By Lauren Bennett
On Monday and Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker provided updates to the public regarding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
After several states have issued what they call “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders, Governor Baker directed the Department of Public Health to issue a stay at home advisory that began Tuesday, March 24, at noon and will last until Tuesday, April 7, at noon. Residents are advised to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities during the advisory. He also said that those over the age of 70 or who have underlying health conditions should especially limit social interactions.
The order also limits gatherings to 10 people during the state of emergency, a change from the previous 25 that were allowed.
“This includes community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, and any similar event or activity that brings together more than 10 persons in any confined indoor or outdoor space,” according to a release from the state. Gatherings of 10 or more people in an outdoor space such as a park or athletic field are not prohibited by the order.
“The Baker-Polito Administration does not believe Massachusetts residents can be confined to their homes and does not support home confinement for public health reasons,” the release states, though some people have written to the governor asking him to put a stricter order in place.
Governor Baker also issued an emergency order “requiring all businesses and organizations that do not provide ‘COVID-19 Essential Services’ to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public as of Tuesday, March 24, at noon until Tuesday, April 7, at noon,” the release states. A list of designated businesses that are allowed to remain open can be found at mass.gov.
A short list of those businesses includes:
•Health Care & Public Health
•Law Enforcement, Public Safety & First Responders
•Food & Agriculture
•Water & Wastewater
•Communications and Information Technology
•Defense Industry Base
•Chemical Manufacturing & Hazardous Materials
•Other Designated Community Based Essential Function & Government Operations
Businesses that are not on the official list are encouraged to continue their work remotely, the governor said. Restaurants are permitted to continue offering food for takeout and delivery as long as social distancing protocols are followed.
“People will not lose access to food or medicine,” Baker assured residents. Additionally, he said a goal for the state is to be testing people for the virus “at a significantly higher level.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Baker announced that the state is continuing to ramp up testing capabilities, including adding 10 additional labs in combination with the State Lab and other private labs that have been processing COVID-19 tests. As of press time, nine people in the Commonwealth have died from the virus. There are three positive cases in Everett as of Tuesday that have been identified and are being tracked.
As of press time, Baker said that almost 9,000 tests have been completed in Massachusetts, up from 6,000 on Sunday.
Baker advised people who are showing flu-like symptoms to first contact their healthcare provider before going anywhere.
“We need to keep people who don’t need to be in our hospitals and medical facilities out,” he said. The state has expanded tele-health services to make it easier for people to call and video chat with healthcare providers, as well as made it easier for nurses who are licensed in other states to work in Massachusetts.
As of Tuesday morning, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has made 89 deliveries of personal protection supplies, including more than 750,000 masks, face shields, surgical masks, and pairs of gloves from the strategic national stockpile. He also said that the dental community has donated masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer as well, and similar outreach to other communities like the construction community have gone out too.
Baker said that the only things people should be going out for are groceries, medications, and for some fresh air, but physical distancing should be maintained.
The state has also announced its own text alert system. Baker said that while the state is not looking to inundate people with even more information, they felt it was important that people are getting information from trusted sources, and only one or two notifications would be sent out per day.
The service would provide latest news and updates, public health tips, information on social and physical distancing, personal hygiene, and more. To sign up for the service, text COVIDMA to 888-777.
“It’s a great way to stay in touch with the Commonwealth,” Baker said.
When asked about relief for rent and mortgage payments, Baker said that it is hard for the state to know what to do without clarity from the federal government. He said that it is not possible to foreclose or evict without going to court, and courts are currently closed. He said they are talking about what the state could do on this matter, but he said in Massachusetts, under existing state law, it takes 90 days to cure on mortgages and 60 days on rent, and this law will be enforced.
The Baker administration also announced new legislation that would cut down on some of the “bureaucratic processes for local governments,” Baker said. (see accompanying article)
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said that the package includes things like giving local governments more flexibility on collecting taxes from taxpayers, working with project proponents on local projects and permitting processes, and giving local businesses who are offering takeout and delivery services permission to include beer or wine in a sealed container with meals.
“We know that we will all do better when we work together,” Polito said.