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Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at the daily coronavirus briefing on Friday.

Governor: Mass. Residents Can Check for Risk Factors on Web Site

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Continuing and expanding on a campaign to promote telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday announced a new partnership between the commonwealth and Massachusetts-based web service Buoyhealth.com to help residents determine the kind of medical attention they may need.
 
The online tool developed by Buoy Health allows users to enter information about symptoms they may be feeling and directs them to resources that are available to them, like testing for the novel coronavirus, if it is recommended.
 
The service, which is free to Massachusetts residents, starts by asking a series of questions for a risk assessment.
 
"When a user screens positive for COVID-19 symptoms or risk factors, they'll be directed to the most appropriate resources for their answers," Baker said. "Those resources include a portal linked up with their health insurance provider to talk over the phone or through video chat with a health care provider, right away.
 
"This is not to be used in the place of emergency medical care. Instead, it's a tool everyone can use to get more information about their health and get connected quickly to the people they need to talk to to get the best guidance and advice about what to do next."
 
Baker has been holding daily press briefings in Boston since the pandemic began hitting home in Massachusetts last week.
 
Friday's news conference included an announcement that the governor and legislative leaders reached an agreement to push the state's income tax filing deadline to July 15 and a call for anyone entering the commonwealth from other states to self-quarantine for 14 days once they arrive in Massachusetts.
 
And as he has done repeatedly the last couple of weeks, Baker reiterated that the commonwealth has made telehealth a defined benefit under health insurance plans in Massachusetts.
 
He also gave Buoy Health co-founder Andrew Le, a graduate of Harvard's Medical School, a chance to talk about the online tool he helped create.
 
"As a local business here in Boston, our team is eager to help residents in our home state," Le said. "We were founded to help people figure out what to do when they're sick and injured. That mission has never been more relevant than it is today.
 
"We started the company in 2013. We read thousands of clinical papers to teach the program. That took us four years. We launched to the public in 2017 and have 7.5 million users on Buoy and see a new person every 13 seconds. Every single time someone uses the program, we learn a little more about how each individual is different."
 
Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders talked about some of the other initiatives the administration is taking to address the public health crisis.
 
The most visible move for many will be a campaign to present every person arriving at Logan Airport, Worcester Regional Airport or Boston's South Station with a pamphlet instructing them to exercise a self-quarantine. The pamphlets also will be available at rest areas on the Mass Pike and other vehicular points of entry, Baker said.
 
"I am asking all visitors arriving in Massachusetts to comply with this," Baker said. "Furthermore, I am asking that folks considering travel to Massachusetts for whatever reason do not travel to our communities, especially if you have symptoms."
 
Baker prefaced his announcement of the self-quarantine advisory by referencing a recent White House advisory that anyone leaving New York or who has traveled through New York City should isolate themselves for 14 days.
 
 Sudders and Baker announced new emergency orders that will expand the prescribing privileges of advanced practice registered nurses and issue 90-day emergency licenses to recent medical school graduates.
 
 Baker said the administration is cutting red tape to make it easier for medical professionals to work at different hospitals and cross state lines to work in Massachusetts and has eased the path for retired doctors who want to temporarily return to practice.
 
On the economic side of the crisis, Baker said the agreement between the legislature and executive branches will bring Massachusetts in line with a previously announced federal move to a July 15 deadline for filing and paying personal income taxes.
 
"The change will provide taxpayers with significant relief at a very uncertain time" Baker said. "We look forward to working with the legislature to get this enacted."
 
Toward the end of Friday's news conference, Baker was asked if he thought President Trump's stated goal of "reopening the country by Easter" was realistic in Massachusetts.
 
"I think the guidance we're getting from the advisory committee set up by the [COVID-19 Response] Command Center and Secretary Sudders and health care providers … is that, no, we're not going to be up and running by Easter [April 12], no," Baker said.

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Trail Conservancy Cautions Pandemic Care When Hiking

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Although most of the Appalachian Trail is still open, hikers are asked to practice common sense during the pandemic while on the trail or to just stay home.
 
COVID-19 has challenged people to find new ways to stay active while practicing social distancing and local trail volunteer Cosmo Catalano, Jr said although folks are encouraged to stay home, common sense needs to be used to maintain social distancing. 
 
"The AT, along with other trails on public lands provides an important resource for people to get outdoors in a healthy way," he said. "With care and common sense, it's relatively easy for people to maintain appropriate social distance and enjoy the outdoors."
 
Catalano said the trail organization structure is complicated and is organized by a number of entities. In Massachusetts about half the trail is on state forest lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The other half is on lands managed by the National Park Service.
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