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Gov. Charlie Bakers talks about 'flattening the curve' as the state prepares for a surge in COVID-19 cases.

One Million N95 Masks Headed for Massachusetts

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — One million N95 masks are on their way to Logan International Airport to supply Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 
The first shipment is expected to arrive Thursday night with the rest to follow shortly afterward, Gov. Charlie Baker said at Thursday's COVID-19 briefing.
The personal protective gear is arriving aboard the New England Patriots' jet thanks to team owner Robert Kraft.
"This was a collaboration between U.S. and Chinese governments and private sector and required a lot of support of many entities and agencies," he said. "We are grateful that the Patriots were able to land in China, load up, and return quickly to the US. I also want to thank the People's Republic of China for going to the lengths they went to to make this humanitarian aid trip possible."
The governor has frequently expressed frustration with the difficulty in procuring PPE for medical personnel and emergency responders as the novel coronavirus pandemic spread. After 3 million N95 masks ordered from BJs were confiscated at the Port of New York, he turned to private connections including the Kraft family and Gene Hartigan, a business consultant with strong connections in China.
"So we concluded that the best way to make this happen is that we could treat it as a humanitarian mission," the governor said. "That was when I called John [Kraft] and said, I think we have a way to access a procurement in China and get it back here. And we think pursuing this as a private humanitarian mission is a far better way to make this happen to trying to do it through sort of traditional commercial means." 
He expressed his "sincerest gratitude" to the individuals involved, including the Chinese consul general in New York City.
To bolster COVID-19 protection, the state will also be the site of a portable decontamination facility operated by Battelle that can disinfect up to 80,000 N95 masks a day and extend the life of those mask by five to 10 times. It is being hosted by Partners HealthCare at a vacant Somerville Kmart site. 
"It's scheduled to be operational in the Boston area by Monday April 6," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. "The Battelle system uses FDA approved, N95 decontamination technology. It is the fourth site operational, the United States, we moved very quickly to secure Massachusetts as the fourth location."
Officials are ramping up for an expected "surge" in cases beginning April 10 based on epidemiological models and real-time data from areas that have already experienced it.
The projections are for confirmed cases of COVID-19 ranging from 47,000 to 172,000, or 0.7 percent to 2.5 percent, of the total population. Baker said the fatality rate has been 1.5 percent of those infected, lower than other areas including Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first appeared. 
"In Massachusetts, we have lower population density, we enacted strict social distancing standards and rules sooner than they did there," he said. "We have a lower smoking rate." 
With those models in mind, efforts are being made to stage "step down" facilities, such as the one being prepared in Worcester on Wednesday and at the Massachusetts Municipal Center, and where support would be needed most. 
"Secretary Sudders and our administration have been actively engaging with our hospitals and the Massachusetts Hospital Association on this issue for several weeks, so that we are basically working off these with respect to what's required to meet the projected need," Baker said.
In addition, social distancing, washing hands and disinfecting shared areas have been critical in "flattening the curve" to reduce the peak as much as possible. 
"The public health issues, which are in fact public safety issues, associated with using the proven mechanisms that had actually slowed the spread and bent the curve in parts of the world had to be priority No. 1 and if you just looked at the data that came especially out of Italy, it was pretty clear that if we didn't do that we would be overwhelmed in a relatively short period of time," the governor said.
"We know that this has been extremely hard for everyone. All the measures we've put in place have been about flattening the curve."
Sudders said the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and Department of Public Health will be delivering 100 shipments of PPE and, by the end of the day, will have coordinated at least 700 deliveries. 
Once the Logan delivery is inventoried, it will dispersed according to priorities with the most likelihood of COVID-19 and from there hospitals, nursing homes, EMS, fire, police, schools and then other agencies. Sudders said the deliveries will be posted online for transparency.
A program operating under the auspices of the Massachusetts National Guard, in partnership with the Department of Public Health, and the Broad Institute, is ramping up quick turnaround testing at nursing homes. Samples are collected by trained personnel in the National Guard, with 14 facilities to date with onsite testing.
The state has a total of 700 long-term care facilities, including 380 nursing homes, 255 assisted living residences and 62 rest homes.
"We have repeatedly requested for ventilators from the federal government, and we've actually increased our ask today," said Sudders, adding the request was for 1,400. "So we have not yet received any ventilators and of course any ventilators that come in, will immediately go to hospitals we've tested before that they will be utilized."
Baker said that there will never be enough gear and that the state will continue pursuing all avenues as the crisis continues. He also acknowledged how fast and furious the pandemic has unfolded when asked when something had happened. 
"I'll start by saying I will get none of the details on dates correct," the governor said. "OK, because I feel like March 6 to today has been one day. All right, I don't know, I can't keep track of it anymore."

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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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