Baker Responds to Concerns That Reopening Could Lead to Second Coronavirus Surge

The primary metrics guiding the state's reopening continue to show improvement

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Gov. Charlie Baker responded Thursday to concerns that reopening the economy could lead to a second coronavirus surge.

New data shows that cases of COVID-19 are rising in nearly half the states in the U.S. as lockdowns continue to be rolled back.

"First of all, part of the reason for pursuing a careful and cautious and phased approach to reopening was to be sure that we would be able to deal with hot spots or any examples of increases in positive testing along the way," he said. "But we've also built into this a number of initiatives to deal with COVID-19 along the way."

That includes specific protocols industries must follow to reopen and implementing a tracing program to go with enhanced testing.

"The whole point behind creating a tracing program to go alongside enhanced testing was to be able to quickly identify those who test positive, help them isolate and access their close contacts and do the same," Baker said. "So far, that approach -- a careful phase in, a lot of guidance and advisory information for employers and businesses, a lot of support for cities and towns and an aggressive testing and tracing program -- is doing the right kind of things."

But he also stressed that if the numbers do start to rise again, the state may have to halt or even roll back its reopening plan.

"We're going to be very vigilant on this kind of stuff," Baker said.

While Massachusetts' coronavirus case numbers are trending down and businesses are reopening in Phase 3, Gov. Charlie Baker is still telling residents to be cautious.

The primary metrics guiding the state's reopening showed improvement Wednesday, and data released by the Department of Public Health showed that COVID-19 recoveries are outpacing new infections.

Of the 100,158 people in Massachusetts whose COVID-19 diagnosis was confirmed with a molecular test, 84,621 of them -- or 84.5 percent -- have recovered from the potentially fatal respiratory disease, DPH said Wednesday. There are 8,237 confirmed and active cases in the state now, compared to 12,844 active cases a week ago.

Over the last week, the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts increased by 2,194, but the number of active cases dropped by 4,607, DPH reported. Still, the coronavirus has infected 104,156 people since Feb. 1 and has killed 7,454 people here since March 20.

A new pop-up testing center for COVID-19 was set to open in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood Wednesday amid widespread protests over the death of George Floyd.

The governor spoke after touring the Greater Boston Food Bank's main facility in Boston. While he was there, he announced a new $36 million grant program to address food security issues for residents as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Also on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced that the state is making $5 million available to cities and towns to make things like outdoor dining and queuing on a sidewalk outside a retail business -- things that are becoming more common as the state reopens its economy under social distancing guidelines -- more feasible.

Polito said the administration had heard from local officials that they wanted to help their businesses as they try to reopen under new state safety mandates and sector-specific guidelines, but needed help to do so. She said the money is meant to help municipalities "quickly launch or expand improvements to sidewalks, curbs, streets, on-street parking spaces and off-street parking lots in support of public health, safe mobility and renewed commerce." She said the funding will allow cities and towns to "create more comfortable and exciting spaces in your communities so people can get out safely and enjoy the offerings at their local establishments."

During the ongoing Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan, restaurants are allowed to open for outdoor dining, but some restaurateurs without existing patios or parking lots are constrained by their location. Retailers can welcome customers inside their stores again, but under capacity limits and it is now common to have to wait in a line outside of a store. Politosaid applications for the "shared streets and spaces emergency grant program" will be available June 22 and that awards will range from $5,000 to $300,000.

State House News Service contributed to this report.

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