Reopening Massachusetts sooner: 25 Investigates sits down with Gov. Baker one-on-one to ask what it will take

BOSTON — Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh sat down with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker for an exclusive interview on the reopening process, the vaccine rollout in the state and more. Thursday’s interview came just hours after the governor mentioned the possibility of speeding up the Aug. 1 full state reopening date. Below are portions of their conversation:

ON THE AUG. 1 REOPENING DATE:

Kavanaugh: “We’re hearing from some business sectors… it’s just not soon enough. So what role does the vaccine and people continuing to show up and make appointments play, in maybe moving that up a little bit?”

Gov. Baker: “If people continue to get vaccinated, and we continue to see the kind of momentum we’ve seen before, we’ll revisit this at the end of May. The whole issue around vaccinations, hospitalizations, case counts, those are really the big things that are driving the way we and many other people think about this with respect to safety.”

COMPARING MASSACHUSETTS TO OTHER STATES

Kavanaugh: “We are last, at least in New England, in most places, on the mask front. Last to open up the eligibility to everyone vaccination wise. Last to really kick the door open to the full reopening. Why is Massachusetts seemingly last?

Gov. Baker: “Let’s remember that Massachusetts for the past two months, has been the number one state in terms of first doses total doses and percent of our population vaccinated among 25 states that have more than 5 million people. Even though other people had eligibility standards that were looser than ours, we had actually vaccinated a greater proportion of our population than they had.”

“We have the third biggest, tightest, whatever term you like, population density in the country, the only two states that are more densely populated than Massachusetts are Rhode Island and New Jersey.

Most of the rest of the New England states are nowhere near as densely populated as we are, it makes it easier for them on some of this stuff to go a little faster than we do. But I’m quite comfortable with the way we set this up, I would much rather be cautious and then based on good news, move more quickly than to do the opposite.”

ON VACCINATION RATES:

Kavanaugh: “Are you concerned momentum is slowing down? So right now when we check the mass vaccination sites openings: 6,000 in the Natick mall, 5,000 at Gillette, 8,000 in Danvers, 3,000 at the Reggie Lewis Center.”

Gov. Baker: “There’s some good news there, and the good news is you can get an appointment. That is important. We went through a long period here in Massachusetts, where people were getting up in the middle of the night: ‘Refresh, refresh, refresh’.”

“It’s going to be critical for us to continue to make available this message that it’s not hard to get an appointment at this point in time, we have hundreds of locations all over the Commonwealth and for yourself, for your family, for your friends, and for your return to normal: Go Get Vaccinated.”

Kavanaugh: “Most doses each week are still going to mass vaccination sites and hospitals primarily. If all these remain open, does that signal at all to you maybe a time to shift away from those and send more doses directly into communities?”

Gov. Baker: “Well, we’ve been doing a lot of different things with our distribution ever since the beginning, and I’ve said from the start that I never thought of this as a one-size-fits-all exercise.

I think what we’ll do as we go forward here is continue to make adjustments as we go based on where the people are.”

The state has contracted with a group to knock on 25,000 doors so far to improve vaccine access. Massachusetts has invested $5 million in a public campaign to urge people to get the vaccine now and combat vaccine hesitancy.

ON THE VACCINE ROLLOUT

Kavanaugh: “Is there anything you would do differently, hindsight is always 2020, in your vaccine rollout?”

Gov. Baker: “Well, obviously, we had some bumps along the way with the tech platform, but we figured it out. And I think that’s worked extremely well for the better part of the past six weeks or so.”

“We have a lot of different entities that are making vaccines available in a lot of different locations for people. And we have a population for the most part that’s been pretty enthusiastic about getting vaccinated.”

ON HIS OWN VACCINATION:

Kavanaugh: “Second dose this week, you tweeted, you’re doing pretty well?”

Gov. Baker: “I got my second dose day before yesterday. And yesterday, I had what I think a lot of people had some version of, which was a combination of aches and chills, and it lasted for a few hours, which meant the vaccine was taking. And it was gone by dinnertime.”

Kavanaugh: “And with less than two weeks from now, you can do what again?”

Gov. Baker: “At that point in time, I will be free to hug my father who is fully vaccinated.”

Kavanaugh: “So what is it going to mean to you to hug your dad?”

Gov. Baker: “You don’t really appreciate how important these things are until they all get taken from you.”

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