Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that Massachusetts reached a significant benchmark Wednesday in the battle against COVID-19, with the tally of hospitalized patients dipping below 500 statewide for the first time since October.
Baker, a Republican, made the comments during a briefing at Panela Restaurant in Lowell, to mark the latest round of pandemic small business relief grants.
“We’re down to 485, plus or minus,” Baker said of the tally of hospitalized patients, which the state also released in its daily report Wednesday. “There’s a lot of very positive stuff going on here. I think the thing we’re going to want to do is work with our colleagues in local government and with our colleagues in business” to highlight available resources.
Baker also praised lawmakers.
“And kudos to the Legislature for passing a very significant economic development bill at the end of the last session,” Baker said, adding that officials are working “to make sure that we put not just the state resources but also the federal resources that are being made available to local governments and to the state to work in a positive way, recognizing and understanding that post-pandemic everything won’t be exactly the way it was pre-pandemic.”
Juan Acevedo, whose family owns Panela, which received one of the small business grants administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, also addressed reporters.
“One of the things that I love the most about the city is the diversity,” Acevedo said. “Just on this street alone, you [can] visit about seven different nationalities of restaurants, which is something that I love about the city.”
He said the grant program helped his family when they needed help “the most.”
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito also lauded the program.
“We clearly know that these programs work,” Polito said. “As the governor said, on this program, $687 million into the hands of over 15,112 small businesses across our state. ... And every single one of those businesses are small business owners that had a dream, that put it together, that worked really hard, employed people in their community and very much have become part of the fabric of the community.”
In a follow-up statement released after the event, the Baker administration said 43 percent of the grants have been awarded to businesses owned by people of color, and 46 percent have gone to women-owned businesses.
“It is essential to recognize the significance of culturally and linguistically responsive outreach to minority and underrepresented groups, which was a major contributor to the program’s success,” said Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, executive director of Amplify Latinx, an organization that worked with officials to increase grant applications from underrepresented groups, in the statement.
“These partner organizations are all well positioned and trusted by minority communities to effectively and quickly respond to the challenges faced by these businesses,” Ubiera-Minaya said. “The collaborative approach centered on the partner organizations has helped ensure that the collective work going forward is as intentional and impactful as possible. Keeping direction will position minority-owned businesses for stability and growth.”
State officials have touted the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination effort as one of the key factors that could help the state more fully reopen sooner.
“There are significant opportunities for reopening coming in the middle of May,” Baker said. “There are significant opportunities coming at the end of May. ... We expect that by the time we get to the middle of summer, we’ll be in a very different place.”
In an effort to reach more people now that the majority of adults in the state have received at least one dose, a number of pharmacy chains including CVS and Walmart have announced that they’re now taking walk-in vaccine appointments. Four of the state’s seven mass vaccination sites will also take walk-ins starting Monday.
And in a related development, Stop & Shop said Thursday that its more than 205 pharmacy locations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are now accepting walk-in appointments too, for either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Stop & Shop has been proud to support our communities throughout the pandemic, most recently by administering the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Katie Thornell, director of pharmacy operations at Stop & Shop, in the company statement. “We are prepared to continue helping members of the community protect themselves against COVID-19 by allowing all customers 18 and older the convenience of walking into any of our pharmacies to receive their immunization without needing to schedule an appointment in advance.”