Mass. Opens Coronavirus Command Center, Expands Testing

Gov. Charlie Baker announced measures Saturday that he said will help the commonwealth better respond to the spread of COVID-19

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Massachusetts has established a new COVID-19 Response Command Center and is expanding who can be tested for the virus, Gov. Charlie Baker and the state's health commissioner announced Saturday.

The new center will help coordinate the commonwealth's lab testing, quarantining and more, and it will have the authority to tap into whatever state funds are needed, the governor said, including $15 million appropriated by the Legislature for coronavirus.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced that Massachusetts has set up a coronavirus response command center. Acknowledging the empty shelves seen around the commonwealth's grocery stores, he told people there is no need to hoard food.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders will head up the command center, which will be the "single point" of decisions made regarding the administration's response.

"This team of experts will focus solely on pushing back against this disease and moving quickly to respond to the needs of our communities and residents," Baker said of the command center in an update Saturday morning.

Also Saturday, Sudders outlined new policies for expanded testing. Clinicians will no longer have to receive testing approval from the state lab before they send in samples for patients that meet particular criteria, Sudders said.

At a House hearing on the coronavirus response on Thursday, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., used a whiteboard and marker to persuade Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield to commit to providing free COVID-19 testing across the U.S.

This includes symptomatic health care workers and emergency health care workers, hospital patients, individuals who have come in contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and people with symptoms related to travel to high-risk countries.

Clinicians may also submit a single swab instead of the previous two, which is expected to further accelerate testing at the state lab.

A third commercial lab in Massachusetts is also getting approval to test for COVID-19, Sudders said.

The commonwealth's 211 information line is live and functioning in multiple languages officials said. As of Saturday morning, authorities said about 760 calls had been answered.

Baker also emphasized that, despite the bare shelves seen at grocery stores around Massachusetts, there is no shortage of food, and said that hoarding it "means your neighbor will have to go without."

Supermarkets across New England and the U.S. are seeking to restock and fulfill online orders as essential items like toilet paper and canned goods fly off the shelves.

He also urged people to check up on neighbors and loved ones amid the uncertainty: "Call your neighbors, your friends and your family members. A friendly check-in can go a long way right now in helping somebody through their day."

As of Friday, Massachusetts has had 123 people test positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, 18 of them confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the state's Department of Public Health.

A total of 475 people have been tested for coronavirus by state labs, officials said Saturday.

On Friday night, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced public schools in the city would close for at least six weeks starting Tuesday, while Baker issued an order prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people.

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, the U.S. is bracing itself.
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