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Gov. Charlie Baker holds a press conference on Wednesday at the mass vaccination site at Fenway Park.

Baker: No Apologies for Prioritizing Vulnerable Populations

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday once again defended his administration COVID-19 track record while saying that it has been open to responding to criticism throughout the pandemic.
 
In an appearance at Fenway Park to herald one of the commonwealth's mass vaccination sites, Baker was asked about those who continue to question the state's strategy to roll out vaccines by targeting specific populations on a phased basis.
 
Baker said he himself was not satisfied with all aspects of the state's response to COVID-19, but he was not going to apologize for the phased approach to vaccine distribution.
 
"The first thing I would say is I get how unhappy many people are with the rollout," Baker said. "I hear it. The lieutenant governor hears it, Secretary [Marylou] Sudders hears it. There are some reasons for that unhappiness that have to do with the decisions we made out of the gate, which I do not apologize for. The decision we made straight out of the gate to vaccinate hospital workers and other health-care workers, especially those who are frontline to COVID, the decision we made to organize and structure a very significant and complicated outreach program to congregate care providers who serve people with mental illnesses and disability issues and other special needs, the decision we made to choose to be focused early on on some populations, like homeless people, that would not necessarily be part of the rollout in many other places -- I think we did the right thing there.
 
"But I get the fact that meant other people needed to wait. I'm not satisfied with where we are. I know the lieutenant governor and Secretary Sudders aren't, either. But one of the things we've tried to do as an administration, and I think we've done well is to try to be open to criticism and to take criticism and to make adjustments and to get better."
 
Baker cited the questions he was asked in March about the commonwealth's COVID-19 testing capacity.
 
"Most people didn't believe we'd ever get to the numbers we talked about as we went through the process of expanding and rollout out our testing program," Baker said. "It's now the second biggest per capita testing program in the country."
 
On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported 61,265 new COVID-19 tests, bringing the commonwealth's total to more than 13.7 million total tests, Baker reported on Wednesday morning.
 
As for vaccines, about 60 percent of the vaccines the commonwealth has shipped to providers have found their way into residents' arms, about 654,000 vaccinations as of Tuesday, he said.
 
Baker said the commonwealth expects to have 120,000 new vaccination appointments this week, and an extra 15,000 appointments will open up next week at Walgreens and CVS pharmacies after Tuesday's announcement in Washington, D.C., that the Biden administration plans to start distributing some doses directly to the retail pharmacies.
 
He said new appointments are available each Thursday on mass.gov/covidvaccine, and he reiterated that the commonwealth is working to activate a call center for residents more comfortable accessing the system that way.
 
"We all know vaccines are a big part of the way out of this pandemic, and it's good to see that so many people want to get a vaccine," Baker said. "But since there's currently a limited supply, it's important that we manage our process and see if we can't serve people who are most at risk first. It may take somebody a few weeks to get an appointment, but they're not going anywhere, and they will continue to come to the commonwealth, we believe, in greater numbers over the course of the next several months."
 
Since he was in the state's most venerated sports venue and the biggest event in the sports world is just around the corner, Baker was asked whether he feared Super Bowl parties would turn into "super spreader" events for the novel coronavirus.
 
As he has throughout the last several months, Baker was forced, once again, to urge restraint among Bay Staters as they prepare for another event that traditionally is tied to social gatherings.
 
"I'm kind of the Grinch when it comes to any private event of any kind, and I get a lot interesting incoming on that," Baker said. "I'm the guy who stole Thanksgiving, the guy who stole Christmas, the guy who stole New Year's, the guy who stole every holiday you can think of.
 
"But I would say the same thing I've said before: Long periods of time, indoors, in close quarters with shared food with people who aren't of your immediate household is just risky behavior. I know no one wants to hear that, and I get the fact that people are tired of that sort of thing. … I can't tell you how important is for people to realize and recognize the virus is still very much with us."
 
The governor's words are being echoed locally as Dr. Alan Kulberg, chairman of the Pittsfield Board of Health, urged residents to forgo traditional gatherings. 
 
"This is an event that many look forward to celebrating, however, we have to remember the tremendous impact of the post-holiday spike. With any spike, there's the real danger of a surge that can last a month or more," he said in a statement on Wednesday.  "Thankfully, we're currently at a point where our public health data looks promising and we really want to stay on this path."
 
Pittsfield's positivity rate is currently at 2.86 percent, considered in the "yellow" zone, and the Berkshires overall is 3.6 percent as of last Thursday.

 


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Williamstown Trust OKs Emergency Mortgage Program; O'Connor Won't Seek Re-Election

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Wednesday decided to move ahead with an emergency mortgage assistance program for residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, approved a solution for a problem vexing a different town committee and learned that one of its members will be rotating off after May's town election.
 
The board member in question is Anne O'Connor, who made her colleagues on that panel the first to learn that she will not seek another three-year term on the Select Board this spring.
 
O'Connor, who occupies the trustee position designated for a member of the Select Board, noted that she brings a particular perspective to her work with the trust and all her town service: that of a resident who is a lifelong renter and who lives in Williamstown housing that was created to be affordable.
 
"Hopefully, I've also brought some reflections and useful comments as much as possible," O'Connor said.
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