As Massachusetts coronavirus hospitalizations continue to trend downward, Gov. Charlie Baker said state officials are working hard to get the economy reopened in a timely yet safe fashion.
"COVID hospitalizations have been decreasing in the past several days with very few spikes in new admissions," Baker said Monday. "Obviously there are still thousands hospitalized, but the numbers have begun to trend in the right direction."
On Sunday, 12% of the 1,824 people tested were confirmed to have COVID-19, the seventh straight day that positive test rates have come in under 20%. The number of patients hospitalized was 3,617, which is about 5% of the state's coronavirus cases.
But while hospitalizations are down in western Massachusetts and on the Cape, Baker said the numbers remain high in Worcester and the South Coast and flat in Boston.
Baker said his newly-formed Reopening Advisory Board made substantial progress over the weekend and has spoken with 23 different industry groups representing over 100,000 businesses and 1.4 million workers across the state. These include the retail, high tech, life sciences, restaurant, travel, tourism and lodging, banking, construction and recreation industries.
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The advisory board's report is due to the governor on May 18 and will include guidelines on reopening the state's economy in phases. Baker said only those industries that can implement the appropriate health and social distancing guidance will be allowed to open in the first phase.
"There won't be anyone firing a starting gun on May 18th and saying, 'Everyone's off to the races,'" he said.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who is heading up the advisory board, also warned that May 18 "is not a magical date," and there are some industries that will be more ready to reopen than others.
"I think everybody's anxious to find a way to safely and appropriately move forward when we can get there and the data indicates it's appropriate to do so," Baker said. "But the threat of future transmission and illness is and will continue to be with us for a very long time, and we should not forget that."
On Friday, Baker signed an order requiring Massachusetts residents to wear masks in public.
The order takes effect on Wednesday and requires residents to use a face covering in public places when they cannot socially distance. This applies to all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations opened to the public, including grocery and retail stores and public transportation.
The governor's executive order does not apply to children under the age of 2 or anyone who is unable to wear a mask due to medical conditions or other Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued exemptions. Baker said he has instructed state health officials to issue additional guidance on children between the ages of 2 and 5.
Over the weekend, Baker said he already saw many people wearing masks while out in public.
"My survey universe is not very big -- I don't get out much," he said. "But in the universe I surveyed and had a chance to walk around in there were a lot of people wearing masks or face coverings. I went into a pharmacy wearing a mask and everyone in the pharmacy was wearing a face covering or a mask -- the people who worked there, the people shopping there -- and there was Plexiglass all over the place."