BOSTON (State House News Service) — The data show that the measures Massachusetts has taken to combat the spread of the coronavirus -- closing schools, shutting down large chunks of the economy and asking people to limit trips outside -- could be working, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday, but those measures must continue to be adhered to as the state prepares for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients who need to be hospitalized.
Since he declared a state of emergency towards the beginning of March, Baker said, data from Google show a 60 percent drop "in both park activity and in retail and recreation. That's a big drop." His administration has also noticed "a very dramatic drop across almost every measure you can think of with respect to mobility and gatherings," he said.
But the governor cautioned against reading too much into any one set of data, including the state's single-day updates on the number of cases and deaths.
"I know people want to look for trends in this, especially positive trends given the anxiety that's created by the presence of the virus in the first place. But I think the best way to look at this is over time," he said at Eastern Bank's headquarters where he announced a new statewide relief fund. "I do believe if you follow the trend line for Massachusetts, you can see it starting to bend a little in terms of the cases. But I think we should all be very careful about drawing too many conclusions from small points of data."
The number of new COVID-19 cases and newly-reported deaths appeared to decelerate just slightly over the weekend, but the Department of Public Health reported an increase of 1,337 cases and 29 new deaths while Baker held his press conference Monday afternoon. The total number of confirmed cases in the state now stands at 13,837 and 260 residents have died of the disease.
Baker has said the state's modeling indicates the total number of cases in Massachusetts will range somewhere between 47,000 and 172,000 over the course of "weeks and months" -- a range that could be expected to lead to between 705 and 2,580 COVID-19 deaths, based on the current 1.5 percent fatality rate. And the surge of patients requiring hospitalization that the state and its health care system has been bracing for is expected to begin as soon as this Friday.
With that in mind, it is as important as ever for people to abide by social distancing orders and local guidelines like Boston's new curfew and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh's suggestion that all residents wear masks in public. Baker said Monday he "fully support[s]" Walsh's initiatives but demurred when asked about issuing a more strict statewide stay-at-home order as the surge approaches.
"We've been pretty aggressive about our messaging associated with essential and non-essential work activity. We've been pretty aggressive with our messaging and our advisories around staying at home," he said.
Survey data and conversations with local leaders tells him that "people get the fact they're supposed to stay at home, people get the fact they need to socially distance and people get the fact that this is a very dangerous and insidious virus and that they need to play by the rules," he said. "That has been clear in all the data I've seen."
At another point Monday, Baker said he "can't express how important it is that people take this stuff seriously and take it to heart" and that "there is tremendous purpose" in adhering to social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines "because with a virus like this one, that is as contagious as this one and in many cases as invisible as this one, the most important and purposeful thing we can all do is abide by those rules and engage them in a serious way."
The governor said Monday that the ventilators Massachusetts has so far received from the federal stockpile are all in working condition but "the big issue is we're going to need to get more of them." The state had requested at least 1,400 ventilators but so far has only received 100, a shipment that state's Congressional delegation on Monday called "grossly insufficient."
"We have a commitment for them to work with us to see if we can build on that number over the course of the next few days and few weeks," Baker said of the federal government. "For me, this whole thing falls into the category of you need to play the hand, okay? You just have to play the hand."
The governor was joined Monday afternoon by First Lady Lauren Baker to announce the creation of the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund which is being launched with $13 million in funding available to local foundations and community organizations.
With an initial seed of $1.8 million from the One8 Foundation, additional donations from philanthropists, pro bono administration by Eastern Bank and help from the Boston Foundation and the Foundation for Business Equity, the relief fund aims to quickly distribute money to people and places most in need.
"The goal here is simple, which is to create a statewide fund that can support many of the local foundations and community assets that have been serving communities and people here in Massachusetts for years and years and years to help those who are going to have the hardest time working through and dealing with all of the economic consequences and public health consequences that's associated with this particular virus," the governor said.
The priority, according to the fund's FAQ page, is "high quality Massachusetts nonprofits that serve those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with an emphasis on essential worker resources (including healthcare workers), individuals with disabilities, immigrants, food insecurity, and homelessness."
"We founded the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund to help people in every corner of this commonwealth access the resources that they need. This fund is going to support essential frontline workers and other vulnerable communities who face issues like food and housing insecurity and the loss of critical services," Lauren Baker said. "The COVID-19 crisis is probably the biggest challenge any of us have faced. But I know that the people of Massachusetts are going to work together and support each other and do their part to help their neighbors survive and succeed. And I know that if we all work together, we're going to make it through this just fine."
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service