City, Coronavirus, News

Baker orders mandatory face coverings, expands COVID-19 testing

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday all Massachusetts residents must wear face coverings in public starting Wednesday whenever they cannot keep six feet of distance from others.

A person wearing a mask rides the B-line train to Boston College. Starting Wednesday, all Massachusetts residents will be required to wear a mask while out in public if they cannot socially distance. LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Use of these coverings will be a preventative measure against the continued spread of the virus because a “significant” portion of the population will not show symptoms, according to Baker.

They can be made at home from materials such as bandanas or T-shirts, he said at a press briefing, advising against seeking medical grade masks that the administration hopes to prioritize for hospitals.

“You can’t always stay six feet away and even if you can stay six feet away, especially if you’re inside, you probably ought to have a face covering on,” Baker said. “There’s two reasons for that. One is obviously to protect you from others, but just as important is to protect others from you.”

Massachusetts is also working toward providing more resources and testing to the community, Baker said.

The state formed a partnership with clinical laboratory Quest Diagnostics and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers on April 22 to begin testing at 12 community centers. As of Friday, they’ve expanded to 18 community centers.

Quest shipped out nearly 12,000 testing kits in the first several days of the partnership, Baker said.

At Brockton Health Center, one of the city’s original 12 community centers, 837 patients out of 2,341 have tested positive as of Friday morning — twice the average infection rate statewide, CEO Sue Joss said.

This high number is partly due to the limited number of tests the nursing home had, Joss said. Initially, only symptomatic patients were being tested.

“We were just beyond thrilled to know that we were among [one of the community test centers],” Joss said. “We knew that with a 36 percent positive rate, we needed to be doing a lot more testing.”

It has been difficult to maintain both social-distancing and the use of masks inside BHC, according to Joss. Before the outbreak, the health center had triple bunks with mattresses on the floor.

Now, two heated tents have aided in distancing and a full-time nurse practitioner is “hounding” patients constantly to wear masks, Joss said.

“It is a struggle,” Joss said. “We still see the homeless guests out down the street without masks on.”

With help from the state, Brockton’s new test center at Brockton High School, set to officially open Monday, hopes to start testing about 150 individuals a day and expand to about 400 a day or more if needed, Joss said.

“None of this could have happened if the governor hadn’t put us as a priority health center to start this testing,” Joss said.

Despite the challenges residents continue to confront as the outbreak continues, Baker said Massachusetts is putting forth great effort to take care of its communities.

“I get the fact that all of this comes with tremendous amounts of dislocation, dismay and economic hardship,” Baker said. “That’s why we work so hard to be one of the nation’s leaders with respect to standing up and processing both the traditional unemployment program and the new one because we knew people needed resources.”

Baker also reiterated that while social distancing measures and the shutdown of non-essential business locations have impacted business owners during this time, these decisions remain vital to controlling the spread of the virus.

“We’ve never, ever suggested or implied that the decisions that we’ve made here to protect public health didn’t come with consequences,” Baker said. “They do. They did. They have.”

Reopening state operations, as of now, stay out of the question. Such an action could undo weeks of progress, Baker said.

“Until we see that plateau start to move in the right direction, reopening could actually create another fire and we’ll be dealing with this thing all over again,” Baker said. “The calamity and economic hardship associated with it is absolutely not something any of us wants to have to put up with again.”

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