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Baker delivers virtual State of the Commonwealth address

Gov. Charlie Baker delivered a virtual State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday evening, touching on topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, economy and systemic racism.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker discussed COVID-19, the economy, racial injustice and other issues during his annual State of the Commonwealth speech Tuesday. THALIA LAUZON/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

From his office at the State House, Baker began the speech by acknowledging the damage of, and lives lost to, COVID-19 — what he called “the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years.” 

To respond to the crisis, the state created a free testing system. Massachusetts is now the second largest per capita COVID-19 tester in the continental United States, with more than 13 million tests conducted so far, according to the governor.

The Commonwealth also invested more than $400 million in long-term care facilities, supplied personal protective equipment for health care workers, and prioritized food security through cooperation between state and local administrations and private funders.

“Through it all,” Baker said, “our aim has been to keep you as factually informed as possible, to keep people safe, the economy going and our schools open.”

Baker drew attention to the continued struggle of small businesses and voiced support for strategies such as the Small Business Relief program, which he said gave nearly $700 million to small companies. 

He also detailed how the Shared Streets and Spaces Program helped municipalities meet their needs of safer mobility, recreation and commerce.

Baker thanked and applauded essential workers, organizations and individuals who confronted the economic and public health challenges of the pandemic, calling them “heroes.”

“Their resilience, creativity and commitment gives me hope,” he said. “Because of who they are and what they do, I can say to you tonight that I know the state of our Commonwealth is strong.”

He added the state is working alongside lab partners to create a weekly COVID-19 testing plan for students and staff in an effort to encourage public schools to reopen.

“The goal is to get as many kids as possible back into the classroom as soon as possible,” Baker said. “This first-in-the-nation COVID testing program will help more school districts make the call to offer full-time, in-person instruction now.”

Baker also addressed the police reform bill passed in Massachusetts in the wake of George Floyd’s death and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that engulfed the country.

The law bans chokeholds, deters no-knock warrants and creates an independent agency with the ability to approve, suspend or revoke officers’ certification, investigate misconduct and create policing standards.

“I‘m so proud to be able to say,” Baker said, “that these reforms were discussed, debated and passed here without the rancor, and in many cases, the lack of progress, that dominated this discussion in so many other places.”

He noted state investments of more than $935 million into climate change mitigation since 2015 and a recently approved $600 million bill for economic development. The expansion of the South Coast Rail and the Green Line were some of the steps Massachusetts took to improve transportation and energy access, he added.

“There’s no question more needs to be done on environmental justice, transportation, resiliency, conservation and energy efficiency,” Baker said, “and we look forward to working with our legislative colleagues to make this happen.”

Vaccine rollout, Baker said, “can’t happen fast enough.”

Across the state, 103 public vaccination sites — capable of administering 240,000 doses per week — will be open by the end of the week, according to Baker. After a month, those numbers are expected to increase to 165 sites and 305,000 doses per week.

He also announced that starting tomorrow, adults over 75 years old can schedule vaccination appointments.

“The end is in sight, but for the next few months, we must continue to stay vigilant and take the steps that we all know to stop the spread,” Baker said. “Know this: we will beat this virus, and life will begin to return to normal.”

Although he didn’t directly address the insurrection of the Capitol earlier this month, Baker ended the address with a note on the national atmosphere after the tensions of the past year.

Quoting Walt Whitman, Baker implored Massachusetts residents to “be curious, not judgemental.”

“I believe we will all grow and hopefully, we’ll all learn a few things we didn’t know before,” Baker said. “We’ll also be happier and healthier and can use our newfound knowledge and understanding to work together to build a better, stronger Commonwealth as we come out of this awful pandemic.”

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