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Mass. Has Declared a State of Emergency Over Coronavirus. Here’s What It Means

It's the third non-weather related declaration of a state of emergency since 2018

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When Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker addressed the public this week, he declared a state of emergency over the concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The move followed similar ones by his counterparts in Rhode Island, California, New York and other states.

As of Wednesday, the state had reported 92 presumed cases of COVID-19 in the state. Seventy of the cases were associated with a conference held by the biotech company Biogen from Feb. 24 to 27 at the Marriott Long Wharf in Boston.

So What Is a State of Emergency, Actually?

A state of emergency can be declared by the governor in "the event or imminent threat of a natural or man-made disaster," according to the state's website. It grants the governor and other state officials the power to make decisions that protect the state, and can cover just a certain town or city, several communities or the entire state.

The governor can issue executive orders that must be treated as law, and override existing laws throughout the state.

"Ordering evacuations, implementing curfews, or enacting other restrictions can be used to protect public health and welfare if warranted," the state's website says.

A state of emergency doesn't necessarily mean a travel ban is in place, though the state says officials may implement travel restrictions if necessary.

How Rare Is It?

The current state of emergency declaration is the first in Massachusetts since 2018. In March that year, a state of emergency was declared due to a nor'easter with heavy rains, wet snow and 90 mile-per-hour wind gusts.

The declaration over coronavirus is the first since 2011 not related to weather. Two declarations were made in September and October 2018 related to the Merrimack Valley gas explosions.

The other nine state of emergency declarations — dating back to 2011 —have been related to storms. Most notable of these are, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and two different declarations for the onslaught of winter snowstorms in 2015.

The governor has the ability to end the state of emergency when it's no longer needed. Any travel ban or closure that exists within that time frame can end at different times.

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