Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that he expects former federal prosecutor Mark W. Pearlstein to complete his report on the devastating COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home “reasonably soon” but stressed he’s not rushing the prominent lawyer’s review of what went wrong at the veterans’ facility.
Speaking during his daily briefing following a tour of a Cambridge shared biotech lab facility, Baker said he and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito are as “anxious” as everyone else to see the report on the outbreak, which has killed at least 76 veterans.
Public calls for the report’s release have intensified recently, with the Globe editorial board earlier this week running an editorial headlined “Release the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home report.”
On Friday, Baker said he wanted Pearlstein, who works in private practice at McDermott Will & Emery, to complete the report “when it’s done” without any “artificial deadlines” impeding the work. He said he wanted Pearlstein to “completely, thoroughly, and objectively” establish the “who, what, why, where, and when with respect to that horrible tragedy.”
Baker announced April 1 that the state had hired Pearlstein to conduct the independent review.
On Friday the reported number of new deaths in the state was 35, bringing the total to 7,235; the new number of reported cases was 494, bringing the total to 102,557.
Turning to Massachusetts protests against police brutality this week in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Baker said cities and towns had been strongly appreciative of the “support we provided them," including Massachusetts National Guard deployments to ensure people had “an opportunity to safely express their point of view over the past week or so.”
The Guard was sent to Boston to help maintain order after violence and looting erupted Sunday night following a peaceful march. Fifty-three people were arrested, and nine police officers were taken to the hospital in the tumult, as were 18 other people.
Baker said Friday that since the Guard had been deployed to Boston and elsewhere, hardly any arrests have been made at demonstrations statewide. Baker said officials want to allow people to “get out there and make their voices heard on an important issue” and “make a point about racism and a variety of other issues.”
On Thursday, Baker said, he and Polito and public safety Secretary Thomas Turco met remotely with the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and observed an eight-minute, 46-second moment of silence, the amount of time that a white Minneapolis officer pinned his knee on May 25 to Floyd’s neck, despite his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
Baker said his team and the lawmakers had a productive discussion about ways to improve “transparency in law enforcement.”
On the question of the ongoing phased reopening of the state’s economy amid the pandemic, Baker declined to offer specifics on Phase 2, which could begin as soon as Monday.
"We’re planning to make that announcement tomorrow,” Baker said, referring to a news conference scheduled for Saturday, where he said he will reveal when Phase 2 can begin, based on the administration’s review of public health data on the virus.
He said the state’s positive test rate has plummeted 80 percent since mid-April.
The governor briefed reporters after touring LabCentral, a biotech incubator in Cambridge that has nurtured dozens of startups in a shared working space since 2013, some of which are working on coronavirus treatments.
“Each of these companies have answered the call to find a treatment for COVID-19” while complying with safety standards in place for the phased reopening, Polito said.
Anticipation is building for the governor’s Saturday announcement on whether the state can enter Phase 2, when retail stores can reopen for browsing — with restrictions. Also under Phase 2, restaurants will be able to open for outdoor dining.
Danny McDonald and Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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