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‘This is not about vanity,’ Baker warns heading into Memorial Day weekend

Health care workers put on full PPE in order to test people for coronavirus as Lawrence, a COVID hotspot, ramps up testing outside of Lawrence General Hospital.
Health care workers put on full PPE in order to test people for coronavirus as Lawrence, a COVID hotspot, ramps up testing outside of Lawrence General Hospital.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

As Memorial Day weekend beckoned after two months of coronavirus restrictions, Governor Charlie Baker urged people to remain vigilant against the contagion and protect the gains of social distancing efforts.

“It’s very important for us to respect the power of the contagion and this virus, and to recognize and to understand that we have things we can do to prevent the spread," Baker said Friday. "The biggest thing we can do is to wear a face covering if you can’t keep distant from people.”

“People have worked really hard and given up a tremendous amount over the past eight or 10 weeks to bend the trend on this, and we succeeded," he added. “Don’t let a few nice days step on that."

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“This is not about vanity, folks,” Baker said of the state’s face-covering requirement. “It’s about the safety and the health of your friends and your families ... there’s a lot at stake here.”

Baker made the appeal as the state reported 80 new deaths from COVID-19, raising the toll to 6,228. There were 805 additional cases, but the seven-day weighted average of positive test rates — a key metric of progress — declined slightly to 9.2 percent, as of Thursday. The three-day average of the number of coronavirus patients in the hospital dropped to 2,412.

“The overwhelming number of people in Massachusetts have been really good about abiding by" health guidelines, Baker said. "Honestly, I’m sure that over the course of the weekend there will be some places” where the guidelines aren’t followed. “But I believe the vast majority of people will. ... I expect that people will do the right thing.”

"There's a lot at stake here," says Baker
Governor Charlie Baker gave an impassioned speech on Friday about following public health guidelines ahead of Memorial Day Weekend. (Photo: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff, Video: Handout)

Baker spoke at a news conference in Lawrence, where Mayor Daniel Rivera announced a plan to test as many as 1,000 residents a day at a drive-up location, using $1 million in funding from the city’s reserves.

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“Lawrence is as prepared as any community can be to fight this war and heal after," he said.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh also called on the public to follow health guidelines as a burst of sunny weather gave the region a taste of summer.

“We’re not through it. We’re not even halfway through it,” he said of the public health crisis during an afternoon interview on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio.

If people want to have cookouts, they should limit them to immediate family, he said.

Walsh had previously said he is not comfortable with offices opening at 25 percent capacity, a threshold the state’s reopening plan allows for. On Friday, Walsh echoed his concerns, saying, “I don’t think we’ll have 25 percent capacity in any office in the city" when they open June 1.

Walsh said he is asking offices to reopen with a skeleton crew and then ramp up gradually to guard against new outbreaks.

"I feel that when we reopen society, unless it’s an absolute necessity, we can’t be shutting things down again,” Walsh said.

If there are crowds on trains and buses, Walsh said he would support limiting capacity on public transit and increasing transit service.

The first phase of the state’s reopening plan, dubbed Start, began Monday with construction sites, houses of worship, and manufacturing joining essential businesses such as grocery stores that can open. Hospitals and health care providers were also allowed to resume “high priority” preventative and pediatric care. But some are questioning whether enough health protections are in place, and when large public events might resume is unclear.

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Asked whether the Boston Marathon would be held on its rescheduled date in September, Walsh said he expected a decision to be made within the next week or two. Discussions are ongoing, he said.

“You can’t just cancel the marathon four days beforehand,” he said. The race, which draws as many as 1 million spectators, has never been canceled in its 124-year history.

Walsh said he was tested last week for coronavirus, and the results were negative. The results of an antibody test have not returned.

In other news, Baker will deliver a televised commencement address for high school students across the state on June 9. Members of the Boston Pops Orchestra will provide the traditional graduation march “Pomp and Circumstance,” and students will deliver valedictorian-type speeches. WGBH will broadcast the virtual ceremony.

The Baker administration has also told local school officials that outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies may be held, under specific guidelines, starting July 19. Tents or other enclosures are not permitted, only immediate family can attend, and attendees must wear face masks. Social distancing must be observed.

The virus has killed more than 333,000 worldwide. In the US, more than 1.5 million people have been sickened and more than 94,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The virus can cause mild to severe, life-threatening 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.

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Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


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