Another 78 people with COVID-19 in Massachusetts have died, health officials said Friday, reporting 617 more confirmed cases.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said that 6,718 people in the state have now died and 95,512 have tested positive.
Still, the pace of new fatalities and cases has slowed enough for Gov. Charlie Baker to start talking about Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan.
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The progress through the four phases of Massachusetts' reopening plan is being paced by the data, and Baker reiterated at his news conference Friday that key metrics "keep trending in the right direction." But he also said the speed of reopening remains in Bay State residents' hands -- they must keep social distancing.
While Baker isn't ready to say when Phase 2 can begin, he did say that he'll allow next week restaurants and other businesses scheduled to reopen in it to begin bringing back employees so they can prepare for reopening.
The Department of Public Health's daily report contains six indicators that are informing how fast Massachusetts can move through the four phases of its reopening plan. They are: the COVID-19 positive test rate, the number of individuals who died from COVID-19, the number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals, the health care system's readiness, testing capacity, contact tracing capabilities.
As they have for over a week, none of the six indicators was trending negatively Thursday, and two were trending positively: the positive test rate and the testing capacity. All of the other four metrics were rated "in progress," the intermediate metric.
On Thursday, health officials had announced the first increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a week, though it was just 6. Friday's report brought another big drop in the number of hospitalized patients, of 121 people.
Massachusetts has for weeks been one of the epicenters of COVID-19 in the U.S. It has the fifth-most cases among all states and third-most deaths.
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Baker and other health officials have said Massachusetts' high tallies may be due to the state testing among the most residents per capita in the country.