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Mass. reports 26 new coronavirus cases, bringing state total to 164

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker
Massachusetts Governor Charlie BakerJonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Massachusetts reported 26 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday afternoon, bringing the total in the state to 164, up from 138 the day before.

That includes 45 confirmed cases, and 119 presumptive positive tests, according to state numbers.

Earlier, state health officials said 799 individuals have been tested for coronavirus as of Sunday morning, according to a statement, less than two days after local leaders said Massachusetts would be able to increase the pace of testing.

The state’s Department of Public Health said the new CDC protocols allows clinicians to only submit one nasal swab, rather than a requirement to submit a nasal swab and throat swab as part of testing.

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“With this change in clinical testing protocols, the State Lab’s testing capacity will increase to approximately 400 patients a day, up from 200 patients a day,” the department said in a statement.

Clinicians also have more flexibility to determine which patients to test without needing to contact the state health department. The state will also be able to use commercial labs, in addition to the state lab, to conduct the tests, the statement said.

That figure would mean the state has significantly boosted its testing for coronavirus: On Tuesday, about 200 people had been tested by the state lab for the virus, a number that had increased over the course of the week to 475 by Saturday morning.

Officials have said that they would be able to increase the capacity of testing thanks to changes like the Centers for Disease Control easing restrictions on who could be tested. The state will also be able to use three commercial labs, in addition to the state lab, to conduct the tests.

As of Saturday, there were 138 cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts; less than two weeks ago, the state reported only three cases.

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Earlier in the morning, Governor Charlie Baker was interviewed on WCVB’s On the Record, denied widespread rumors that he is planning a broad, statewide quarantine or order for residents to shelter in place.

“We have no plan to do that,” Baker said, “although it does help me to understand the run on stores.”

He said he’s heard that same rumor from a variety of sources, but it is not true. “People need to choose their news from trusted sources," he said. "There is so much information out there ... a lot of which is wild speculation.”

He said state officials would likely conduct press conferences every day, in part to head off rumors.

Baker said that Boston officials had make the right decision in closing down numerous bars in South Boston, where there had been large crowds Saturday night. “I saw the news on what’s going on in South Boston last night. I think the mayor made the right decision," he said.

Neither Baker nor Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, who also appeared on the news broadcast with Baker, have been tested for the coronavirus because they have not shown symptoms, they said.

Baker said the state will ultimately be able to test about 1,000 people each day, which is a testing pace that health experts have said is needed in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I don’t want to put a date on it, but I would say it’s certainly going to be our objective to get there quickly,” Baker said.

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Area health experts have raised concerns about the pace of testing -- which is critical for doctors and researchers as they develop plans to battle the spread of the disease -- and the lack of daily updates of information, including on the numbers of people tested each day and the results of those tests.

On Sunday, Baker and Bharel did not directly answer questions put to them by hosts Janet Wu and Ed Harding whether the state would provide daily information about test results.

“We’ll put out all the information that we have in a way that is accurate and timely, so individuals can be informed," Bharel said. "Right now, if you go to our website, you can find the information about number of individuals and some of those details.”

Baker suggested that there would be challenges in releasing daily testing figures if the number of tests grew into the hundreds or thousands.

“So you’re going to have a whole ton of tests in process, every day," Baker said. "The goal here would be to figure out some way, as the commissioner said, to maximize the way we actually share information as quickly as possible, but to do it in some way where there is some understanding about where the break point is in terms of what is coming out now, versus what’s actually work in progress.”

Baker also defended his decision to not close schools state-wide in the wake of the coronavirus; on Thursday, nearly two dozen municipal leaders urged him to do so in order to help slow the virus’s spread.

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He pointed to New York City, where the schools remain open because local leaders feel students are better served to keep them open, he said.

“Unless you actually shelter everybody in place when they’re not in school, if everybody’s doing play dates and birthday parties... you may not necessarily achieve the objective you are looking for here, which is the social distancing piece,” Baker said.





















John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.