Virus notes: Cuomo-Baker: Style and substance
State budget fears; Broad Institute to rescue
NEW YORK GOV. ANDREW CUOMO said the number of coronavirus cases in his state might not peak for another 45 days, while Gov. Charlie Baker says there are so many variables at play that it’s hard to make an estimate right now.
At a State House press conference on Tuesday, Baker indicated he has been studying trend data for COVID-19 for 30 countries around the world. (For a good data dive, click here.)
“What you see in those trend lines is a gigantic difference in how fast it took off and what the trajectory of the line was and long it stayed there,” Baker said. “Which means to me that it’s very hard to draw conclusions about what the ramp, the peak, and the drop looks like from the experience of one other country, one other state, or one other region. It all depends, to a large extent, on the job people do with respect to social distancing and all the issues we’ve been talking about associated with spread.”
Both governors – Baker a Republican and Cuomo a Democrat – are pursuing the same goal. As Cuomo put it, “flatten the curve, slow the spread so the health care system can handle it.”
Baker said Cuomo, in estimating 45 days to the peak, is making a number of assumptions about the success of social distancing in the Empire State.
“The bottom line is it’s going to come down here in Massachusetts to the work everybody does collectively to deal with social distancing and to the extent that they can possibly not be a part of the spread,” Baker said. “That’s going to be the mechanism that ultimately determines where the peak is and where it comes down.”
Foundation warns tax revenue will drop
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation on Tuesday warned that state tax collections are likely to drop significantly this fiscal year and next, with the possibility of a major falloff if the economy goes into recession.
The business-backed group is forecasting that revenues will drop between $300 million and $500 million below benchmarks this fiscal year. In fiscal 2021, which begins July 1, the foundation raised the prospect of a 3 to 5 percent decline in revenues, or a reduction of $2 billion to $3 billion.
“State agencies and local governments are incurring numerous unanticipated costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” the foundation said in a note. “Policymakers should revisit the spending plans to prioritize emergency response and curtail all other non-essential spending in both fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021.”
Broad Institute wants to jump into COVID-19 testing
Two private labs conducted an estimated 384 tests as of Tuesday, while the Department of Public Health lab has conducted a total of 1,367 since February. Those tests have yielded 218 confirmed cases of infection. There have been no deaths.
Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said she is trying to clear the way for the Broad Institute, working with PerkinElmer and Thermo Fisher Scientific, both of Waltham, to conduct 1,000 tests a day. (By comparison, the state lab can do a maximum of 400 tests a day.) Neither Broad nor PerkinElmer responded to inquiries.
Broad is a joint Harvard-MIT institute launched in 2004 that uses genomics to treat human disease. The institute’s website said the Broad has been working with Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other area hospitals to adapt its clinical testing facility to perform COVID-19 tests.
“We expect to have the capacity up and running by early next week,” the website says. “Broad expects to be able to process more than 1,000 tests a day and should be able to increase the capacity quickly with additional improvements.”
Testing is considered important because it allows an infected person to know they are infected and stop walking around infecting others. It also helps gauge the prevalence of the disease and allows officials to make prudent responses to the spread of infection. The United States as a whole has done a poor job with testing, running tests on 24 of every 1 million people, according to data as of Thursday. The rate of testing in the US is lower than 28 other countries, including such nations as Iceland, Russia, Denmark, Malaysia, and Croatia.
Baker said he would like to see a lot more testing, but he believes the state is on the right track to get where it needs to be. “I think the issue is going to be less of an issue,” he said.
State workers get new assignments
The Baker administration Tuesday night told non-emergency executive branch employees who can work from home to do so and those that don’t have that ability to await an alternative work assignment from their manager.
Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency last Tuesday, telling all executive branch employees to stop traveling for work and to stop attending conferences, seminars, and other gatherings.On Sunday, non-emergency executive branch employees were told not to report to work on Monday and Tuesday. “During this period, the administration will work to expand alternative work arrangements for the executive branch workforce and further develop plans to continue to provide essential state government services,” the Sunday advisory said.
The protocols announced Tuesday night are scheduled to remain in effect until April 3, 2020. “As a result of these new guidelines and the increased usage of telework, there will be closures of some public-facing government services and walk-in offices; these services will be made available online as appropriate,” the protocol announcement said.