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Mass. reports 196 new coronavirus deaths, while case tally surpasses 50,000; Baker says state won’t reopen until numbers improve

Governor Charlie Baker at a recent news conference.
Governor Charlie Baker at a recent news conference.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that it was too soon to say whether he will extend the restrictions he imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic that are set to expire on May 4, telling reporters that he’s continuing to monitor data on infection and hospitalization rates.

“We’re going to continue to follow the data, and we’ll have more to say about it when we get a little closer,” he said. "I get the fact that people would like an answer, but any answer I give you today wouldn’t be worth very much. Because it’s going to be driven by what happens over the course of the next two weeks. ... I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t predict.”

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The state on Friday evening reported 196 new coronavirus deaths, bringing the total of pandemic deaths to 2,556. The state reported 2,877 new cases, and at the same time added an additional 2,096 cases to earlier days’ tallies due to a reporting error by Quest Diagnostics. In all, the state’s total confirmed cases jumped by nearly 5,000, surpassing 50,000.

Baker has ordered all non-essential businesses to close and issued a stay-at-home advisory to all residents, in a massive disruption of daily life intended to slow the spread of the virus, which has sown death and brought sorrow in communities across the state.

Baker: Reopening depends on data
Governor Charlie Baker said it was too soon to say whether emergency measures to combat the coronavirus will extend past May 4th. (Photo: Blake Nissen/For The Boston Globe, Video: Handout)

Baker said he was looking for a “significant number of days” of reductions in key indicators such as coronavirus infections or hospitalizations, before he will lift restrictions.

“Our view going forward here is going to be that until we start to see some of that kind of information — the peaking of the surge and the move in the other direction for some sustained period of time — we’re not going to be interested in reopening anything,” he said.

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For the first time Friday, the state’s daily coronavirus update included a list of assisted living sites with two or more cases. The list, like the one it provides for nursing homes, gave only a range of cases for each facility, not a specific number of cases. And it didn’t include the number of deaths.

Ninety-seven of the state’s 260 assisted living facilities were listed as having multiple virus cases. Eight of the 97 have 30 or more cases, the list showed. It wasn’t immediately clear if deaths at assisted living facilities are now being included in the state’s tally of long-term care fatalities.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh predicted that Baker’s emergency measures would be extended.

“Right now, our stay-at-home order is until May 4. I’ve been talking to the governor about extending that. There’s been no decision on that, but I’m expecting that will probably happen," Walsh said during an appearance on Rev. Bruce Wall’s Boston Praise Radio program.

During a later appearance on WGBH-FM radio, Walsh said “we certainly won’t be where we were” Feb. 1, when people were working and life was relatively normal, at any point in the near future.

“We’re not going back to that moment in time for quite some time,” he said on the program Boston Public Radio.

Pressed on a possible return to normalcy, Walsh said he believes “the transition starts probably early summer,” and that “it’s a slow, steady” process that may play out over the summer and into the fall.

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“The data that we have is incomplete,” Walsh said. “Clearly, we do not have enough tests.” He added that “we have to make sure that people are going to be safe” when the economy reopens.

Walsh said the city currently has 15 COVID-19 test sites operating and officials are working to increase access to testing. He said cities and states are bearing the brunt of the responsibility for obtaining tests.

“We’re on our own, to some degree, in purchasing these tests,” Walsh said.

Boston lays out guidelines for restaurants to sell groceries
Mayor Martin Walsh announced that the City of Boston will begin allowing restaurant owners to sell groceries out of their storefronts. (Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Pool, Video: Handout)

He said public health officials have indicated Boston needs to test a quarter of the population to get an accurate reading on COVID-19 in the city. Currently, Walsh said, the city has tested about 19,000 of the city’s roughly 700,000 residents.

Walsh said the city was making major progress in testing one of its most at-risk groups. He announced that all homeless people in Boston would be tested, thanks to a large donation of tests from a Boston company.

Walsh was also asked about the status of the annual July 4 celebration on the Esplanade. He said no decision has been made yet, but he’s not optimistic that “large gatherings” will be possible by July or August.

“I just don’t think we’ll be at that place yet by the summer,” he said.

Speaking during a later briefing outside City Hall, Walsh also touted a new initiative to allow restaurants to sell groceries and paper products out of their establishments.

Walsh said the move should “cut down on essential trips outside the home as well.”

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Asked about US Senator Mitch McConnell’s recent comments regarding the possibility of some states filing for bankruptcy, Walsh said such a move would be a “last resort” for cities and states, adding that it’s the job of Congress to help states recover from the pandemic.

“The city of Boston is not going to file for bankruptcy,” he said.

The mayor also took a question about the reopening of some businesses in Georgia Friday.

Walsh said he’s hearing from the mayors of Atlanta and Augusta that city officials in those communities still have “real concerns about people losing their [lives]” and that if he were reopening a state, he would not have selected the industries chosen by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

He said that while he hopes Kemp doesn’t regret the decision, “I’m expecting at some point in the next week or so, they’ll be shutting them all down again.”

Baker said at his briefing that Massachusetts had tested about 14,000 people for the virus the day before, nearly double the previous single-day high. He noted that day-to-day totals of testing can fluctuate.

About 8 percent of people who’ve tested positive for the virus are currently hospitalized, Baker said, and the state has distributed more than 5.6 million pieces of protective gear to health care workers, first responders, and others.

He added that the state has processed hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims amid the pandemic, and said call takers are working diligently to process more.

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Baker said the devastating economic toll of the virus will persist “for a while, there’s no question about that."

“We are still in this surge, and we need to recognize that this insidious and often invisible virus is still making people in Massachusetts very sick,” he said.

Dr. Monica Bharel, the state’s public health commissioner, also briefed reporters and said she had recovered from the COVID-19 diagnosis she received about a month ago.

She urged residents to get their information about the virus from trusted sources.

“We may be hearing about all kinds of treatments that are unproven and some might be dangerous,” she said.

In addition, Bharel said her experience underscores how “all of us are vulnerable to potentially get this infection. ... That’s why this is such a community effort” to stop the spread.

The virus has caused a global pandemic that has sickened more than 2.7 million people and killed more than 192,000. In the United States, more than 870,000 people have been sickened and more than 50,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Daily life around the world has been disrupted and economies have ground to a halt as governments have closed businesses and asked people to stay at home to thwart the spread of the virus.

Experts say the state’s official death tally may be on the low side because of deaths that happened before officials were aware of the outbreak. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been hit especially hard, accounting for 56 percent of the deaths.

The state also reported Friday that 3,851 people were in hospitals statewide with coronavirus.

It’s unclear what the ultimate death toll in the state will be. One highly cited model by the University of Washington predicts.around 4,200 deaths by early August. But various models differ and experts are also warning that the outbreak could make a comeback in the summer or fall.

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.

Robert Weisman and Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com