Baker talks more about restarting economy
Notes fed guidance on 14-day downturn in cases, hospitalizations
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday indicated he would probably abide by new guidance from the federal government suggesting no state should relax its social distancing measures until it goes through a 14-day period in which the number of coronavirus cases and hospital admissions is steadily declining.
Baker said it feels to him like Massachusetts is still on the upswing in terms of cases (2,263 new ones Friday) and hospitalizations, which means he is unlikely to start lifting restrictions on business activity until the beginning of May at the very earliest and more likely mid-or-late May. Fourteen days from Monday, for example, would be May 4, which is the date Baker tentatively set for schools possibly reopening.
The governor said he would like to see schools reopen sometime this year so schools could do some competency testing to see where students are at and also to plan for next year. He said he would make a decision about the May 4 start date soon.
The exact timing is all speculation because the pattern of the disease is hard to predict. The governor has predicted the surge would run between April 10 and Monday. “We think we are in the surge. How long it lasts is hard to predict,” Baker said.
In recent days, Baker has pushed back against questions about what will happen after the surge, but on Friday he acknowledged he is starting to talk with the business community about ways to restart the economy. He said more testing would be a key part of that effort, as well as a program to track people who test positive and the people they are in contact with.
Baker said the federal government needs to address testing bottlenecks by approving more ways to conduct additional accurate tests for the disease itself and the antibodies that people develop if they have had the disease and now have some level of immunity to it.
Baker appeared fairly confident that all the planning and preparation the state has done to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 cases is paying off. He said the state has 18,000 hospital beds ready, and 57 percent of them are currently unoccupied. He rattled off new programs to deliver masks to first responders, to help the homeless, and to boost the income of foster parents by $100 a month.
“For now, we all feel in pretty good shape,” Baker said.
Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said demand for federal food assistance has increased dramatically (a 400 percent increase in applications for SNAP benefits, otherwise known as food stamps), but she seemed confident food was getting to the people who need it. She said a number of steps have been taken to increase monthly SNAP benefits and make them easier to get.She said she also apply soon for a federal waiver that would allow people receiving food assistance to order food with their EBT card and have it dropped off curbside.
Neither Baker nor Sudders talked about nursing homes in their opening remarks and barely mentioned them in the question and answer session with reporters, even though it appears long-term care facilities are the biggest COVID-19 problem facing the state.