Baker: State Stay-in-Place Guidelines Extended to May 4
"We've taken some of the earliest and most aggressive steps in the country to slow the spread of this virus," Baker said. "We must continue to be aggressive in our pursuits."
The extension of the non-essential business closure comes with an updated list of the businesses and organizations that are defined as "essential." That includes clarification around the supply chain operations that support essential services and the addition of optometrists and chiropractors as essential health care workers.
Baker said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito have had numerous conversations with "non-essential" business owners who have been forced to shutter under the order that went into effect last Tuesday. While he understands the economic pain the order brings, he said many of the business people who have contacted the state understand the reasons for the closures.
Baker Tuesday also used his platform to once again thank all Massachusetts residents who have made personal sacrifices to stop the spread of COVID-19 -- both those who are struggling under the stay-at-home guidelines and those who are leaving their homes each day to help provide the essential services the commonwealth needs.
"We're extremely grateful for the many grocery store workers and gas station attendants, farmers, wholesalers, local, state and federal employees and many others who have continued to go to work and provide these necessary and essential services to the rest of the residents of the commonwealth," Baker said.
"I want to say thank you to the nurses and doctors and frontline medical workers and first responders for all the work they do. I want to say thank you to our National Guard for getting out there every single day and providing support to our men and women in public safety and fire and EMS."
On other fronts in the COVID-19 battle Tuesday:
• Baker announced that the Department of Public Health is issuing an order with more specifics regarding the operation of hotels, motels and short-term rentals, like Airbnb.
"They're to be used for limited purposes only, which include direct efforts related to the fight against COVID-19," Baker said. "For example, as housing for frontline health care workers or for Massachusetts residents who have been otherwise displaced from their homes, or to house workers who are part of the essential business community."
Baker noted that the order will particularly impact Berkshire County and Cape Cod.
"People should really be using common sense on this one and should not be going on vacation right now," he said. "As we've said in our advisory and as many other public officials at the state, federal and local levels have said, people should be staying at home."
During the question and answer period, Baker said that enforcement of the order, particularly on short-term rentals, will fall to the local level.
"Local officials have the ability to shut these down if they find them," he said.
• The commonwealth on Wednesday will begin setting up a 250-bed facility at the DCU Center in Worcester to take patients who are "stable but need medical care," relieving the pressure on hospitals.
The commonwealth is looking at sites to set up two more of the "field medical stations," Baker said.
• Baker noted that one of the most common reasons for an initial claim for unemployment benefits being rejected in the commonwealth's online portal is a mismatch between the name of the employer and the name entered by an applicant on the state's website. He emphasized that applicants need to enter their most recent employer's business name exactly as it appears on their W2.
And the commonwealth has in the last two weeks scaled up its unemployment insurance call center from a 50-person staff at one site to a 500-person "remote call center" model to help those who have problems with the online portal, Baker said.
• The commonwealth is not following in Maine's footsteps and closing state parks, but that step has not been ruled out.
"We believe based on the conversations we have that most people are taking issues with respect to social distancing and staying at home … pretty seriously," Baker said. "But when we see things that trouble us, we will do something about it.
"A good example is the decision we made to close the bars and restaurants. That came after a lot of the behavior we saw the weekend before St. Patrick's Day. It was clear at that point that a lot of people weren't paying attention to the guidance that we put out at that point in time."
• While medical marijuana dispensaries are essential per the state guidelines, the idea of classifying recreational pot vendors as essential is a "non-starter" with the administration.
Given the fact that Massachusetts is alone in the region in allowing recreational pot sales, the state believes "that if we make recreational marijuana available as an essential business, we are going to have to deal with the fact that people will come here from all over the place, from across the Northeast."
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