Baker Bullish About Pandemic Supplies, Infastructure
"We Are Not Where We Were in March," Guv Says
10/13/20 4:02 PM
OCT. 13, 2020.....Expecting a rise in COVID-19 cases this fall, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that Massachusetts is prepared for the next stage of the months-long fight against the highly contagious coronavirus.
Baker said he did not think a second surge of the virus had arrived in the Bay State at this point, though daily COVID-19 case counts, rolling average positive test rates and hospitalization numbers are higher now than they were during a summer lull.
He and other administration officials stressed months of work building hospital capacity, testing capabilities and equipment stockpiles, progress that Baker said puts the state in "a strong position to be prepared for whatever comes next."
"I think part of the idea today was to just make clear to people that a lot has happened over the past seven months, eight months," Baker said. "We are in a very different position with respect to our ability to test and trace and isolate quarantine, and we have far better data that we can make available to our communities and to our health care system than we could last spring, and that we've done a lot of work in particular, with the health care community and the long-term care community, to sort of make them far more robust with respect to their ability to deal with whatever might come. I think it's important to remember that we are not where we were in March."
The state has "built a massive infrastructure to respond to this pandemic," Baker said. Hospital capacity can be quickly expanded if needed, he said, with the ability to convert medical/surgical space into at least 450 intensive care unit beds and the equipment available at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to once again set up temporary COVID-19 treatment facilities.
Baker said hospitals are reporting that personal protective equipment supply chains are largely back to normal after the spring's disruptions -- during which the governor said "states were left on their own to track down these critical materials" -- and local companies are still actively producing PPE in the state.
Massachusetts has added millions of pieces of PPE to its stockpile over the past several months, Baker said, for "far more than we ever had before."
"Based on the PPE we now have and shipments we expect later this fall, we have sufficient PPE to support emergency supply needs of health care and human services providers and first responders from now until the end of 2021," he said.
According to Baker's office, there are also about 1,200 ventilators in the stockpile, a clinical rapid response team remains available if "severe staffing shortages" develop in long-term care facilities, and there is now "in-state lab capacity to process more than 100,000 tests per day if demand warrants."
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders announced that the state's Stop the Spread testing initiative, which had previously been slated to end Oct. 31, would be extended through December. The program provides free COVID-19 testing in 18 communities that have higher case counts, at sites that are open to all Massachusetts residents, regardless of if they are displaying symptoms.
"We continue to be a top testing state per capita, either first or second in the country," Sudders said. "Even as we cannot test our way out of this pandemic, however, testing identifies individuals with symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID. It allows us to act quickly and stop the spread, and it provides critical data that we did not have in the spring."
Sudders said a team of epidemiologists has been added to the state's contact tracing collaborative to investigate the source of transmission. More than 100,000 people have been contacted by contact tracers, according to the administration.
"As we look ahead to the fall and winter months, our state is in a much stronger position than we were in February and March to face a resurgence," Sudders said. "We've planned for both the flu season and the pandemic together. COVID will be with us until we have safe and effective therapeutics. Remain vigilant."
Over the three-day holiday weekend, the Department of Public Health logged 1,922 new COVID-19 cases and 39 new deaths linked to the respiratory disease, bringing the state's cumulative caseload to 136,933 since February and the total death toll here to 9,617 people.
Asked if the recent rise in case numbers indicated the arrival of a second surge, Baker said, "I don't consider where we are to be anywhere near that," and said the uptick is something state officials had planned for and anticipated.
Baker said there is "no question" there will be more cases this fall, noting that researchers and public health experts have been predicting such an increase since the spring.
"We've done the work. We're prepared to respond to this virus like never before," he said. "But our preparations are of little use without the people of Massachusetts continuing to do their part."
Baker said that as socializing and family activity move "from our backyards to our living rooms and our family rooms" as the weather gets colder, people need to be mindful of virus spread. He said people who travel out-of-state should wear masks and social distance when back around their families, and get tested for COVID-19.
"Household spread. Intergenerational spread. Expect to hear these terms a lot this fall," Baker said. "We all have a role to play here, and it doesn't end when we come home from work or the supermarket."
With Thanksgiving a little over six weeks away, Baker said the holiday will "be the source of some interesting conversations" as it marks a major day for both travel and family gatherings.
"We are probably going to have to talk about Thanksgiving at some point," he said. "I don't have what it is that we should be saying about that today, but that's certainly going to be a conversation that I think a lot of people should take seriously."
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