As Cases Soar, Massachusetts Is Better Prepared to Handle Coronavirus Surge, Baker Says

Baker said the state's ability to identify cases and conduct contact tracing puts the state in a strong position to deal with a second surge

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Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday said Massachusetts was better poised to handle surging coronavirus cases than it was in the spring, but urged residents to stay vigilant as the pandemic continues to rage across the commonwealth.

"We're nowhere near the uncharted territory we were at in the spring. Nowhere near it," Baker said. "We're definitely dealing with a surge that we talked about throughout the summer and the beginning of the fall."

Baker said the state's ability to identify cases and conduct contact tracing puts the state in a strong position to deal with a second surge, adding Massachusetts conducts more tests per capita than any other state in the country at some 80,000 to 100,000 test per day.

"The health care system is far more prepared to deal with and manage these issues now than they were back in the spring," he added.

The second surge of COVID-19 in Massachusetts is showing no signs of slowing down, and Baker said Tuesday as he and hospital officials are planning for a growing number of people with the disease, including plans for the re-establishment of emergency field hospitals.

The remarks came after Baker toured an elementary school in Carlisle, which he said was providing a template for how schools can safely provide in-person learning.

Baker said the school was doing "really interesting things" to provide social distancing, including using lunch shifts to reduce the number of children in the cafeteria and maximizing classroom space to spread out student desks.

"Having... districts that are doing this and getting it done creates a template and a set of thoughts and ideas, and ways to think about it, that makes it possible for other people to learn from them," he said.

The administration is urging schools not to overreact to the rise in COVID-19 cases this fall, telling even those districts in communities deemed to be at the highest risk for transmission of the virus to stick with in-person learning unless there is evidence of spread within the school system.

Since Labor Day, coronavirus cases are up more than 300% and COVID-19 hospitalizations are up nearly 200%, Baker said, which has driven occupancy at Massachusetts hospitals up to 67% overall and to 50% at the intensive care unit level.

With an eye on the trends and the growing number of people with COVID-19 in the hospital -- it increased by 30 to 618 people as of midday Tuesday -- Baker said Massachusetts hospitals will be able to convert 400 acute care beds into ICU beds, if needed, and that his administration is planning for the return of field hospitals like the ones established this spring in Worcester, Boston, on Cape Cod and elsewhere.

State officials are expected to release new information on communities across Massachusetts that are at high risk for COVID-19.

More details on the location of the new field hospitals will come later this week, the governor said.

"COVID-19 has now been with us for the better part of a year and we've learned a lot about how to address this terrible virus. In addition to building a massive testing and tracing infrastructure, we've also executed on plans to better manage our health care systems during a pandemic," Baker said. "Our experience from last spring shows that creating enough space to safely treat COVID-19 patients and other patients throughout our health care system is the single most important aspect we have in navigating the pandemic as safely as possible, and being prepared for every scenario is critical."

The coronavirus continued its surge in Massachusetts on Wednesday, with 37 newly confirmed coronavirus deaths reported and nearly 2,500 newly confirmed cases. The new deaths pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 9,994 and its confirmed caseload to nearly 172,500.

There were nearly 660 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 152 in intensive care units.

State House News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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