Gov. Charlie Baker said the state is hard at work on a plan to ensure that Massachusetts schools will be able to reopen safely in the fall after being forced to move to remote learning for the final months of the current school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked if he thinks it will be safe to reopen in the fall, Baker stopped short of a definitive yes.
"So first of all, there are schools all over the world that are open," he said. "And while I certainly think a lot of those school systems and school districts and countries have done some pretty clever and imaginative things, I certainly believe we have the ability here to do imaginative and creative things that are safe for kids and faculty and administrators as well."
Baker said there are many children for whom school is a really important part of their lives for reasons beyond academics, so the decision to close schools for the remainder of the year was not one he took lightly.
"I feel terrible and I know almost everybody does about how much school our kids lost as a result of this pandemic, and I think we all believe that it's critically important that we do all we can to make sure they don't lose another half year, or God forbid, longer than that," he said. "I think we really need to work hard to make sure we come up with a workable plan."
Baker said Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has a team working on a plan and he will have more to say about it "when we have a little more meat on the bones." The governor said his goal is to release the plan early enough that people have time to digest and discuss it well ahead of the start of school in the fall.
"This isn't the sort of thing anybody thinks you can present to people on August 20th and think that's going to be particularly helpful," he said. "People know that this is something people need to see and start thinking about and have a chance to kick the tires on sooner rather than later."
Baker spoke with the media Wednesday after touring the ongoing construction on the MBTA's Blue Line at Maverick Station in East Boston.
Ridership has been so low during the pandemic that the T has been able to get a lot of improvement work done on the Blue Line and elsewhere that otherwise would have taken much longer to complete.
Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the agency is now getting ready to resume a more regular schedule as more employees return to the workplace. But they hope that since more people are now working from home ridership will still be low enough to allow for adequate social distancing.
"It will take all of us working together to make sure the transportation system stays reliable," Pollack said. "Employers need to work with us to gradually bring workers back, especially her in Boston and the urban core to ensure the T and highway network can accommodate the growing demand."
Wednesday's remarks came amid increased economic activity in the Bay State as the rate of new coronavirus cases continues to decline.
Saying the coronavirus surge "is behind us," Baker announced Tuesday that the Boston Hope Medical Center is suspending the acceptance of new COVID-19 patients.
The 1,000-bed facility at the Boston Convention & Exposition Center has treated 700-plus COVID-19 patients and served as a respite site for the homeless. It will remain in place until all existing patients are discharged. Beds will also remain available at the facility throughout the summer in case they are needed.
Other similar field hospital sites that were set up in Worcester, Lowell and on Cape Cod in recent months have already begun to close.
Baker said the state's coronavirus numbers continue to trend in the right direction. As of Monday, the rate of positive tests was at 9%, which is about where it has been for the past week. He said 2,179 people remain hospitalized, which the governor said is "a significant decrease" over the past two to three weeks.
"Phase 1 of the reopening is now underway and more sectors are slowly reopening," he said. "This data indicates we are trending in the right direction."