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The governor speaks at a press conference livestreamed by Western Mass News at a new drive-through testing facility set up for first-responders at Gillette Stadium.

Governor Raises Possibility of Testing, Field Hospital in Western Mass

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Conversations are under way on the possibility of setting up a testing facility in Western Massachusetts for public safety personnel and for an expansion of bed capacity.
 
Standing outside the new drive-through testing site at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker stressed the need for more testing and tracing capacity for the novel coronavirus.
 
"Testing capacity in the commonwealth is a major part of our multipronged approach, pushing back against the spread of the virus," he said. "Testing ... helps us determine, not only who's infected but where particularly around the commonwealth, we may have hot spots that we need to focus on."
 
The governor on Friday announced a collaboration with Partners in Health to expand contract tracing throughout the state to pinpoint hot spots, advise those who may have been infected and support people in isolation. 
 
More than 68,000 tests have been conducted, exceeding 5,000 a day. The drive-through at Gillette is expected to test 200 or more a day.
 
The drive-through testing is being offered free to police officers, firefighters and other personnel who perform critical public safety functions; those seeking testing have to contact their supervisors for more information. State guidelines have been disseminated to eligible departments. The site will provide testing seven days a week with results within 24 to 48 hours.
 
"We've been having conversations with our colleagues in Western Mass and our colleagues in the Merrimack Valley. And I think you can expect to see additional sites open up," Baker said. "I think you can expect to see additional sites open up."
 
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the testing site was critical for first-responders who are putting their health on the line in their jobs to know their status so they can take care of themselves but their families as well. 
 
"That test will allow them to understand what their status is, then they can take the next step to protect themselves and recover and also to protect their families at home," she said. 
 
"Another strategy that obviously we've talked about a lot over the last couple days is expanding our medical capacity to treat those who are infected," Baker said. "To that end, we've been working to increase hospital capacity, secure key medical supplies like ventilators from the federal government and increase the supply of personal protective support our frontline workers, they battle against the virus."
 
The governor said the state Saturday night received 100 ventilators from  the Strategic National Stockpile that will be dispersed according to the recommendations of the medical advisory board attached to the COVID-19 Command Center. 
 
Still, it's far below the 1,000 original request the state put in that was more recently updated to a 1,400.
 
"We believe that the process as it's been laid out to us is going to be an incremental one we don't believe this is the last shipment, we fully expect that will get additional ventilators over the course of two weeks," he said. 
 
It's not clear when that will happen: recent reports put the number ventilators in the stockpile at just over 9,000 with requests coming in from around the country. 
 
The state is still struggling to obtain enough personal protective equipment and last week was aided by the Kraft family in obtaining one million N95 masks by having the New England Patriots' team plane fly directly to China to transport them. 
 
Three times Massachusetts had been outbid by the federal government for gear and had supplies commandeered by the feds including 3 million masks in the Port of New York. The Krafts were able to get the "secured purchase" into the state without incident.
 
Several "step down" bed facilities are being established similar to the DCU Center in Worcester opened last week in combination with existing facilities setting  aside floors or areas for patients no longer requiring acute care. 
 
"There's also a conversation going on about potentially doing one in Western Massachusetts," Baker said. 
 
State officials are preparing for a surge in COVID-19 cases in the next week or so. The number of infections could range from 47,000 to 172,000 based on a wide range of factors, including if the stay at home advisories and social distancing have been able to "flatten the curve" of the surge.

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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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