Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that the state has submitted a request for federal disaster assistance due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Baker said he made the request through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the president. “The major disaster declaration would give support and flexibility to our communities as they respond to the COVID-19 outbreak," he said.
The Department of Public Health also announced Thursday that the death toll from the pandemic in Massachusetts had risen to 25, up from 15 the day before. The number of confirmed cases rose to 2,417, up from 1,838. The DPH reported a total of 23,621 people had been tested, up from 19,794.
The 10 new fatalities were eight men and two women, ranging in age from their 50s to their 90s, from Essex, Middlesex, Hampden, Suffolk, Worcester, Norfolk, and Franklin counties.
With the growing health crisis disrupting daily life and the economy, Baker said the state was seeking federal disaster assistance funds for cities and towns, state agencies, and certain nonprofits, as well as for individuals. Under federal disaster programs, individuals could get help with crisis counseling, and unemployment assistance could go to workers that don’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits, he said.
That would “mitigate the impact of the disaster on this particular group of workers,” he said.
“We hope to see the feds move on this quickly so we can get those resources deployed to our residents as soon as possible,” he said at a State House news conference.
Baker, who was delivering an update on the state’s coronavirus response, also expressed frustration at the difficulties the state is experiencing in procuring personal protective equipment for the state’s first responders and medical personnel.
“We are doing everything we can through an incredibly messy thicket that is enormously frustrating for all of us to try to get" the equipment, Baker said.
“I stand here as someone who has had confirmed orders for millions of pieces of gear evaporate in front of us. and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is. We now have other orders that are outstanding that are probably, quote-unquote, 'confirmed,” but we’ve literally gotten to the point where our basic position is that until the thing shows up here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it doesn’t exist."
“Our first responders, our health care workers, everybody deserves to have that gear, and I’m telling you, we’re killing ourselves trying to make that happen,” an animated Baker said.
In a more hopeful development, Baker reported that the state continued to make progress in ramping up the testing that is crucial to identifying infected people and treating and isolating them to stop the virus from spreading.
He said he expected the number of tests to continue to increase every day. Twenty-one labs are now testing samples, he said, cautioning that expanded testing would increase the number of positive cases
He said the Broad Institute had begun testing and was expected to be able to process as many as 2,000 tests a day on its own.
In other updates from the news conference:
—Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who also spoke, said the state is working with local medical school deans to offer “almost automatic” 90-day licenses for new graduates to "increase the cadre” of available front-line medical workers.
—Baker said the state-owned Newton Pavilion, a former Boston Medical Center hospital, would reopen as a temporary location to care for the homeless amid the pandemic. The facility, Baker said, would provide treatment for homeless people who need a range of care, including homeless people awaiting test results and those who have tested positive. It has a 250-bed capacity.
Baker thanked state residents for their “cooperation and community spirit” amid the crisis.
The governor said, "the many acts of kindness, compassion, bravery and creativity that we hear every day remind us that you are all very special.”
He said Mass. residents have “always been known for resiliency and grit,” and “this time is no exception.”
“These are uncertain times, for sure unprecedented, but we’re confident that we can get through this together,” he said.
Daily life in Massachusetts has been transformed after Baker ordered a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, closed all schools until May 4, and advised people to stay at home. Officials are desperately trying to slow the spread of the virus so the health care system isn’t overwhelmed by a tsunami of dire cases.
Similar measures are being taken across the nation and the world, and the world economy is staggering because of it.
The Globe reported Thursday that hospitals in Greater Boston are seeing a disturbing rise in the number of infected workers, from just a handful last week to more than 100 now.
The virus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened nearly 500,000 people and killed nearly 23,000 worldwide. In the United States, nearly 70,000 people have been sickened and more than 1,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and it can be deadly.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. The vast majority of people recover.