Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday that Massachusetts is still “on the upward slope" of the coronavirus pandemic and a period of “serious strain” on the health care system is still ahead.
But he also held out some hope that the steps that officials have taken to blunt the impact of the pandemic are working.
Baker’s comments came as the state reported that the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts had risen by 77 cases to 433, up from 356 the day before.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed by 1,588 to 16,790. The Department of Public Health also reported a total of 87,511 people in the state had been tested, up from 81,344 a day earlier.
Baker cited recent trends in testing numbers and rising deaths as signs that the pandemic continues to rage.
“At the same time, we’ve not seen the same steep acceleration seen in either Wuhan, New York, or other places, which means we’re cautiously optimistic that our social distancing, essential services orders, and other measures that we and others have put in place are helping to flatten the curve," he said at a State House news conference.
He said those measures remain “our most effective weapon" against the virus.
He urged people not to get complacent, noting that “we’re entering a period of time where we could be putting serious strain on our health care system and our hospitals." Epidemiological models used by the state predict that a surge of coronavirus cases will flood hospitals, peaking sometime from April 10 to April 20
“So everyone needs to continue to hold up their end of the deal," he said. “Stay home, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, wipe surfaces, clean off commonly used elements like doorknobs, stand at least six feet apart, and wear a mask or cover your face if you have to go out."
“The most important thing people need to do here," he said, “is to recognize and understand that they need to stay away, to the fullest extent possible, from other people.”
Baker also announced that he was issuing an order to protect health care providers from lawsuits and civil liability if they’re forced to make “difficult choices” in terms of caring for an influx of patients.
The order seeks to shield providers from liability “to the maximum extent possible” under federal law, Baker said. And, he said, his administration has also filed a bill with the Legislature to provide additional liability protections to providers and to facilities that have made space available for patients.
Providers are “stepping up in a big way,” and “this bill will make sure they are free to do their jobs the best they can," he said. "We urge the Legislature to move quickly on this bill.”
In other developments from the news conference:
-- Baker discussed the guidelines developed by the state in the event that hospitals have to decide how to distribute ventilators if a shortage arises during the surge.
“That is the worst-case scenario and we must plan for it,” Baker said.
-- Baker said a new mobile testing site at the Big E fairgrounds in West Springfield will open shortly and, like the testing site in Foxborough, will offer up to 200 tests daily for first responders.
-- Marylou Sudders, the health and human services secretary, said the state was starting to publicly disclose data on the race and ethnicity of patients who test positive. “Obtaining racial and ethnic data on cases of COVID-19 is crucial for examining where and on whom the burden of illness and death is falling,” she said.
The lack of such data has drawn criticism in recent days. Sudders said the data the state had was “far too incomplete in far too many cases.” The Department of Public Health released some statistics a short time later, but data was missing for more than two-thirds of both confirmed cases and deaths. No data was released at all on who has been given tests.
-- Baker reiterated that the state’s recreational pot shops are closed because they attract a significant number of out-of-state customers.
He said making those stores available to anyone in the Northeast would go "completely against the entire strategy" for preventing the spread of the virus in Massachusetts.
-- Regarding an outside probe into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where a number of veterans have died from the virus, Baker said officials are “appalled” at what transpired and that the state will ensure that the former federal prosecutor who has been tapped to lead the investigation has access to whomever he needs to speak with.
Daily life has been disrupted across the globe as governments have ordered businesses to close and asked or ordered people to stay at home, in a desperate attempt to slow the spread of the virus. The world economy has ground to a halt.
The virus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened more than 1.4 million people and killed more than 86,000. In the United States, more than 400,000 people have been sickened and more than 13,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The virus can cause mild to severe illness. Older adults and people with serious underlying conditions are most at risk for severe illness and death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.