Citing the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in other parts of the country, Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday urged state residents to remain vigilant and wear face coverings when they can’t socially distance in an effort to keep infection rates low in Massachusetts, where the seven-day average of positive tests continues to hover around 2 percent.
“It’s very clear from the research and data that face coverings are the most important and significant way to stop the spread,” Baker said during his regular State House news conference. ”While there’s been a lot of back and forth ... the one thing we all know for sure is it spreads from one person to another, to another, and then to another.”
He said continued precautions are “especially important as the rest of the country has experienced significant increases in recent weeks that we stay vigilant here in Massachusetts.”
The state’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak among confirmed cases climbed by 11 to 8,163, the state reported Thursday. The number of confirmed cases climbed by 143, bringing the total to 106,271, as key metrics the state is using to monitor the reopening remained generally steady.
The state also reported one new probable-case death, with that total rising to 217, and an additional 91 probable cases for a total of 6,310.
The state said 12,880 new individuals had been tested for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 995,374. The total number of tests administered climbed to 1,274,585. And the state reported that new antibody tests had been completed for 1,189 people, bringing that total to 83,598.
Baker’s order requiring people to wear face coverings in public when they can’t socially distance took effect in May. Children aged 2 and under are exempt, as are people with medical conditions that make mask-wearing untenable.
“That order is going to remain in place until we don’t have an emergency,” Baker said, adding that statewide compliance with his order has been high.
The governor said masks are “a fundamental part of how we contain and fight the virus.”
“And we believe the proposal we put in place, which gives locals the ability to also enforce this order with a variety of means of mechanisms that are available to them, has worked enormously effectively.”
The state’s hospitalization rates for COVID-19 remain low, he noted, with just six hospitals using surge capacity as of Wednesday, which was mainly due to non-ICU and non-COVID-19-related issues.
Baker also addressed recent acrimony over COVID-19 data and reporting issues coming out of Washington, D.C.
Calling the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a ”source of truth, for lack of a better word” on COVID-19 data, Baker said “as the virus continues to grow around the country, it’s more important than ever” for the CDC to report nationwide numbers on infections and hospitalizations daily.
Turning to housing, Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito also touted the tens of millions in funding, including a sizable amount of federal money, available to Massachusetts residents for housing assistance and other priorities during the pandemic.
Among the funding sources is $19.6 million for municipalities to address emergency needs, which will support 181 communities “in their work to provide vital services to low-income residents and small businesses affected by the recent outbreak,” the Baker administration said in a statement.
Local governments and regional entities will use the money for social services, including homelessness prevention, food aid, and job training for in-demand health care workers and technicians, according to Baker’s office.
That money comes on top of $20 million in Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance the Baker administration announced last month. That program, the statement said, will “help more low-income households who have lost employment or income due to the pandemic maintain stable housing, and builds on” the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s existing homelessness prevention program.
More information on housing assistance is available online.
And earlier this month, Baker’s office said in the statement, the administration unveiled a $275 million COVID-19 recovery package.
That package is designed to promote equity across the state, according to the statement, and includes “$85 million for housing efforts, including investments in neighborhood stabilization and sustainable, climate-resilient affordable housing, as well as $50 million in targeted relief for small and minority-owned businesses.”
During a later briefing Thursday outside Boston City Hall, Mayor Martin J. Walsh echoed Baker’s earlier remarks about the importance of face coverings and other precautions and urged residents to get tested, noting the widespread availability of free testing at community health centers and other locations across the city.
“Testing remains one of our most essential weapons in this fight,” Walsh said.
The mayor added that the Boston Resiliency Fund has distributed more than $24 million to organizations supporting COVID-19 relief, and he bristled at what he said were earlier critical remarks about the fund in a radio interview with a city council member. Walsh didn’t name the councilor.
But he said that if the city councilor had contacted his office, she would have understood that the fund has raised more than $33 million and distributed some $24 million of it to businesses and organizations committed to putting “food on people’s table, so they don’t go hungry,” among other initiatives.
And, Walsh said, more than half of the allocated $24 million has gone to businesses and organizations owned and operated by people of color.