Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday said the state could begin reopening on May 18 -- when the closure of non-essential businesses is set to expire -- but only if the number of coronavirus patients at local hospitals continues to fall.
"Our goal, starting on May 18, is to begin reopening certain types of businesses in a limited fashion where it can be done more safely than under normal operations," Baker said at a news conference at Gillette Stadium, where he attended a swearing-in ceremony for new state troopers.
"But this phased-in process can't begin until we see sustained downward trends" in the battle against the coronavirus, the governor said.
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Baker said many hospitals were still relying on temporary spaces such as field hospitals and that any reopening could not take place until they were no longer treating patients under "surge" conditions.
"The phased reopening, where only certain industries begin to reopen, that we're planning for now, can't move forward until we see progress on surge capacity," among other indicators, Baker said.
As of Tuesday, there were 3,542 patients -- about 5% of coronavirus cases in the state -- at local hospitals. The rate of hospitalizations has remained flat for several days, Baker said.
Over 9,000 coronavirus tests were administered across the state Tuesday, Baker said, adding that 13% of them came back positive. The percentage of positive cases continues to be lower than last month, Baker said.
While he called the data encouraging, Baker said the administration needs "to see those numbers continue to drop," ahead of any reopening.
The remarks came on the same day an emergency order requiring people in Massachusetts to wear face coverings in public spaces took effect.
The order applies to everyone over the age of two in all indoor public places and outside when social distancing can't be properly maintained. Masks must also be worn on public transportation and in stores.
Face coverings must cover your nose and mouth and can include masks, scarves or bandanas. Medical masks should be preserved for health care workers and first responders.
"We view this as a commonsense way to set a statewide standard in the long-term as we look to get back to a new normal," Baker said.
The governor added that since he announced the order, he had heard "time and time again" from workers in public transit, grocery stores and pharmacies expressing gratitude for the measure.
The deadline for the state's reopening advisory board to put forward a plan for how the state's businesses will resume operations is May 18, but both Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito have said the reopening will be a gradual one, guided by health data and safety measures.
Baker also warned Monday that the economy won't be “off to the races” on that date. He said reopening plans will include social distancing and cleaning protocols for businesses.
On Tuesday, nearly 1,200 new cases were added to the state’s COVID-19 total.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units now stands at 914, down from more than 1,000 a week ago, while the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is more than 3,500 — down from nearly 3,900 a week ago.
Meanwhile, Baker congratulated the new Massachusetts State Trooper class, saying it had persevered through a tumultuous training period marked by the coronavirus.
"It goes without saying that these trainees are becoming state troopers under truly extraordinary circumstances," Baker said, adding that the class had deal with new safety protocols amid the pandemic. "They've overcome obstacles that no other class has had to deal with."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.