President Donald Trump has said he wants to see the United States economy emerge from the coronavirus outbreak and reopen on May 1.
But local leaders said Monday it's way too early for that conversation. Massachusetts has just entered what state public health officials expect to be a peak period for new COVID-19 infections and patients requiring hospital care.
"The surge I've been talking about is in motion now," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Monday.
Massachusetts health officials reported 1,392 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday and 88 additional deaths as the total number of cases across the commonwealth topped 26,000.
Walsh said he has heard state and federal leaders talk in recent days about reopening the country. But he said it's far too soon to be having those kinds of discussions.
"That's not only unrealistic, that's completely irresponsible," he said. "We are still at the very beginning of this surge. We have to stay focused. We all want to get back to work and get back to normal society, but this is not the time to talk about that."
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"When we feel the surge is past us, we will start to continue to go forward. Restarting city government shouldn't be that hard. We are going to be working with businesses when that time comes."
Baker said that while his administration has had conversations with people in the economic and health care communities about what it might look like once the peak has passed, he doesn't want people to start thinking that the worst is already over.
He said the daily COVID-19 case counts indicate "the days and weeks ahead will be difficult ones."
The governor did lay out some flag posts and guidelines for residents to look for as they wonder when life might start to return to some semblance of normal.
"I don't think anyone thinks you can just flip the switch at any point in the not too distant future given the fact that the surge is actually not the same everywhere. It's a wave that's going to play out across the country at different points in time," Baker said.
Massachusetts joined a coalition of seven northeastern states Monday that have said they will work together to decide when and how to reopen their economies collectively. The coalition also includes New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Each state will name a public health official, economic development official, and chief of staff to serve on a working group, which will start work as soon as Tuesday to begin designing a reopening plan.
The National Federation of Independent Business said in a statement that while it's understandable that the governors want to work together on a plan, "time is running out quickly for small businesses."
“Understandably Governor Baker’s paramount concern is the containment of the virus, but it not too early to begin preparations to reopen the state economy ,” said Christopher Carlozzi, NFIB’s state director in Massachusetts. “It is entirely prudent for Massachusetts to plan for the incremental reopening of the economy when it is safe to do so or else it may prove impossible to reverse the devastation done to small businesses that employ around half of the workers in the state and contribute about half of the state’s GDP.”
Baker said Monday that the state will be looking to make sure it is past the peak surge of infections and can identify business sectors that will be able reopen easiest with "safe standards" for distancing and other safety measures. Public health experts, the governor said, have also recommended that distancing measures not be relaxed until the spread of the disease has been reduced to a ratio of 1:1, meaning one person is not infecting multiple others.
Finally, Baker said the state and federal government must be doing "a ton of testing" to both understand the progression of the virus and "make people believe that it's safe to go back to doing some of the things they did before and all the rest."
Asked if he was concerned about getting "trumped" by Trump when it comes to the economy, Baker said he was on a call on Monday with Vice President Mike Pence and other governors and the conversation with the White House centered around testing.
"Which says to me that they get the fact that we need to do a lot more testing a lot more quickly for surveillance purposes, if nothing else," Baker said.
Trump asserted Monday that he is the ultimate decision-maker for determining how and when to relax the nation's social distancing guidelines.
He tweeted some are "saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect...it is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.”