Governor Charlie Baker warned Tuesday that Massachusetts may have to scale back its reopening efforts if positive coronavirus cases continue to creep up.
“Over the past several days, we’ve seen a modest uptick in the percentage of new positive cases, and we continue to closely monitor and analyze the data to determine the factors that are driving that,” Baker said during his regular briefing following a tour of the Boston MedFlight facility in Bedford.
He stressed that “if the data doesn’t support moving forward, as we have said many times, we won’t.” State officials, he added, aren’t taking “any options off the table” in the fight against the deadly contagion.
The governor added that state officials are working on “developing an ability to do mobile testing for schools” when they reopen in the fall.
In addition, Baker said Framingham on Wednesday will be the 17th community in the state to offer free coronavirus testing as part of the state’s Stop The Spread initiative. The communities were selected for the initiative, Baker said, after officials noticed a “significant decline” in tests being conducted in those areas.
“So there are literally tens of thousands of tests that are now moving into our system from communities that had previously high test scores that are now being identified as positive test cases, where we can work with those folks to contact trace and isolate them and support them as they quarantine,” he said “And we talked last week about some of the really big clusters that have turned up through some of the work done by the contact tracing team. This stuff all goes into a large discussion about what we should do and how we should respond.”
Baker said “bringing those communities into the free testing program has definitely increased the amount of testing that is going on there and turned up cases that we wouldn’t have turned up otherwise. It’s a really good thing. But I also said in my remarks that we pay a lot of attention to this data.”
Baker repeatedly urged constituents to take the familiar precautions of social distancing, face coverings, and proper hand hygiene to combat the spread of the virus.
“We’ve only had a slight uptick from a low of 1.7 percent, to 2 percent, but we’ll be forced to adjust our plans if the data warrants it,” Baker said. “That could mean gathering sizes could be reduced, or we could make some of our business regulations more strict. Reopening and staying open is a big part of the goal, but obviously we can’t do that if we don’t have everybody’s help to continue to move forward.”
Most state residents have complied with public health directives, Baker said.
“The overwhelming majority of people in Massachusetts have stayed true to all the things we talked about,” he said, adding that “everybody knows what works with respect to infection control.”
However, Baker said, there have been a few recent clusters in the state related to large gatherings where people neglected precautions such as face coverings.
“I don’t respect it, but I understand it,” Baker said. “I mean, week after week, month after month of paying attention to this rule book and this guidance” is “hard to do. And it’s especially hard to do when we’re in the middle of the only part of the year that’s nice around here, which is summer.”
Nevertheless, Baker said, compliance remains essential.
While there’s been some “slippage,” he said, “I really hope we don’t see that going forward because it’s going to affect the way we move forward. It has to.”
Maura Hughes, chief executive officer of Boston MedFlight, also addressed reporters during the briefing.
She said Boston MedFlight has cared for nearly 700 critically ill COVID-19 patients to date. The nonprofit’s critical care nurses and paramedics, Hughes said, attend to patients during “the worst days of their lives” and care for them “regardless of their ability to pay or their financial status.”
Baker also touched on Tropical Storm Isaias, which was expected to drop up to four inches of rain on parts of western Massachusetts Tuesday evening, as well as wind gusts of up to 60 m.p.h. in the eastern part of the state, particularly in the coastal areas.
He urged state residents to stay home during the storm if possible, adding that if “you’re going out, take it very slow, and allow plenty of extra time to get where you’re going.”