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Boston coronavirus field hospital stops taking admissions, as officials urge caution

Treating patients at the convention center is no longer necessary, Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday.
Treating patients at the convention center is no longer necessary, Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The pop-up field hospital officials created within Boston’s cavernous Seaport convention center stopped taking admissions Tuesday, signaling the state’s and city’s willingness to move away from the wartime footing it put the region on to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision — announced nearly 50 days after the first patients arrived at the 1,000 bed facility — provided a welcome sign of the state’s slow reemergence from the depths of the pandemic, even as officials continued to preach caution amid data that provided an encouraging, if incomplete, picture of COVID-19′s continued grip on Massachusetts.

State officials on Tuesday reported 57 new deaths, pushing the state’s death toll to 6,473, and 422 newly reported cases, which brought the total count so far to 93,693.

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Tuesday’s case count was the lowest one-day tally since March 24. But it also came after a holiday weekend and at a time when the state reported a dip in newly performed tests, a key indicator of its ability to capture a fuller picture. The 4,920 tests reported Tuesday were the lowest since mid-April, though Governor Charlie Baker said officials currently have the capacity to perform roughly 30,000 a day.

Other data showed positive trends: The number of hospitals using surge capacity and a three-day average of hospitalized patients all ticked downward, the state said, and Baker, at a State House news conference, described Massachusetts as trending in the “right direction.”

Yet eight days after Baker unveiled a progress report with six indicators he’s using to decide when to allow more businesses to reopen, his administration has yet to update it — despite saying its goal was to do so weekly.

The announcement to wind down the hospital facility at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center offered a concrete example of the state’s transition from the early throes of the pandemic, when officials prepared for the possibility of infections overwhelming the health care system.

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The facility, dubbed Boston Hope, will stay open until 36 patients who were there as of Monday night are discharged, and the beds will remain in place should a second wave in cases rip through Massachusetts. That, public health officials are warning, is a real possibility as restrictions ease and people return to crowded, closed-in spaces with the local economy reopening.

The convention center itself, considered a large venue, won’t be allowed to reopen for normal business until the last phase of Baker’s four-step reopening plan, according to center officials, a prospect that is at least months away.

For now, however, treating patients “at this alternative site is no longer necessary,” Baker said Tuesday. Partners HealthCare, the parent company of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals that set up the hospital, said it has served more than 700 patients since it opened on April 10 with the capacity to care for 500 who need medical care and 500 homeless individuals recovering from COVID-19.

“I hope we don’t have to go back there,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who called the pop-up facility the “most significant event ever held" at the convention center. “We built a hospital in five days.”

“Today’s a big step,” he said of closing off admissions. But, he quickly added, "We’re not on the other side of the virus yet.”

Walsh also announced the formation of a $6 million program to provide grants to small businesses in the city to help them comply with safety protocols as the state gradually begins to reopen its economy. The $2,000 grants will help businesses with less than 15 employees buy personal protective gear and install materials such as dividers to comply with state guidelines, Walsh said.

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The briefings came the day after Massachusetts allowed salons, barbershops, some offices to open, and retail curbside pickup to begin again — all with restrictions designed to help protect people from the deadly virus. In many cases, that also included new requirements from the state to begin logging every customer.

The governor said he got a haircut at 7 a.m. Tuesday, where the shop took his temperature beforehand and put plexiglass between the chairs. And, Baker said, he had to wet his hair before he arrived at the barbershop, where the person who cut his hair wore a mask and gown.

Baker wore a mask as well, he said, and he was “out in 20 minutes.”

His lieutenant governor, Karyn E. Polito, said at Tuesday’s briefing she attended a family graduation party over the weekend, which drew criticism online after a photo, posted at the Turtleboy Sports website Monday and purportedly taken Saturday night, showed several cars parked on the street and near her home.

But Polito said it was her brother, not her, who hosted the party, and she said the gathering did not violate Baker’s orders or guidelines on social distancing. Polito, her sibling, and her parents have all built homes on the same lakeside site in Shrewsbury, which includes access to a small nearby island.

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“It was an outdoor gathering. When I was there, [people were] spread apart, social distancing,” Polito said, adding that she did “stop by to say hello.”

“This is going to happen, when people want to get together and as the weather improves, it’s a natural thing to want to do," Polito said. "And [it] should be done in a manner where people come together, practice social distancing, and keep it small, which is what happened with my brother’s family.”

Baker’s order requiring people to wear masks if they can’t be 6 feet apart applies to any “place open to the public,” while gatherings over 10 people are allowed if in an “unenclosed, outdoor space.”

Neither Shrewsbury Police nor the town’s Board of Health said it has received any complaints about Tatassit Circle, the street where Polito and her family lives.

The prospect of the warming weather and monthslong restrictions on daily life has repeatedly prompted warnings from Baker and Walsh alike to resist the urge to pack back into crowds, even outside.

“Enjoy the day. It’s a beautiful day," Walsh said at the close of his news conference, before adding: "Stay off the beach!”

Travis Andersen, Jaclyn Reiss, Danny McDonald, and Emily Sweeney of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

Baker details food security plan
Governor Baker discussed the state’s recently announced $56 million program to help families that are food insecure as a result of the health crisis. (Photo: Sam Doran/Pool, Video: Handout)

Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout