Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday said the state is ready for additional COVID-19 cases this fall and urged residents to remain vigilant against transmitting or catching the virus.
“There’s no question that there will be more cases this fall,” Baker said during his regular State House press conference. “We’ve done the work. We’re prepared to respond to this virus like never before . . . What we need from you is continued vigilance as we head into the ninth month of fighting this virus.”
Baker added that “the single biggest issue that’s driving case growth is familiar people being familiar with each other" and that people in their 20s and 30s are seeing an uptick in cases.
“We’re not even necessarily talking about college kids,” Baker said, citing young people who are out of college but who are living together in close quarters in apartments. They’re not physically distancing at events like rooftop gatherings, he said, “and they’re passing the virus around.”
In a separate statement, Baker’s office laid out a number of steps the state has taken since the height of the pandemic last spring to aid in the ongoing fight against a virus that as of Tuesday morning had killed more than 9,400 people in Massachusetts.
Those safeguards, the statement said, include one of “the most robust” testing networks in the country; a “first-in-class” contact tracing system; investments and strengthened initiatives to protect the elderly and staff and long-term care facilities; hospital preparedness plans; PPE stockpile investments; health and safety requirements to protect teachers and students as schools reopen; and a “cautious approach” to reopening businesses.
Baker urged Massachusetts residents during the briefing to continue taking precautions such as face coverings, physical distancing, and good hygiene. In addition, Baker said, residents who return home following an out-of-state trip should get tested and even don face coverings around their own family members.
“Stay vigilant and respect the virus,” Baker said.
The governor also praised the state’s many colleges for their robust testing programs for students and staff.
Colleges are currently conducting about 25,000 tests daily, Baker said, and no college in Massachusetts has seen more than 200 cases, a figure he called “remarkable” considering the size of the student populations.
Last week’s positivity rate for Massachusetts colleges and universities, Baker said, was just 0.1 percent. Statewide, Health and Human Services chief Marylou Sudders said during the briefing, about 60,000 people are currently being tested daily.
Sudders and Baker both said Massachusetts remains a national leader on the testing front, and Sudders said the state’s Stop The Spread free testing campaign targeting hard-hit communities will be extended through December.
Coronavirus cases are continuing to be reported this week at levels the state hasn’t seen in months.
The seven-day rolling average of daily confirmed coronavirus cases climbed last Tuesday and Wednesday to 588, then dipped in the next few days, but it ticked back up to 575 Monday and reached 601 Tuesday.
The seven-day average had been as low as 151 on June 21. The seven-day average has surpassed 400 for the past 17 days and 300 for the past 29 days.
Meanwhile, the death toll from confirmed coronavirus cases in Massachusetts rose by 12 to 9,413, the Department of Public Health reported Tuesday. The number of confirmed cases climbed by 632, bringing the total to 137,565.
State officials also reported that 13,744 more people had been tested for coronavirus, bringing the total to more than 2.44 million. The number of administered tests climbed to more than 4.85 million.
The seven-day average of positive tests per total tests administered, was at 1.2 percent. The lowest observed figure for that metric — a number watched closely by state officials — is 0.8 percent.
The state is doing far better than the dark days of late April, when the rolling average reached more than 2,200 cases daily. But some experts have predicted a harrowing fall and winter are ahead nationally.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, last week urged Baker to consider restricting some indoor venues in light of current trends and in anticipation of wintertime increases. “What we’re seeing across the country is as people have let their foot off the brakes, then cases have started climbing,” he told The Boston Globe.
“We certainly have seen over the course of the past month or so an increase in daily case counts,” said Baker.
“We are going to be living with COVID until there is a vaccine or a treatment,” Baker said.
Asked repeatedly if he felt the state was in the midst of a second surge, he said “I don’t consider where we are to be anywhere near that.”
In a separate statement Tuesday, the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association said the state’s hospitals are prepared to treat a possible second wave of patients this fall if necessary.
“As Secretary Sudders mentioned at the Governor’s press conference today, MHA and Massachusetts hospitals have worked closely with the state to implement strict policies around bed capacity, personal protective equipment, and safety protocols in our facilities,” the association said. "These measures have put providers in a strong position to respond to an uptick in COVID cases, while still providing safe care for non COVID-needs. Our hospitals are safe, ready, and here for patients.”
John Hilliard and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.