Non-essential businesses must stay shuttered and Massachusetts residents should stay at home until at least May 4, Governor Charlie Baker announced Tuesday, as the state’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surged to 89.
The 33 new victims announced Tuesday afternoon made it the deadliest day of the outbreak so far, as the number of positive cases rose by 868 to 6,620. The state also announced that 46,935 people have now been tested.
An order to limit all gatherings to 10 people or less is also being extended to May 4, matching Baker’s decision to close schools in the state until that date.
“If we can limit face-to-face, person-to-person contact now, we can slow the spread and get back to work as soon and as safely as we can,” Baker said during an afternoon briefing.
The nearly three-dozen deaths announced Tuesday emerged from all over the state, including seven in Hampden County, where 13 people have died following an outbreak at a state home for veterans. Six have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, though it was not immediately clear how many of those were reflected in Tuesday’s ledger.
The deaths were largely among those in their 80s and older, though a woman in her 50s from Essex County with preexisting medical conditions was also listed among the dead. The state data does not further identify victims by name, age or place of residence.
“People should be staying at home,” he said, adding that an updated list of essential businesses includes chiropractors, optometrists and expanded categories of workers providing disinfectant and sanitation services. A full list of essential businesses is available on the mass.gov website.
“I know this is difficult to hear, but we need everyone to continue to go without being around” many relatives and friends while following social distancing guidelines, Baker said. “All of us need to be as purposeful as we can be in dealing with the contagious nature of this virus.”
Baker also announced that hotels, motels and online services such as Airbnb are now only permitted to offer rooms for “limited purposes” including “direct efforts related to the fight against COVID-19.” He cited as an example for healthcare workers and state residents displaced from their homes as a result of the virus.
The governor extended his thanks to state residents for their “diligence” in adhering to his stay-at-home advisory.
“People, for the most part, are doing the right thing,” Baker said. " ... Don’t play basketball just because you can or sit on the beach all day with your friends."
He returned to the anecdote of having to speak with his 91-year-old father by phone during the pandemic, rather than visiting him face-to-face.
“I miss him,” Baker said, appearing to get choked up. “But that’s just the way it is, and it’s the way it should be” during a time of social distancing.
Also during the briefing, Baker told reporters that the federal government had approved the state’s request to open three field medical stations to aid with coronavirus response.
The first station will be a 250-bed facility at the DCU Center in Worcester, Baker said, operated by staff from UMass Memorial Medical Center. He said the state is actively looking into locations for the two additional stations.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in this battle,” Baker said. “Everyone needs to play their part. ... This state is filled with remarkable people and remarkable communities. And time and again we have watched them rise together to fight, to battle, and to win.”
Baker also addressed recent developments out of the Holyoke Soldier’s Home, where 13 residents are dead, including six who have died since March 1 and have tested positive for COVID-19. Five more tests on victims are pending.
“As someone who has visited this amazing place on multiple occasions, and found it to be a source of joy and grace and comfort and kindness for the residents, their families and the staff that works there, this episode is a gut-wrenching loss that is nothing short of devastating to all of us,” Baker said. “Our hearts go out to the families and the loved ones and the staff who have been so horribly impacted by this series of events.”
The governor vowed that “we will get to the bottom of what happened, and when and by who.”
State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders told reporters that a state “clinical command team” has been dispatched to the home to conduct a “comprehensive and rapid response to the outbreak.”
Sudders added that “100 percent” of the home’s residents and staff are being tested for COVID-19 and a hotline for family members of residents has been launched. Family members seeking to check on their loves can call 413-552-4764, Sudders said.
“Our priority is to ensure that the home is stabilized,” she said.