Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he has submitted a request for federal disaster assistance to help provide support during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The governor said the request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide additional federal assistance to cities, towns, state agencies and nonprofits beyond his March 13 emergency declaration
“We hope to see the feds move on this quickly so we can get those resources deployed to our residents,” Baker said.
He called this a “profoundly challenging time… unlike anything I’ve been a part of,” but said he remains confident “we can get through this.”
To the parents working from home while also juggling their children’s school work, he said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” He also pushed back on those suggesting he cancel the remainder of the school year, saying that's not in students' best interests.
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The governor said the state continues to make progress on expanding its COVID-19 testing, with 21 labs now testing samples in the commonwealth. As of Wednesday, he said 20,000 people had been tested, up from just 2,600 a week ago.
“More tests mean more people know for sure whether they have COVID-19, and from there those who test positive can work with their health care providers and others to limit the spread,” he said.
Baker said the state has increased access to tele-health options in recent weeks to allow patients to remotely connect with health care providers. That is now a covered health benefit, he said.
He also announced a new effort to ensure the care and safety of the Boston-area homeless population at the Newton Pavilion. The former hospital is now owned by the state and will be reopened to support the medical needs of the area’s homeless residents.
“We certainly view this as a critical step,” Baker said.
The governor's media availability came one day after he announced an extension of the closure of the state's school buildings and non-emergency day care centers through the end of April.
His previous order, made to mitigate the spread of the deadly new coronavirus, had only closed the facilities through April 6. The earliest that all schools, public and private, can now re-open is Monday, May 4, Baker said Wednesday. Only residential special education schools are exempt. Child care centers are allowed to remain open if they care for vulnerable children and those from families of essential workers and first responders.
Also on Wednesday, Baker ordered all grocery stories and pharmacies to set aside an hour when only seniors will be allowed to shop. They are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
There are now 2,417 cases of the new coronavirus in Massachusetts, including 25 deaths.
Earlier this week, Baker ordered all non-essential businesses to close to the public for two weeks starting March 24 and issued a stay-at-home advisory in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.