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Governor Charlie Baker on Sunday night ordered all public and private schools across Massachusetts to close for three weeks, beginning Tuesday, and has limited all restaurants to only takeout and delivery as of Tuesday, in his most sweeping action yet to slow the increasing rate of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Baker bans gatherings over 25 people
Baker announced Sunday that all bars and restaurants in Massachusetts would be shut down to on-premise consumption starting Tuesday through April 17.

Amid a rapid fire set of orders from a podium in the State House during a rare Sunday evening news conference, Baker also lowered the threshold for any public gatherings from the 250-person limit he set last week to 25. His actions amount to some of the most aggressive responses in the country. The new limit applies to all community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, as well as sporting events with spectators, concerts, and conventions. It covers fitness centers, private clubs and theaters.

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“I realize these measures are unprecedented," Baker said.

“If we take decisive steps now and everyone plays their part by following the best medical guidance, we can slow down the spread,” he said.

The governor stressed that grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open, pleaded with people not to hoard, and again noted that stores were getting regularly restocked.

The new restrictions on schools, restaurants and large gatherings will be lifted April 6. At the same time, however, the US Centers for Disease Control recommended that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed over the next eight weeks.

The orders came against the backdrop of a spike of 26 new cases, bringing the total number of infected residents to 164. As of 6 p.m. Sunday, state officials said 969 residents had been tested — more than double the number from the day before. State officials also said Sunday that there is now evidence of community spread in seven Massachusetts counties: Berkshire, Essex, Hampden, Norfolk, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Worcester. That means residents are contracting the illness but the specific source of the infection is unknown.

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“The facts on the ground have changed,” Baker said. “Now that we have evidence based on the testing results that we have community transmission in seven counties in Massachusetts, I think at this point in time it’s particularly appropriate we not only move on the school closures, but also that we get a lot more aggressive around other places and spaces that people gather.”

The goal of the governor’s orders — and a variety of other new restrictions on public life across the state and the country — is to stem the wave of infections by keeping Americans apart from each other. That, experts hope, will help avoid overloading the health care system.

“This is a time of shared sacrifice,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Sunday. “It will save lives.”

Baker’s orders came as governors in Illinois and Ohio also announced restrictions on bars and restaurants. New York City announced a shutdown of schools through at least April 20.

The new restrictions in Massachusetts came on yet another day of dizzying coronavirus news in the state. Earlier in the day Walsh declared a public health emergency in the city, imposing restrictions on restaurants, bars, and clubs.

The coronavirus outbreak has now infected a pair of health care providers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Boston hospital said Sunday.

And a worker at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel — the host of a February Biogen conference that was the source of many of the state’s cases — also tested positive for the Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

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Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority leaders said Sunday that they would run normal service Monday to service a dwindling ridership amid the outbreak. But the MBTA acknowledged that it could eventually follow other cities, including Washington, D.C., in cutting back the frequency of trains and buses. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency is working on “contingency plans” that could lead to reductions.

Baker on Sunday also ordered a broad array of additional responses to the pandemic, some of which will require approval by the Legislature this week. But even before outlining the new rules, he cautioned residents to ignore one widespread rumor.

“We are not planning any shelter-in-place orders,” Baker said. “Everyone needs to get news from legitimate sources.”

The governor said he would order commercial health insurers to allow patients to receive care via tele-health, letting them avoid in-person appointments. He directed hospitals to postpone elective surgeries, to make space for Covid-19 patients. And he prohibited visitors to assisted living residences; this is in addition to the federal ban issued Friday on visitors to nursing homes and rest homes.

The governor also authorized licensed pharmacies to create and sell hand sanitizer over the counter.

Baker said he will extend some deadlines for motorists to renew documents at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, in an attempt to limit in-person transactions.

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He hopes to expand eligibility for collecting unemployment and wants to give municipalities the power to delay town meetings and the adoption of municipal budgets.

The governor ordered executive branch employees to stay home Monday and Tuesday and said his administration would work to expand alternative work arrangements for them going forward.

And he recommended that all Massachusetts colleges and universities pursue strategies for distance education, keeping students from campus. Most major universities in the Boston area have already done so.

Baker did not order the closure of child-care programs but strongly urged providers to strictly observe guidelines that call for temporary closures based on actual direct or indirect exposures to individuals with Covid-19.

At the Brigham, where the two health care workers were reported infected, hospital leaders said in a memo to staff that they are in close contact with state and city public health officials and are following their guidance about how to proceed.

“As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, it is inevitable that health care workers will be infected, as is now the case at the Brigham,” wrote Dr. Charles Morris, associate chief medical officer and incident commander. ''We are in the process of contacting patients and staff who may have been exposed.''

