Baker Announces $774 Million COVID Economic Recovery Plan

The program will provide funding to help get people back to work, assist impacted small businesses, revitalize downtowns, foster innovation and ensure housing stabilit

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Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new $774 million COVID-19 economic recovery plan on Thursday.

The program will provide funding to help get people back to work, assist impacted small businesses, revitalize downtowns, foster innovation and ensure housing stability, he said.

Baker said $115 million will be immediately available for small businesses and workforce training. Interested businesses have three weeks to apply for grants ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 on the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation website.

"The plan, we believe, can help stabilize in many parts of the commonwealth growth that's already started to take place and hopefully kick start it in other parts of the state as well," he said.

Baker said about $275 million of the funding announced Thursday is still awaiting the approval of the state Legislature.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced a massive COVID-19 economic recovery plan.

"I think if all goes according to plan, a lot of this will be out the door before the end of the calendar year," he said.

Baker said his administration was taking action, in part, because Congress and the White House failed to deliver the type of relief that is still necessary to help small businesses, workers and government get back on their feet.

"To be clear, there's no substitute for the size and scope that a federal aid package could deliver," he said. "But that doesn't seem to be in the offing and we certainly don't believe that we can wait."

The funding announcement comes as a recent increase in coronavirus cases has sparked fears of a second surge and the possibility of a new round of economic shutdowns. Boston even announced Wednesday that its public schools were going all remote due to a dramatic rise in the percentage of positive cases in the city.

With an uptick in cases, are we seeing a second surge in Massachusetts or is the worst yet to come? We talked to experts.

Last week, the number of communities in the highest-risk, or red, category on the state's COVID-19 risk map rose by more than 50%.

Still, Baker has remained mostly upbeat, saying the state is well prepared for another spike in cases based on all the work it did last spring.

The governor pointed out last week that the state now has the infrastructure in place to withstand a surge in cases, with hundreds of hospital beds at the ready and field hospitals available for activation if needed.

He noted that the state's testing and contact tracing capacity is also far greater now than it was six months ago.

"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 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," Baker said. "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," he added. 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.

Boston hospitals have been preparing for a second surge all summer long.

Young adults are driving the largest chunk of growth in COVID-19 positive test rates in Massachusetts, Baker said this week, prompting the administration to renew its warnings against large gatherings and other unregulated social activity.

Residents between the ages of 19 and 39 represent the "vast majority of the increase in positive tests" in Massachusetts and around the country, he said.

As state and local officials ramp up enforcement of public health protocols, Baker said most of the recent growth in infections has come not from dining or other public activities, but from "informal events and social gatherings."

"Those are the places and spaces where, if people are asymptomatic, they will give it to somebody else if neither of them are wearing a mask and they're engaged in close contact over an extended period of time," Baker said. "That's exactly what happens when people get together to have a house party or a backyard party or some other celebration -- the kinds of stuff we used to do, once upon a time, as a matter of course almost every weekend."

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