Gov. Baker Details Efforts to Reopen Mass. Economy After Coronavirus Shutdown

The governor announced earlier this week that he was extending non-essential business closures to May 18

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Gov. Charlie Baker detailed the steps that are being taken to reopen the Massachusetts economy during his daily press conference on Thursday.

He said the Reopening Advisory Board established this week "has hit the ground running" and begun meeting with various employers, business organizations and municipalities to talk about the issues they are facing and how they see the reopening working for them.

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker, in an update on COVID-19, says advisory board in talks about reopening.

"The goal here is to make sure as many voices as possible can be heard," he said, including retailers, biotech, health care, and the tech industry, adding that the board is setting up feedback and listening sessions across the state.

"This work is obviously going to be critical to our ability to make sure that a smart, phased reopening can take place here in Massachusetts," Baker said. "The team obviously has a lot of work to do in a very short period of time."

The advisory board is charged with returning to Baker with a set of recommendations no later than May 18, the day the non-essential business closures are set to expire.

A Walmart in Worcester, Massachusetts, is closed after 22 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

About four weeks after officials announced a new statewide effort to trace the close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19, the governor said the tracing team has contacted about 5,000 individuals. He said about 1,000 people are now working as part of the contact tracing program, a collaboration with Partners in Health.

Baker said tracing is a key element of efforts to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious disease. When the effort was launched, he said, it was projected that each person who has COVID-19 would have about 10 close contacts. The average number of contacts has turned out to only be two, which he said means efforts to stay home and socially distance have been working.

He urged people to answer the phone if they receive a call from the tracing collaborative -- they come from a number with an 833 or 857 area code, he said, and the caller ID will say "MA COVID Team" -- and provide the relevant information.

"We believe the tracing program is a key element toward not only stopping the spread but understanding where the virus is and how we contain it," Baker said.

In an update on COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker addresses flattening the curve, provides info on new pandemic unemployment program.

The governor announced Tuesday that he was extending the shutdown from May 4 until May 18 and established an advisory board to come up with recommendations on how a phased reopening can take place. The decision upset some in the business community who are struggling to survive due to coronavirus restrictions.

"We are still at the plateau with respect to the surge," Baker said Wednesday. "And as your governor, we are always going to put Massachusetts first. We'll be ready to move on from this stage of our lives, but not until we see data showing it can be done appropriately."

Massachusetts health officials reported 252 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the the total number of deaths in the state since the pandemic began to 3,405. The state also reported 1,963 new cases, for a total of more than 60,000.

The relationship between Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has been notable for how placid it's been amid the coronavirus crisis.

Ultimately, Baker has said the decision on when to reopen will be dictated by the public health and hospitalization data.

He said Thursday that the percentage of positive tests and the state's hospital capacity has remained "pretty flat" for the past two weeks, but has yet to see a decline.

"We have, in fact, bent the curve. We did, in fact, reduce the spread," Baker said. "We are now living with a plateau that I'm sure all of us would like to see dip a little bit so that we can move a little more quickly with respect to what a reopening strategy would look like."

Even with the weather expected to improve in the coming days, Baker said he is not concerned that large numbers of residents will disobey the state's stay-at-home advisory and guidelines for social distancing.

"People around here have been really good for the most part about understanding and appreciating why distance is so important," he said. "That's a big part of why we didn't see a big spike."

He continued to urge people to wear masks or other face coverings in public, but said he has no plans for statewide fines for violators like the ones some cities and towns have already implemented.

State House News Service contributed to this report.

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