Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that the state’s seven-day positive average for coronavirus tests has dipped to 0.8 percent, down from 0.9 percent the day before.
“While we’re pleased that the statewide average of positive COVID tests has continued to fall, we’ve been tracing and tracking cases in communities to understand where the virus is spreading,” Baker said during his regular briefing, following a tour of a Medford restaurant.
As of Wednesday, Baker said, 13 communities qualified as high risk for the virus with more than eight cases per 100,000 in the last two weeks, and 47 communities currently qualify as moderate risk. Almost 84 communities qualify as low risk, with less than four cases per 100,000 residents. And 167 municipalities have had five or fewer total cases of COVID-19 since mid-August.
In other words, Baker said, “nearly half of our cities and towns have had a total of 5 cases or less for the past month.”
He also announced Thursday that the pot for the MassDOT shared streets and spaces emergency grant program, which launched in June with $5 million in available funds, had doubled to $10 million.
The grants, Baker said, go to priorities such as improving sidewalks, curbs, streets, and on- and off-street parking lots to support public health and safe mobility. Baker said officials hope the grants will allow restaurants, for instance, to extend their outdoor dining seasons.
He also said that later Thursday, he planned to sign an executive order to extend the time frame for municipal permitting for expanded outdoor dining, which he said will help restaurants like Bistro 5, the eatery he toured with other state officials, continue serving guests outdoors under the same basic parameters outlined in June.
“We hope this eases the burden on restaurants,” Baker said.
In addition, Baker said, he also planned to sign an order Thursday allowing indoor and outdoor arcades to reopen next week.
Asked about the decision to reopen arcades, Baker said the gaming centers have been open for a while in surrounding states, where colleagues told Massachusetts officials that arcades have been able to safely operate with precautions such as capacity limits and hand sanitizer.
As for bars and nightclubs, Baker noted that those establishments have been tied to a “high percentage” of outbreaks elsewhere in the country, and state officials still have concerns about “the impact they would have” in Massachusetts. Bars and clubs remain shuttered statewide.
In addition, the governor briefly addressed the situation in Dedham, which was recently classified as a high-risk community. That designation, Baker said, came on the heels of transmission driven by “a bunch of young kids who got together to watch a bunch of Bruins playoff games.”
Baker stressed that people can come together but they must continue to take all the normal precautions such as distancing, face coverings when distancing isn’t possible, and proper hygiene.
“It doesn’t mean people can’t watch the games,” Baker said. “It does mean people need to maintain their vigilance.”
Baker, a Republican, was also asked about revelations Wednesday that President Trump in February told journalist Bob Woodward about the severity of the virus while publicly downplaying its seriousness.
“I have not been shy about my dismay with the federal response to this pandemic,” Baker said. “And we’ve also tried to be pretty consistent in our messaging around this. ... It’s dangerous, for many people it’s deadly dangerous, and it is profoundly contagious. And it is the contagion that makes it dangerous for everybody.”
Pressed on his thoughts about Trump’s remarks, Baker, who has said he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, offered, “there’s an election coming up. That’s when people make decisions about stuff like this.”
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito also briefed reporters and urged the public to support local businesses.
Residents, she said, should “be intentional around visiting local places like this.”
At one point Thursday, Baker was asked about the plan for trick-or-treating on Halloween night in October. He said that while no decisions have been made, whatever the state settles on “is going to reflect the fact that different communities are in different places with respect to how we handle this.”
“I’ve been working on my costume,” he quipped.
During a separate briefing Thursday afternoon outside Boston City Hall, Mayor Martin J. Walsh told reporters the city logged 34 new coronavirus cases the day before for a total of 16,001 since the start of the pandemic.
The city has gone nine days without any COVID-related deaths, Walsh said, so the total number of fatalities remains at 754.
The seven-day average for positive tests in the city was 1.5 percent, Walsh said. And in hard-hit East Boston, where the rate was around 11 percent a couple weeks ago, it now stands at 6.6 percent following aggressive outreach efforts by the city, Walsh said.
“This is still higher than we want, but we continue to come down,” he said. " ... COVID-19 is still with us, and the precautions we’ve been taking are still necessary, and clearly by looking at the numbers, they work."