Massachusetts counting to do their part.”

Residents, the governor said, need to keep taking steps to stop the spread, such as social distancing and wearing face masks when necessary.

“What we need from you is continued vigilance as we head into the ninth month of fighting this virus,” he said. “Face coverings, distance and hygiene are all part of the plan.”

Baker said residents have done a good job complying with health guidance in public settings, like going to work or running errands. Such precautions also need to be followed in informal settings, like private gatherings, he stated.

“We also need your vigilance in informal settings, especially as we all move from our backyards to our living rooms and our family rooms,” Baker said.

The governor said residents who have traveled out of state or been in groups of people without masks should get tested for the virus and wear a mask at home to stop household spread.

“Stay vigilant and respect the virus,” he stated.

Baker was asked several times during his press conference if the rise in cases seen in Massachusetts in recent weeks constitutes the start of a second surge of the coronavirus. The governor said it is not.

“I don’t consider where we are to be anywhere near that,” he said. “What we have seen is a rise in cases that a lot of people predicted was going to happen months ago and we have been preparing for that.”

The governor was also asked if he would consider shutting down indoor dining, as some health experts have suggested he do, given the recent increase in cases. Baker said there is no proof the recent uptick has been caused by indoor dining; rather the increase has been driven by individuals in their 20s and 30s spending time together.

“There is no evidence that that is what’s driving our cases,” Baker said of indoor dining. “I’m not going to stop doing things just because somebody doesn’t like them. Somebody actually has to demonstrate in our data that something is actually driving cases.

“Right now, the thing that is driving cases is young people…who are spending a lot of time with each other in close quarters – apartments, rooftops, places like that. They are not social distancing and they are passing the virus around.”

While those in their 20s and 30s are less at risk from serious impacts of COVID-19 than older residents, Baker said they can spread the disease to more vulnerable individuals.

“The vast majority,” of individuals in their 20s and 30s, Baker said, “don’t get as sick as someone over the age of 60 would, but many do, and they do have the potential…to pass it along to other people in their family or in their network who are older and for whom getting the virus could be a very terrible thing.”

During his press conference, the governor outlined a number of steps the state has taken to prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases.

The state, for example, now has the capacity for 65,000 coronavirus tests per day, which will soon rise to 100,000 tests per day. The state was conducting about 2,000 tests per day in late March and 13,000 per day in May.

The state is also stockpiling personal protective equipment, or PPE, Baker said. The state has enough PPE – including masks, gowns and gloves – to last through the end of 2021, Baker said.

In addition, he said the state has a stockpile of 1,200 ventilators available, nearly twice the 675 that were used in the spring. The number of patients in the ICU peaked at 1,085 in April, for comparison.

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