Baker sees a plateau in hospitalizations

No rules yet for reopening Mass. businesses

THERE IS JUST ONE WEEK  left until Gov. Charlie Baker’s order shuttering all non-essential businesses  expires, and the governor still isn’t saying what will happen next.

At his daily press briefing Monday, Baker said he will make an announcement “later this week.”

Baker has said he needs to have enough data about the trend of the coronavirus to ensure that the surge is over before talking about reopening the economy. He said Monday that the state is seeing a “plateau” in hospitalizations, but he needs more clarity before making any decisions. “The trend data remains reasonably high, but obviously whatever decision we make needs to come with thought and a plan,” he said.

On Monday, the state announced 1,524 new COVID-19 cases and 104 new deaths. That is the lowest number of new cases reported daily since the middle of last week and the second lowest number of deaths since April 9.

Hospitalizations, a metric Baker has said is key, rose by 38 to 3,892 on Monday, about the same level they were at four days ago. The percent of COVID-19 patients hospitalized held steady at 7 percent and hospitals still have 55 percent of their beds unoccupied.

Several other states have taken steps toward reopening their economies, including Georgia, South Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, and Montana.

Baker, a Republican, said the decision on when and how to reopen must be state-specific, based on how prevalent the virus is and the timing of that state’s surge in caseloads. “Timing varies a lot depending on what’s going on in your state,” he said. “You can’t make big broad generalizations about when it makes sense for states to move here.”

Baker noted that of 55,000 people who have died of COVID-19 nationwide, more than half are from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Michigan.  “For the governors who are located in states that have either very low numbers of positive tests or very low hospitalization rates or very low numbers of deaths relative to what we in the northeast have seen, I’m not surprised they’re starting to think pretty hard about reopening,” Baker said.

Massachusetts officials are cworking with representatives from other northeast states to coordinate re-openings.

No one believes the government will simply allow all businesses to reopen May 5. Baker has suggested in the past that he will scrap the designation of “essential” or “non-essential” in favor of creating rules by which businesses will have to abide in order to reopen. He said Monday that his administration has been talking with health care and business leaders about these issues, with business owners in particular looking to how re-openings have occurred in other countries.

Chris Geehern, a spokesman for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a business trade group, said businesses are generally aware of the difficulties created by the virus and have been working to develop strategies to reopen. Geehern said company officials are discussing things like whether people will have to be tested for antibodies before returning to work, whether employees will have to wear masks and whether workers will have to have their temperature taken before entering an office or factory.

“I think there’s no question anyone who runs a business would like to get back to running that business as soon as possible, but I think they also understand what’s going on around them,” Geehern said.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers of Association of Massachusetts, said his members want to reopen as soon as possible – potentially in some limited fashion, like offering curbside pickup or home delivery. The group surveyed its members a week ago and of around 200 respondents, 68 percent supported reopening May 4 and another 24 percent supported reopening between May 18-22.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Hurst said there is widespread support among retailers for a “step by step reopening” which could include things like capacity limits and social distancing requirements, but would allow stores to conduct business in some fashion.

“I don’t expect any time in the next seven days or probably in the next couple of weeks that you’re going to see a whole bunch of stores on Main Street or in malls opening their doors for a bunch of customers to come in, but we believe government should at least be consistent and non-discriminatory and allow these small businesses a shot at a future,” Hurst said. “Allow them to safely sell goods out of a locked store with one or two employees.”