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Key to reopening Mass. is not May 4 deadline, Baker says

Massachusetts won’t begin to reopen businesses until the pace of new hospitalizations for coronavirus declines and state officials have put “the rules of engagement in place,” Governor Charlie Baker said Saturday.

The state’s stay-at-home advisory and widespread business closures is slated to end May 4, but Baker signaled that the restrictions are likely to remain in effect as the death toll from the pandemic continues to climb.

“May 4 was based on our assumption that we were going to be in the surge at some point in early April,” Baker said at a news conference. “The surge has been a little bit later than that."

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On Friday, state officials reported 196 new coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 2,556. There have been more than 50,000 confirmed cases.

Baker said any decision made about reopening businesses will require a drop in people being hospitalized for the disease “and some evidence that we are in fact over the hump ... with respect to the surge."

”Then the second is, putting the rules for engagement and reopening in place, which we’ll have a lot more to say about next week," Baker said.

Baker spoke to reporters at the Cartamundi games manufacturing plant in East Longmeadow, where the facility has switched to making 50,000 plastic face shields each week to donate to local hospitals. Appearing with Baker were Hasbro, Inc. President & COO John Frascotti, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and US Representative Richard Neal, the chairman of the House’s Ways and Means Committee.

On Thursday, Congress approved almost $500 billion in coronavirus spending, with about half earmarked as financial help for small and medium-sized businesses through the Payroll Protection Program, and $100 billion for hospitals and a nationwide testing program. Another $60 billion is meant for loans and grants administered by the Small Business Administration.

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Neal, who supported the package, said lawmakers have also been working on another financial aid package that will include help for states, cities, and towns.

“When you look at the exhaustion of state revenue, it’s amplified by the fact that this is still going to be with us for a while, so that expenditure is a wise use of the public purse,” Neal said. “And we believe we will have a proposal in the next 10 days that we intend to put out.”

Baker declined to give a timeline for the investigation into the handling of a deadly outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, a state-run elderly care facility.

As of Friday, 62 residents have died from the coronavirus, and 85 other residents have tested positive for the disease. Baker has tapped Mark Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor, to conduct the investigation; federal prosecutors and Attorney General Maura Healey have also launched similar reviews.

Baker he and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito speak to Pearlstein regularly and pledged to remove “any roadblocks” in the investigation.

“We have made clear to him he has free rein to conduct the investigation, and obviously we would like to have it sooner than later,” Baker said. “But we also want him to make it as complete and thorough as he believes it needs to be.”







John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.