The surge is coming

Feds come through with 1,000 ventilators

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said on Monday that the long expected surge in COVID-19 cases is expected to arrive in Massachusetts sometime between April 7 and April 17, and he used his daily press briefing to focus on his administration’s efforts to prepare by adding hospital beds, medical manpower, and equipment.

The governor said the Trump administration approved a request for 1,000 ventilators, which should arrive during the first week of April. He said a shipment of personal protective equipment from the national stockpile arrived over the weekend and was distributed Saturday and Sunday. Orders for an additional $50 million in equipment have been placed.

Baker, who expressed frustration with the federal government’s response last week on procuring protective equipment, said both of the recent moves will make a huge difference for Massachusetts. He hailed the Trump administration’s quick 48-hour turnaround on the ventilator request.

“It’s a big step forward in a positive direction,” Baker said.

To expand treatment capacity, Baker said the state is starting to transition some skilled nursing homes to COVID-19 treatment facilities for elderly patients requiring hospitalization. Existing patients at the Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester are being moved to alternative facilities to make room for the COVID-19 patients.  The specialized focus is expected to provide better care for the elderly COVID-19 patients and free up beds at hospitals for other patients.

Baker said 150 beds should be available by Thursday at Beaumont and 300 eventually. He said the goal overall is to have 1,000 such beds available around the state.

The governor said 1,800 volunteers have stepped forward to the state’s call for additional medical professionals and the state is trying to speed up the licensing of medical professionals who relocated here from out of state or who have allowed their license to lapse.

On protective equipment, Baker said hundreds of people have volunteered or offered to sell materials to the state and many companies are exploring what they can do. For example, New Balance, the shoe manufacturer, is working to reposition its assembly lines to manufacture face masks.

Baker said predicting when the surge will arrive is not an exact science, but he said the consensus among people inside his administration and out is that it will come sometime either  next week or the week after. Given that assessment, it seems likely Baker will extend his order allowing only essential businesses to remain open. Baker said he would announced his decision on Tuesday; the original order doesn’t expire until noon on April 7.

Baker said he was not overly troubled by people going to parks when the weather is nice, as long as they practice social distancing.  “I think people do need to go outside,” he said.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Asked whether Massachusetts residents are taking the COVID-19 crisis seriously, he cited the reduced level of traffic on the T and the state’s roads as evidence they are. “Yes, I do think people are taking this seriously,” he said.

Many hospitals have been pinched financially by the cutoff in elective procedures, and some have responded by reducing the wages of medical workers. Baker said the state can provide bridge funding and cash advances to institutions on a case-by-case basis. He said several $100 million in advances have already been dispensed.