"While this news is unsettling, please be assured that our Brigham community has been preparing for this eventuality, and we will continue to take every precaution to protect our patients, their loved ones and our staff throughout this unprecedented pandemic,'' wrote Morris. The memo was also signed by Julia Sinclair, senior vice president of clinical services and incident commander.

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Brigham spokesperson Erin McDonough said the providers did not work while symptomatic. She said the hospital can not identify or release details about the providers or their specific jobs because of privacy rules. Another person with knowledge of the situation said they are both doctors.

McDonough said in an e-mail that the hospital undertook an “intensive tracing process” that involved a detailed review of every patient and employee the providers interacted with during a particular time period.

Amid all the precautions about the coronavirus spread, government leaders were aghast Sunday at reports of crowds spotted flocking to bars and restaurants in South Boston Saturday night.

The city’s Licensing Board moved swiftly Sunday — even before Baker’s broader restrictions were announced in the evening — announcing a voluntary agreement with more than a dozen bars and restaurants to shut down.

The mayor announced in the morning that he would restrict Boston restaurants, bars, and clubs to half their capacity and to close their doors each night by 11. But Walsh’s order was ultimately overtaken by Baker’s broader bans.

Meanwhile, Sunday, Senator Edward J. Markey called for a wartime-like mobilization of private manufacturing to supply hospitals with the tests and protective equipment they need to handle the novel coronavirus.

In a Boston press conference, Markey urged the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act, a law passed near the start of the Korean War in 1950, to mobilize private industry for defense production. Markey called for exponential increases in production of testing kits and protective gear such as respirator masks for health care workers.

Markey’s comments were echoed by Dr. Peter Slavin, the president of Massachusetts General Hospital, who said he’s worried about the shortage of personal protective equipment needed to keep doctors and nurses safe as they confront rising numbers of infected patients.

“We need to think of this in almost a war-like stance,” Slavin said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“Even before the most significant battles [that] lie ahead, our supplies are low," he said of the protective gear. "We wouldn’t want to send soldiers into war without helmets and armor. We don’t want to do the same with our health care workers.”

Gal Tziperman Lotan, Liz Kowalczyk, Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Jaclyn Reiss, Adam Vaccaro of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondents Lucas Phillips, Max Jungreis, and Abigail Feldman contributed to this report.



***


Baker shuts down schools, bars, restaurants across the state

Governor Charlie Baker on Sunday night ordered all public and private schools across Massachusetts to close for three weeks, beginning Tuesday, and has limited all restaurants to only takeout and delivery as of Tuesday, in his most sweeping action yet to slow the increasing rate of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Amid a rapid fire set of orders from a podium in the State House during a rare Sunday evening news conference, Baker also lowered the threshold for any public gatherings from the 250-person limit he set last week to 25. His actions amount to some of the most aggressive responses in the country. The new limit applies to all community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, as well as sporting events with spectators, concerts, and conventions. It covers fitness centers, private clubs and theaters.

“I realize these measures are unprecedented," Baker said.

“If we take decisive steps now and everyone plays their part by following the best medical guidance, we can slow down the spread,” he said.

The governor stressed that grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open, pleaded with people not to hoard, and again noted that stores were getting regularly restocked.

The new restrictions on schools, restaurants and large gatherings will be lifted April 6. At the same time, however, the US Centers for Disease Control recommended that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed over the next eight weeks.

The orders came against the backdrop of a spike of 26 new cases, bringing the total number of infected residents to 164. As of 6 p.m. Sunday, state officials said 969 residents had been tested — more than double the number from the day before. State officials also said Sunday that there is now evidence of community spread in seven Massachusetts counties: Berkshire, Essex, Hampden, Norfolk, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Worcester. That means residents are contracting the illness but the specific source of the infection is unknown.

“The facts on the ground have changed,” Baker said. “Now that we have evidence based on the testing results that we have community transmission in seven counties in Massachusetts, I think at this point in time it’s particularly appropriate we not only move on the school closures, but also that we get a lot more aggressive around other places and spaces that people gather.”

The goal of the governor’s orders — and a variety of other new restrictions on public life across the state and the country — is to stem the wave of infections by keeping Americans apart from each other. That, experts hope, will help avoid overloading the health care system.

“This is a time of shared sacrifice,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Sunday. “It will save lives.”

Baker’s orders came as governors in Illinois and Ohio also announced restrictions on bars and restaurants. New York City announced a shutdown of schools through at least April 20.

The new restrictions in Massachusetts came on yet another day of dizzying coronavirus news in the state. Earlier in the day Walsh declared a public health emergency in the city, imposing restrictions on restaurants, bars, and clubs.

