Governor Charlie Baker on Friday urged Massachusetts residents to “respect the virus” as the state continues battling the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
“We all need to keep doing what we’ve been doing if we’re going to remain successful here,” Baker said at a news conference on the shore of Assawompsett Pond in Middleborough.
Baker said that the state reported on Thursday 13,000 COVID-19 tests statewide, bringing the total to roughly 1.3 million since the start of the pandemic. The seven-day average of positive tests remains under 2 percent, he said.
“These progress indicators are obviously critical to us as we continue to move forward with respect to to our own reopening plans here in Massachusetts,” Baker said, adding that officials will continue to monitor the public health data on the virus.
He praised the people of Massachusetts for doing “their part every day to control and manage this insidious disease” and urged them to continue wearing face coverings when they can’t socially distance, practice good hygiene, and wipe down surfaces.
He was also asked about a lawsuit filed in federal court in Springfield by the family of a late Korean War veteran against the former head of the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home; the state’s former veterans secretary; and three others, charging they “completely failed” in controlling the novel coronavirus before it killed scores within the facility.
Baker said his administration doesn’t comment on pending litigation, though he did say that the outbreak at the soldiers’ home was “a terrible tragedy” that prompted him to tap a formal federal prosecutor to conduct an independent review of the facility.
That scathing review, released last month, found that leaders at the home made “utterly baffling” mistakes in responding to a devastating coronavirus outbreak that killed at least 76 elderly residents.
Baker said Friday that after speaking with “many of the families myself now personally,” he’s acutely aware of “the pain and the sadness and the loss that they feel.”
Asked about the city of Somerville’s decision to delay Phase 3 of reopening, Baker reiterated his oft-repeated mantra that cities and towns can craft their own safety protocols as long as they don’t “negate” the state guidance.
By way of example, Baker cited Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken’s decision to close city beach parking lots to non-residents this weekend following concerns about overcrowding.
“Perfectly appropriate,” Baker said.
The governor, citing his and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito’s prior stints in local government, said the notion that “folks on the ground locally in many cases have a very important sense and appreciation for what’s going on in their communities is a critical element to how we think about this whole exercise.”
Baker joined state and local officials at the pond to talk about the completion of a flood mitigation plan for the area.
Environmental Secretary Kathleen A. Theoharides said, ”We’re really excited to ... get some of these plans and turn them into real on-the ground projects.”
The governor noted that, during times like these, nature provides a “real opportunity for respite and relief for people during periods of high anxiety.”
Baker joked about his formal attire, telling reporters he felt “a little bit out of place” touring the area in his suit.
“I hope no one took a picture of me in my particular garb,” Baker quipped. “Because I’d hate to have it used against me at some point down the road.”
Matt Stout and Hanna Krueger of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.