Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that the state Department of Public Health was issuing an advisory urging members of the public to wear masks or face coverings when they go out in public, in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement came as the state reported that the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts had risen by 96 cases to 599, up from 503 the day before. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed by 2,033 to 20,974.
The Department of Public Health also reported a total of 102,372 people in the state had been tested, up from 94,958 a day earlier.
Speaking during his daily briefing, Baker said the DPH advisory, which is consistent with guidance previously issued from the federal government, “recommends people wear a mask or cover their face in public when they cannot safely socially distance.”
“This protects you from others and protects others from you,” he said, at the same time exhorting residents to “please stay home and only go out if you absolutely have to.”
The state’s mask advisory came five days after Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh asked all city residents to wear masks when they go out.
Baker acknowledged that it will be particularly difficult for many residents to stay home Sunday on Easter, and he grew emotional when he said it would be the first Easter in the past 50 years that he spends without his parents.
“It’s cruel that in a time when we need hugs the most, staying apart is the most important thing that we can do for one another,” he said. “Please stay home, look after one another, and do all the things we talked about” such as social distancing and practicing good hygiene.
Baker added that current models show the state’s peak in new COVID-19 cases, which has been estimated to arrive from Friday to April 20, “might be closer to April 20,” though that could change. The models suggest that, at the peak, the state will be recording 2,500 new cases per day.
He said the current death rate from the virus in Massachusetts is 2.7 percent, “but it’s growing.” Rates are higher nationally and much higher in some other countries, he noted.
“It’s critically important that people heed our guidance" around social distancing and hygiene, among other safeguards, Baker said.
Baker warned that the battle against the pandemic is not over.
“I don’t want people to get ahead of themselves on this one. We are about to have a very difficult couple of weeks here in Massachusetts, and it could be three weeks and it could be four, depending on how this whole thing plays out," he said.
His voice rising, Baker said that if state residents are looking for something to pray for this weekend, “you should be praying for the families and the neighbors and the friends who are going to be working their way through this surge.”
He said the state is increasing its hospital bed capacity by thousands of beds through a combination of hospitals building out their own capacity and the opening of multiple temporary facilities in cities including Worcester and Boston. Additional temporary facilities are planned for the Cape, the Merrimack Valley, and possibly Springfield, Baker said.
He said the state had distributed 2.6 million pieces of personal protective equipment to medical facilities and communities for front-line workers, and that officials are continuing to seek more PPE.
In addition, he said, over 4,000 “skilled volunteers” have signed up to help in the effort, and he urged additional residents who’d like to join up to visit maresponds.org. There’s also information on employment opportunities at the temporary facilities for a variety of positions at mass.gov/joincovidteam.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also briefed reporters and said the state is slated to receive another 200 ventilators from the federal stockpile at some point next week. That shipment would bring the total the state has received from the federal government to 400.
Baker had mentioned that shipment during an appearance on WEEI Friday morning, telling the Greg Hill Show that the state would continue to “press the feds” for the 1,000 that he said had been approved late last month.
Baker said he learned shortly before coming on air that the new shipment should be arriving “some time in the next couple of days."
"We continue to pursue some private market opportunities” for additional ventilators, he added.
Sudders, echoing a familiar refrain from Baker, was cautious about the new delivery at the news conference, telling reporters, "My attitude about this is until they’re in the stockpile we don’t count them.”
Baker also said in the earlier radio interview that 250,000 jobless state residents who use direct deposit will this week get their regular unemployment checks plus an additional $600 weekly payout made available by the federal program set up for people thrown out of work by the pandemic.
Some 500,000 residents have filed unemployment claims in recent weeks, Baker said.
“I know this is an incredibly frustrating process for everybody, believe me,” he said, adding that the state’s expanded crew of unemployment call-takers is making thousands of calls each day, seven days a week, to people filing for benefits in an effort to get checks out.
“Those folks are working ... to try to push a level of volume that no one has ever seen through a system that was not built to absorb that much traffic in such a short period of time,” Baker said.
Nearly 139,600 first-time jobless claims were filed in Massachusetts in the week ended April 4, the Baker administration said Thursday. More people have filed jobless claims in the past three weeks than in the prior 78 weeks combined.
For some Massachusetts industries, jobless claims are at staggering levels. In the lodging and food sector, for example, 87,500 people have filed for benefits in the past three weeks, or 27 percent out of a workforce of 320,000. Some 41,200 construction industry workers have submitted claims, or 25 percent of the labor pool. In retail, 16 percent of workers have filed claims, while in health care it is 8.5 percent.
Baker said on WEEI that he’s acutely aware of the strain his restrictive orders have placed on businesses, but he added that “I don’t know how else we could deal with the nature of this virus” other than social isolation measures.
“No one disputes the fact that the economic hardship associated with this is profound,” he said.
On the topic of schools, Baker said officials will “probably make a determination” before May 4 -- the current expiration date of the state’s order closing schools and non-essential businesses -- on the fate of the rest of the school year.
He said state officials are working to “make sure that we create programming” for children who “need to catch up” when schools reopen.
Baker also touted the new mask decontamination machine in Somerville that will allow front-line workers to re-use N95 masks five to 10 times.
Noting the recent shipment of 1 million masks that came to Massachusetts on the New England Patriots team plane, Baker said “if you have a million and you can use them five or 10 times, that means you really have five to 10 million.”
Speaking during the afternoon briefing, Baker also reacted to the news that the Justice Department has opened a probe into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where 32 veteran residents have died since Mar. 24, including at least 28 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Baker said what happened at Holyoke was “tragic” and noted that the state has launched its own probe as well.
“We welcome his participation,” Baker said of US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s announcement that the federal government was launching a review as well.
People’s lives have been disrupted across the globe as governments, desperately seeking to slow the spread of the virus, have ordered businesses to close and told people to stay at home. The world economy has shuddered to a halt.
The virus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened more than 1.6 million people and killed more than 97,000. In the United States, more than 460,000 people have been sickened and more than 16,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Experts differ on the expected death toll in Massachusetts, Modeling by the University of Washington suggests that by August nearly 5,625 people in Massachusetts are expected to die from the virus. By contrast, a state model projects a maximum of about 4,300 could die, the Globe reported Thursday.
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.
Christina Prignano, Martin Finucane, and Larry Edelman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.