The coronavirus outbreak has now infected a pair of health care providers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Boston hospital said Sunday.

And a worker at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel — the host of a February Biogen conference that was the source of many of the state’s cases — also tested positive for the Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority leaders said Sunday that they would run normal service Monday to service a dwindling ridership amid the outbreak. But the MBTA acknowledged that it could eventually follow other cities, including Washington, D.C., in cutting back the frequency of trains and buses. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency is working on “contingency plans” that could lead to reductions.

Baker on Sunday also ordered a broad array of additional responses to the pandemic, some of which will require approval by the Legislature this week. But even before outlining the new rules, he cautioned residents to ignore one widespread rumor.

“We are not planning any shelter-in-place orders,” Baker said. “Everyone needs to get news from legitimate sources.”

The governor said he would order commercial health insurers to allow patients to receive care via tele-health, letting them avoid in-person appointments. He directed hospitals to postpone elective surgeries, to make space for Covid-19 patients. And he prohibited visitors to assisted living residences; this is in addition to the federal ban issued Friday on visitors to nursing homes and rest homes.

The governor also authorized licensed pharmacies to create and sell hand sanitizer over the counter.

Baker said he will extend some deadlines for motorists to renew documents at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, in an attempt to limit in-person transactions.

He hopes to expand eligibility for collecting unemployment and wants to give municipalities the power to delay town meetings and the adoption of municipal budgets.

The governor ordered executive branch employees to stay home Monday and Tuesday and said his administration would work to expand alternative work arrangements for them going forward.

And he recommended that all Massachusetts colleges and universities pursue strategies for distance education, keeping students from campus. Most major universities in the Boston area have already done so.

Baker did not order the closure of child-care programs but strongly urged providers to strictly observe guidelines that call for temporary closures based on actual direct or indirect exposures to individuals with Covid-19.

At the Brigham, where the two health care workers were reported infected, hospital leaders said in a memo to staff that they are in close contact with state and city public health officials and are following their guidance about how to proceed.

“As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, it is inevitable that health care workers will be infected, as is now the case at the Brigham,” wrote Dr. Charles Morris, associate chief medical officer and incident commander. ''We are in the process of contacting patients and staff who may have been exposed.''

"While this news is unsettling, please be assured that our Brigham community has been preparing for this eventuality, and we will continue to take every precaution to protect our patients, their loved ones and our staff throughout this unprecedented pandemic,'' wrote Morris. The memo was also signed by Julia Sinclair, senior vice president of clinical services and incident commander.

Brigham spokesperson Erin McDonough said the providers did not work while symptomatic. She said the hospital can not identify or release details about the providers or their specific jobs because of privacy rules. Another person with knowledge of the situation said they are both doctors.

McDonough said in an e-mail that the hospital undertook an “intensive tracing process” that involved a detailed review of every patient and employee the providers interacted with during a particular time period.

Amid all the precautions about the coronavirus spread, government leaders were aghast Sunday at reports of crowds spotted flocking to bars and restaurants in South Boston Saturday night.

The city’s Licensing Board moved swiftly Sunday — even before Baker’s broader restrictions were announced in the evening — announcing a voluntary agreement with more than a dozen bars and restaurants to shut down.

The mayor announced in the morning that he would restrict Boston restaurants, bars, and clubs to half their capacity and to close their doors each night by 11. But Walsh’s order was ultimately overtaken by Baker’s broader bans.

Meanwhile, Sunday, Senator Edward J. Markey called for a wartime-like mobilization of private manufacturing to supply hospitals with the tests and protective equipment they need to handle the novel coronavirus.

In a Boston press conference, Markey urged the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act, a law passed near the start of the Korean War in 1950, to mobilize private industry for defense production. Markey called for exponential increases in production of testing kits and protective gear such as respirator masks for health care workers.

Markey’s comments were echoed by Dr. Peter Slavin, the president of Massachusetts General Hospital, who said he’s worried about the shortage of personal protective equipment needed to keep doctors and nurses safe as they confront rising numbers of infected patients.

“We need to think of this in almost a war-like stance,” Slavin said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“Even before the most significant battles [that] lie ahead, our supplies are low," he said of the protective gear. "We wouldn’t want to send soldiers into war without helmets and armor. We don’t want to do the same with our health care workers.”

Gal Tziperman Lotan, Liz Kowalczyk, Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Jaclyn Reiss, Adam Vaccaro of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondents Lucas Phillips, Max Jungreis, and Abigail Feldman contributed to this report.



Felice Belman can be reached at felice.belman@globe.com. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.