Baker takes stock of unprecedented pandemic

Bangs his fists on lectern as he says goodbye to 2020

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S feelings about the year 2020 echoed public sentiment when he slammed his fists on a lectern at the State House Wednesday afternoon.

“As we close out 2020, finally, we’re again urging everyone if they can to stay home,” Baker said, banging both fists.

Almost 10 months into the pandemic, coronavirus has infected at least 350,000 Massachusetts residents and taken the lives of almost 12,000 people. Baker also listed the ongoing economic impact to businesses and the strain on the health care system as he took stock of the unprecedented time.

“I know what tomorrow night is: it’s New Year’s Eve,” Baker said. “And I know that the start of the new year for all of us is a chance to breathe a deep sigh of relief. But I would just ask everybody to continue to stay put.” He said the coronavirus has been tough on everyone. “If you wanted to put together a virus that was as destructive physically, emotionally, and spiritually as it could possibly be, it would look like COVID-19,” he said, noting at one point that he hadn’t seen his own father for 100 days.

Asked about President-elect Biden’s criticism of the Trump administration’s vaccine rollout, Baker said he anticipated the process would be “bumpy” and that it “lived up to his expectations.”

Asked to respond to the ongoing criticisms from firefighters about the state having no plan to vaccinate local first responders, Baker said the administration plans to meet with first responders on Thursday and discuss what can be done.

“We have to figure out what the right approach to this is and what could be done by the locals and what ought to be done with the support of the Commonwealth,” Baker said. Union representatives for firefighters say 350 of them have tested positive for the virus over the course of the pandemic, and that other states have already administered a first dose to first responders.

So far, 75,000 vaccines have been distributed to health care workers and seniors statewide. Baker said the numbers are being logged into a vaccination database, but that the number could be slightly higher as there is a lag in input.

The state has received 146,000 first doses of the Moderna vaccine, 86,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and had 68,000 allocated to a vaccination program run CVS and Walgreens for residents and staff of long-term care facilities. More than 20,000 people will receive their first doses as part of that program by the end of the week and 219,000 by the end of January.

The first vaccines to residents of the state-run Holyoke and Chelsea soldiers’ homes — which suffered significant losses due to COVID-19—were administered on Tuesday and, as of Wednesday, all who wanted a vaccine had received one.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

In one particularly emotional moment, Baker admonished those who seek to “cut the line” to get the vaccine ahead of people with significant health issues.

“I think the lieutenant governor and I made pretty clear that, from the beginning, that we believe that while we work a lot, we are not, from our point of view, worthy of cutting the line,” he said.

“I don’t understand why a lot of the people who cut the line cut it. I just don’t,” Baker said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I think it’s inconsistent with the message that we have all tried to send on this, which is while we recognize and understand that everybody would like to be vaccinated today, there are some people who are at far greater risk from a health point of view than others and they really ought to be prioritized.”