BOSTON (WPRI) — State, business and public health leaders in Massachusetts have started developing plans to reopen the state’s economy, but Gov. Charlie Baker reiterated Wednesday that they won’t be able to move forward with those plans until they’re sure it’s safe to do so.
In his daily COVID-19 briefing, Baker said that while a lot of progress has been made in the last few weeks, the state is “still at the plateau with respect to the surge.”
“Moving too quickly runs the real risk of creating another outbreak which will put people out of work, overwhelm our health care system, and put us right back in the public health crisis that we have all worked so hard to get out of,” Baker said.
“When we take a step forward, we don’t want to take two steps back,” he added.
Later on Wednesday, the Mass. Department of Public Health reported an additional 252 COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the total to 3,405, along with 1,963 new cases for a total of 60,265.
The percentage of COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized continued to decline, having gone from 9% on April 22 down to 6% on Wednesday, according to the DPH.
Noting that Massachusetts has not yet seen the necessary downward trend in positive test results and hospitalization rates, Baker on Tuesday announced the stay-at-home order and closure of non-essential businesses will be extended until May 18.
The state’s newly formed Reopening Advisory Board, co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, held its first virtual meeting on Tuesday, according to Baker. He said over the next several weeks, the 17-member board will plan for a “safe and responsible return to a new normal.”
“The goal here is to develop guidelines for businesses to start a phased approach to opening safely,” Baker said Wednesday. “The decision on when we’ll be able to start implementing this plan will be dictated, however, by the public health data and the hospitalization data.”
In his briefing last Thursday, Baker and a trio of health care officials urged residents not to delay medical treatment out of fear of being exposed to the virus, citing sharp decline in the number of people seeking care for serious conditions like heart attacks and strokes. On Wednesday, Baker was pleased to announce that since then, hospitals have reportedly seen an increase in patient visits not connected to COVID-19.
“It’s very important that people recognize and understand the health care system is there for them and will be there for them as we work our way through this,” he added.
As for the many residents currently out of work due to the pandemic, Baker said the Department of Unemployment Assistance has been working tirelessly to distribute benefits while processing an “unprecedented” number of claims. He said the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program alone, which was created through the CARES Act as a way to help those not covered by traditional jobless insurance, has paid out nearly $500 million worth of benefits to date.
“The last several weeks, I think, as we all know, have been challenging for everyone and there are still some hard days ahead as we get through this particular surge,” Baker said. “But in the midst of all that hardship, we have been making progress that’s helping us get through this pandemic.”
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