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Gov. Charlie Baker gives his first daily update on the novel coronavirus pandemic after taking two days off.

Baker: No One Looking to 'Jump Off the Deep End' on Reopening State

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker indicated Tuesday that he is not feeling any particular pressure to rush to open non-essential businesses in the commonwealth.
 
But if that pressure does come, he indicated that he will push back strongly on the idea.
 
"I'll be damned if the way this works is we flatten the curve, we do all this stuff we were supposed to do and then we create some run-up again in the fall because we don't handle the re-entry, the reopening in a way that actually works and makes sense and keeps people safe," Baker said at his daily press briefing.
 
"So, yeah, this is difficult. It's also purposeful, and in many cases it has worked, and we should all remember that. The last thing we should do is give this insidious and somewhat invisible virus the opportunity to breathe on a go-forward basis."
 
On a day when Baker announced that he was extending the closure of the commonwealth's schools through the end of the school year, he also said conversations are ongoing about what the reopening of Massachusetts will look like.
 
The current state of emergency and closure of non-essential businesses remains in place through at least May 4.
 
He said Tuesday that he understands the sacrifice that individual Bay Staters are making by staying in their home and only going out to do essential chores or visit essential businesses, like grocery stores or pharmacies. But those sacrifices pale in comparison to the health-care workers, first-responders and food chain employees who are doing the essential work.
 
And he said the people he is talking to understand that.
 
"I take some hope from the fact that when our business leaders talk to the lieutenant governor or me or [Secretary of Housing and Economic Development] Mike Kennealy or to [Secretary of Health and Human Services] Marylou Sudders and the folks in the Command Center about what they think a reopening would look like, they talk about in an incredibly informed and careful and planful way," Baker said. "People around here aren't looking to jump off the deep end of the pier. They're looking to find a way to do something safely.
 
"I don't see amongst the vast majority of folks I talk to … a tremendous appetite to get this wrong on a go-forward basis. I see just the opposite, which is a lot of people trying to gather as much data and information as they possibly can and try to come up with a way to move forward that makes sense."
 
Baker counted himself among the Massachusetts residents who want to see a return to "normal."
 
He said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito have talked about how much they miss the normal day-to-day of government, which usually includes literally pressing the flesh around the commonwealth. And he once again invoked his 91-year-old father, saying he longs to see him again, but not "unless the circumstances and the situations and the rules of engagement are right."
 
And he referenced an email he received from a resident on Monday's Patriots Day. The woman who wrote him is the wife of a stage 4 cancer patient and mother of an adult child working in the public sector doing an essential job.
 
"She wrote to tell me about the support she's gotten from her neighbors," Baker said. "Small acts of kindness, like dropping off protective gear for her husband, so he can wear that when he goes out to get his cancer treatments. Strangers have given her child their masks, just in case the child didn't have access to those at work.
 
"I know we all miss sports, gatherings, meetings, friends, all the stuff that has always been a presumed part of our daily lives. But we all need to remember why we're doing all this. We're doing it so that women like that woman who emailed me on Patriots Day can still get their husband into the hospital for cancer treatments and do so safely. We're doing it so public servants, like that woman's child, can do their job, serving the community as best they can under the current circumstances as safely as possible."
 
On that note, Baker reminded residents that they can still avail themselves of the commonwealth's health-care system for non-coronavirus issues during the COVID-19 crisis.
 
He said many doctors have reported a reduction in patients seeking care for things like heart problems and kidney dialysis.
 
"It's important to remind the public that our hospitals have made accommodations for COVID-19 to ensure that they can also care for other health-care problems," Baker said. "People should still call their doctor to talk about their own health and their own healthcare and go to the hospital if they have an emergency."
 
The commonwealth's partnership with Boston-based Buoy Health and its artificial intelligence-driven tool has served more than 90,000 people with online diagnostics. There have been a number of people who have gone through buoyhealth.com and ended up with a recommendation to call 911, Baker said.
 
"Please use the system," he said.
 
In other news of the commonwealth's battle against COVID-19 on Tuesday:
 
Baker reported that the commonwealth has about 18,100 hospital beds available. About 3,800 beds are occupied by patients with COVID-19. About 58 percent of the state's hospital beds overall remain unoccupied, including about 6,800 acute care and non-ICU beds, about 2,600 ICU beds and 900 beds in field medical hospitals.
 
"Although we do anticipate that hospitalization rates may increase in the coming days," Baker said.
 
• On Monday, the commonwealth conducted 7,157 new tests, bringing the total number of tests to about 169,000. The state reported 1,566 new cases on Monday.
 
"The last few days, we have seen fewer positive cases, day-to-day, but it's too soon to draw a conclusion from that data," Baker said. "A few days does not represent a trend, as we've said many times. And we have seen the data bounce around over the course of more than a few days."
 
Sudders reported that the commonwealth continues to operate its mobile testing program with the National Guard at nursing homes but has temporarily stopped sending COVID-19 test kits directly to nursing homes for use by their personnel.
 
She said the state has sent out 14,000 test kits to nursing homes and received only 4,000 back and wants to know what the breakdown is before resuming distribution.
 
The mobile testing program itself has visited 311 long-term care facilities to conduct more than 8,800 tests, she said.
 
• Baker said the commonwealth's unemployment program for self-employed and "gig economy" workers, which rolled out Monday, was able to process an influx of 50,000 applicants on the first day.
 
The new program for workers who don't have traditional employer-employee relationships was authorized by Congress under the CARES act last month, and Baker said Massachusetts is one of the first states in the nation to implement the new benefit.
 
• Baker parted ways with President Trump on Trump's Monday pronouncement that he would "temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!"
 
"I'm opposed to the decision that the president made," Baker said. "I'm opposed to the order. It doesn't make any sense, and I don't think it makes us any safer."

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County's Colleges Train Workers for Post-Pandemic Economy

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The county's institutions of higher education are ready to do their part to help their students navigate their way through a post-COVID-19 economy.
 
On Friday, the presidents of Berkshire Community College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Williams College and the provost of Bard College at Simon's Rock participated in a virtual town hall hosted by 1Berkshire.
 
Johnathan Butler led the hourlong conversation, which focused largely on how colleges are adapting to the current closure of their physical campuses and making plans for the fall 2020 semester.
 
But at one point Butler asked how the schools are situated to help address workforce development needs at a time when Berkshire County has nearly 30 percent unemployment.
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