Baker cites cluster ‘lapses in judgment’

Calls parties recipe for disaster; Wally enlisted

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday tried to use a carrot and stick approach to rein in what he called “lapses in judgment” that are causing clusters of COVID-19 cases to pop up in a handful of areas across the state and contributing to a seven-day positive infection rate that has risen from 1.7 percent to 2.1 percent in recent weeks.

At a State House press conference, Baker said the Department of Public Health is investigating a series of situations or events where infections have spread because participants failed to wear face coverings and socially distance. The situations include a large life guard party in Falmouth, large house parties in Chatham and Wrentham, an unauthorized football camp in South Weymouth that drew people from 17 communities, a high school graduation party in Chelmsford, and a 90-person prom party in Cohasset.

“The situations that I just recapped are a recipe for disaster and have to stop if we want to continue to reopen and get back to a new normal,” Baker said.

What’s got administration officials worried is a slow rise in the number of infections in recent weeks. “It’s a slow creep and what we’re saying is we want the slow creep to stop and go back down,” said Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services.

The Baker administration has stepped up testing recently or the positive test rate (positive tests divided by total number of tests) would be even higher. On Friday, the state COVID-19 dashboard indicated 19,151 tests were conducted, the highest level in two months. The average over the last month was 10,891 a day.

Baker earlier in the year secured $374 million in federal funding to ramp up COVID-19 testing. He said he wanted the capacity to do 45,000 tests a day by now and 75,000 a day by the end of the year. Baker said the state currently has the capacity to do 45,000 tests a day but doesn’t have the demand for that many tests. He said the state has spent about $40 million of the $374 million.

So far, Baker’s stick is largely theoretical. Baker is threatening more restrictions on daily activities, including smaller limits on the size of gatherings (currently 25 people indoors and 100 outside). He isn’t calling for more aggressive policing of COVID-19 protocols, but he did point out that people who fail to wear face coverings can be slapped by local boards of health with fines up to $300.

Baker’s carrot approach co COVID compliance consists of a series of public service announcements, including one from Wally the Green Monster, the mascot of the Boston Red Sox, reminding people to wear masks. Baker also sought to encourage Massachusetts residents to think of others. Early in the pandemic, he talked a lot about the potential for spreading the disease to vulnerable elderly populations; on Friday, he said a resurgence of cases could put medical personnel across the state back on the front lines again dealing with COVID-19.

“If this whole thing goes South, it’s going to land on them,” Baker said.

Baker has already stiffened the state’s policy on visitors. As of tomorrow, all travelers coming into Massachusetts from outside the northeast are required to quarantine for 14 days or show evidence of a negative test within the last three days. Although visitor complianec is based largely on the honor system, Baker said 8,000 people have already filled out forms notifying Massachusetts where they will be staying when they enter the state.

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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.

Baker appears to be reluctant to put the brakes on or reverse the state’s reopening plan, even though pressures are building there as well. The New England Patriots, for example, have proposed allowing fans to fill about 13,000 of Gillette Stadium’s 60,000 seats for home games this fall.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said no decision on the Patriots plan has been made, but confirmed it is under review. “It’s obviously unique and never been done before and under review by our reopening board,” she said.