State health officials announced Wednesday that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts had risen by 33 cases, or 37 percent, to 122, up from 89 the day before. The death toll included the youngest reported victim so far of the pandemic in the state, a man in his 30s from Suffolk County.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 7,738, up from 6,620. The Department of Public Health reported a total of 51,738 people had been tested, up from 46,935.
The department also said Wednesday that 5,176 people in the state were self-quarantining themselves, monitored for symptoms, up from 2,147 a week ago. The quarantines are part of the effort to contain the spread of the virus.
Forecasts are saying that by summer the virus will have killed nearly 1,800 people in the state.
Governor Charlie Baker at a news conference in Worcester underlined the importance of social distancing as a way of slowing the spread of the deadly virus.
“The whole point behind social distancing,” he said, “behind all this work we’re doing, all the disruption we’re creating for people, the major changes in the way we live, is about keeping people far enough away from each other for a long enough period of time, that people don’t pass this from one person to the next, and I can’t express how important that is.”
Noting research that suggests people can spread the virus even without symptoms, Baker said, “It’s really important that we all respect that and do everything we can to stay away from each other."
Baker also addressed the unfolding situation at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, where 15 people have died recently, including at least eight from the coronavirus.
Mark W. Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor now working in private practice at McDermott Will & Emery, has been hired to investigate the deaths and determine what exactly happened, and “what didn’t," Baker said.
Baker said the state will ensure "Mark and his team have access to all the people they need" in an effort to "get to the bottom of what took place."
Baker said Val Liptak, the CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital who’s taken over as the head of the Holyoke home on an interim basis, “understands all the protocols associated with how to deal with this, and she’s implementing them.”
He said the tragedy in Holyoke underscores why state officials have put such rigid safety protocols in place amid the pandemic.
“There’s no population that’s more at risk when it comes to this particular contagion than seniors, and especially those who live in quarters that are designed to serve them,” he said.
Asked about the situation at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, where two deaths have been reported from the virus, Baker said it was a “terrific institution” that “followed all the rules and protocols” regarding critical incidents and timely reporting of them.
Baker said he didn’t anticipate the situation in Chelsea becoming as dire as in Holyoke.
Turning to the topic of schools, Baker praised teachers around the state for the various remote learning programs they're offering to students confined to their homes amid the pandemic.
"There are a lot of teachers who are doing some really interesting things to keep in touch with and provide educational opportunities for our kids," Baker said.
He said he hopes students don’t emerge from the pandemic with it having been "a completely lost opportunity to continue to grow, to continue to learn.”
Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito delivered their update on the state’s coronavirus response at a news conference at the DCU Center in Worcester, which is being set up as the site of a 250-bed facility to aid in coronavirus response.
Baker also appeared to suggest that a similar facility was being planned for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, saying, “Keep in mind that there are two for sure, one here and one at the BCEC in Boston. We’re also looking at other sites around the Commonwealth.”
But a Baker spokeswoman said afterward that the administration is looking into the site as an option, with no plan finalized.
Before the governor spoke, sounds of clanking metal filled the DCU Center as workers in red shirts and jackets assembled makeshift hospital rooms. They divided the cement floor with tall metal frames hung with black fabric, which Baker later said would be used for patients over the worst of the virus but still recuperating. Inside several already-constructed rooms stood metal cots with thin black mattresses. Uniformed Army National Guard members milled around, some wearing paper surgical masks.
Two hulking tractor-trailers framed the scene, along with several white metal portable trailers.
Baker spoke at a battered podium, and a section of the bare floor was marked off with yellow tape for the press. There was little ability to observe strict social distancing as National Guard members and other people gathered in the press area to hear the governor’s remarks.
On Tuesday the White House offered projections that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will likely die of the coronavirus even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.
Daily life around the world has been transformed as businesses and schools have been closed and people have been advised or ordered to stay at home, in desperate attempts to slow the spread of the virus. The world economy has also ground to a halt.
Worldwide, the virus has killed more than 45,000 people so far, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The virus causes mild to severe illness. Older people and people with severe chronic conditions are at higher risk of developing severe illness, which can prove fatal, according to the CDC.
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