Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker inched one step closer to the big reveal of his plan for reopening the state's economy on Friday, detailing some of what employers will be asked to do.
The governor's order closing non-essential businesses is set to expire Sunday, but he said it will be extended until Monday to allow the Reopening Advisory Board to unveil its 4-phase approach to reopening the state. He said he also plans to address whether to lift or extend the stay-at-home advisory on Monday.
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Baker said his administration has been in "constant communication" with the private sector about how they can best prepare their workforces for reopening. That includes continuing to give employees the ability to work remotely or work from home.
"We know there's no one size fits all approach to this. Not everyone can work remotely," he said. "Some employers will be required to have employees physically report."
But there are hundreds of companies and thousands of employees now successfully working remotely, and he said allowing that to continue wherever possible is critical to fighting the virus.
"Public health experts have made clear that large numbers of people in closed spaces is exactly how this virus spreads," Baker said. "Distance at work will be a fundamental requirement for everybody."
The governor announced Friday that 54 companies totaling 150,000 employees, including some of the state's largest employers like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Raytheon, Wayfair, Mass Mutual and Takeda, have agreed to extend their work from home and remote working policies for the remainder of spring and in some cases for the rest of 2020. State employees will also extend their current remote working arrangements indefinitely.
"The new rules for everybody associated with working in the office are going to require people to create distance," Baker said. "To the extent that companies can find a way to work from home or work remotely, it makes it much easier for them to create the distance they are required to pursue under the order we are issuing Monday."
Baker said he understands that he's going to get criticized no matter what he announces on Monday.
"I'm quite sure some folks are going to say it's too fast, and some folks will say it's not fast enough," he said. "This will represent what we consider to be a properly cautious and careful way forward."
"When we do this we want to do it in a way that's cautious enough that we actually move forward and have the ability to sustain it," Baker added. "When people say 'You're not doing enough,' my answer is that I want to be able to continue to have open businesses and progress on coronavirus in the fall."
Baker laid out an ambitious testing goal Thursday that he said will create the largest coronavirus testing program on a per capita basis anywhere in the world.
The plan calls for boosting overall capacity to 45,000 tests a day by the end of July and 75,000 tests a day by the end of December — the equivalent of 27 million tests per year. The goal is to decrease the positive test rate to less than 5% while helping labs increase capacity before a potential testing surge in the fall.
On Friday, Banker announced that the state has launched a new virtual map to make it easier for residents to find testing sites from among the 250 or so now operating statewide.
He also said Walmart is opening new drive-thru self-testing sites at their stores in Salem, Brockton, Plymouth and Quincy.
Another 110 people with the coronavirus have died in Massachusetts, health officials said Friday, with the number of confirmed cases rising by 1,239.
The state's COVID-19 death toll is now 5,592, while 83,421 people have now tested positive for the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The number of deaths reported each day has been trending down in recent weeks, though it hasn't been a smooth decline, as Wednesday and Thursday showed, when health officials reported 174 and 167 new deaths respectively -- a return to levels seen in mid-April's surge.
The 110 deaths in Thursday's report represent a return to the lower numbers seen in May. Leaders and health officials have encouraged the public not to draw long-term conclusions from one or two days' worth of data.