Gov. Charlie Baker released updated information Friday on when the coronavirus surge is expected to hit Massachusetts.
The state's models have shown that the peak for cases is expected to be sometime between Friday and April 20, the governor said. But he said data in recent days suggests the peak may be closer to the latter date.
"We are about to have a very difficult couple of weeks here, and it could be three weeks and it could be four," Baker said. "If you're looking for something to pray for this weekend, pray for the families, neighbors and friends who are going to be working through this over the next several weeks."
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He said the peak is expected to be around 2,500 new coronavirus cases a day. And the state reported 2,100 new cases on Thursday. As many as 172,000 COVID-19 cases are anticipated at the height of the surge.
At this point, Baker said the evidence shows Massachusetts is still on the upward slope of the pandemic, with a continued increase in coronavirus cases and deaths.
On Thursday, state health officials announced the death toll had topped 500. Overall, they said there were nearly 19,000 coronavirus cases in the state.
Baker said the key to keeping the coronavirus in check continues to be social distancing, staying at home and keeping non-essential businesses closed.
"As we get into this projected surge, it's critically important that people heed our guidance and stay home as much as possible," he said. "Please stay home and only go out if you absolutely have to."
The state Department of Public Health also issued an advisory Friday echoing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation saying that people should wear masks or cover their faces in public places, especially supermarkets and pharmacies.
"This protects you from others and protects others from you," Baker said. "It works both ways."
He said the state also continues to increase the number of hospital beds. Alternative care sites have already opened in Worcester and Boston, and additional facilities are expected to open on Cape Cod and in the Merrimack Valley in the coming week.
Baker said Thursday that it's too early to make any decisions about the remainder of the school year.
Some states, including Vermont, have already said students won't be returning to the classroom this school year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But Baker said he isn't ready to take that drastic step in Massachusetts.
"At this point in time we would be concerned about writing off the rest of the school year, especially given how uneven the online process has been across the Commonwealth," he said. "If we do end up in a situation like that, we are going to have to come up with some type of strategy to try to help all the kids try to get what they didn't get that they were supposed to get."