With progress continuing in the fight against coronavirus, Massachusetts is on the verge of opening up more of its economy and society, Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday.
Baker told reporters that on Saturday he’ll announce a date to start Phase Two of the reopening plan, a landmark that would allow more retailers and restaurants, child care centers and summer camps to open their doors again. Under the state’s plan, the earliest Phase Two can begin is Monday.
New cases and hospitalization rates have gradually declined in recent weeks, and Baker said just 5 percent of coronavirus tests processed Tuesday came back positive, down from 27 percent in mid-April. But people shouldn’t get complacent, said Baker, who urged Massachusetts residents to continue to wear masks in public, social distance, wash their hands often, and generally stay home as much as possible.
“We’ve also made significant progress in fighting COVID, and more people are opening businesses,” Baker said at a State House news conference. "But as more things reopen, and as we get into the summer, we also must remember how quickly we move forward ultimately depends on how well we do our jobs.”
That progress was reflected in numbers released Wednesday.
The state reported 68 new deaths from COVID-19 and 429 new confirmed or suspected cases. Both continue the general downward trajectory of recent weeks and bring totals to 7,152 deaths confirmed or suspected from COVID-19, and 101,592 cases. Other key metrics — positive test rates and hospitalizations — continued to decline, while the number of hospitals using surge capacity ticked up from four to six, still well below the peak of 21 hospitals in early May.
Still, the virus’s toll in Massachusetts continues to be enormous. A new model from the University of Massachusetts estimates 8,032 deaths from the pandemic by June 27, underlining the grim reality that, even as the economy gradually reopens, the battle against the virus is not over.
To help win it, Baker said, the state plans to continue ramping up testing, using $374 million in new federal money to launch 20 testing centers by the end of July in neighborhoods with high infection rates.
“This is how we bring the fight to the virus and expand the hard-fought gains we’ve already made,” he said.
The picture of daily life in Massachusetts under that virus continues to grow clearer. Several high-level state officials joined Baker to outline guidelines released earlier this week for how businesses and other institutions can operate under Phase Two.
Economic development secretary Michael Kennealy noted that many retail stores will be allowed to reopen, but will do so under strict capacity limits and distancing guidelines, which stores themselves will need to enforce.
“The retail customer experience will be different than it was before COVID-19,” Kennealy said. “Please remember to be kind and patient to workers.”
Day cares and summer camps will be quite changed as they reopen this summer as well. Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, the state’s commissioner of early education, stressed that guidelines — which include social distancing, staggered drop-off schedules, and daily health screenings of children and staff — will make life far more complicated for both parents and providers.
“Child care will look different,” she said. “As a former preschool teacher, I want to acknowledge how hard this will be for both educators and families.”
But the reopening will bring things to look forward to as well, the resumption of activities taken for granted not so long ago. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito talked about how much her family has missed youth sports, which can begin to resume in Phase Two. And Baker, whose elderly father lives in a long-term-care facility, said he plans to go see him for the first time in months once visits — outside — are allowed again.
“I am going to go see my dad,” he said. “Soon.”
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