Mass. Gov. declares state of emergency over COVID-19

BOSTON — Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak as the number of presumptive positive cases has climbed to 91, and only one confirmed case.

>> Live updates: Number of coronavirus cases in Mass. climbs to 92

Declaring a state of emergency essentially opens the door for state agencies to bring in more resources, specifically for rescue, shelter, or evacuation.

“This declaration will give our administration more flexibility to respond to this evolving outbreak," said Baker. “If we do get to the point that we think need to shut down some assemblages of one type of another, I don’t want to have to seek the authority to do that, I want to be able to do it."

According to Gov. Baker, by declaring a state of emergency state officials will be able to make faster decisions on a state level, will be able to assist and support local emergency responders and health officials, secure resources or real estate needed by MEMA officials to respond to ongoing and new cases and eases the process needed to help prevent the spread of the virus.

This move also grants the health commissioner the ability to order people into isolation or quarantine if they won’t do it voluntarily. One health official told us that ordering someone into isolation is extremely rare but may be necessary.

“The proposed delegation is simply to allow the commissioner if necessary to require additional control measures and in that rare event that an individual or group did not voluntarily comply with necessary isolation or quarantine to order that isolation or quarantine,” said Lynn Squillace, Mass. DPH General Council.

In a news conference Tuesday, Baker emphasized everyone should limit non-essential travel and work from home when possible. People are more at risk of contracting the disease from those already presenting symptoms, where the majority of the cases have been contracted via coughing and sneezing.

Neighboring Connecticut and Rhode Island have also declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19.

State legislators are also planning on voting on a $15 million funding bill next week as well.

The last time a state of emergency was declared in Massachusetts was during the Merrimack Valley gas explosions and fires, where state officials were able to assist victims more easily and quickly.

Roughly 400 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the state since the outbreak spread to Massachusetts. So far, the number of presumptive positive cases is at 91, while only one case has been confirmed.

The confirmed case, a student at UMass Boston in his 20s, contracted the disease in early February after returning from a trip to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the viral outbreak. According to DPH officials, he is still recovering from the disease. In order to be cleared and officially recovered, the patient must test negative for the virus twice. Samples have already been submitted to both the state lab and the CDC as the patient continues in quarantine waiting for those results.

Monica Bharel, the State Public Health Commissioner said the state currently has enough testing kits to do the work needed right now, but new requests for more kits and supplies have been put in with the CDC. While labs across the state will eventually help out with testing, currently, the DPH is the only place where testing can be done on a state level.

“At our [state] laboratory we just received federal permission to be able to use an augmented process so that we can do many hundreds of tests now a day,” Bharel said Wednesday.

On Monday, the state received approval from the CDC for part of the testing process to be automated so patient specimens can be tested more quickly. Before, the state was only able to complete about 50 tests a day, but with the automated process, that number can be over 100 a day. This also makes releasing data a lot faster and more quickly accessible to the public.

First identified in Wuhan in December 2019, the new virus officially called COVID-19 has been quickly spreading to all corners of the world as officials rush to contain the outbreak.

The specific type of coronavirus that has now infected over 98,000 people around the world has already caused 3,300 deaths, the bulk of cases and fatalities being mostly contained to China. However, other countries around the world such as Italy, South Korea, and Iran have experienced rapidly expanding outbreaks, causing fear and anxiety to travelers.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced on Monday evening that Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be canceled.

Mayor Walsh apparently made the decision after consulting with local lawmakers and a representative from the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council. Locals say they’re disappointed, but they agree that canceling it is the right move.

A state of emergency can be declared by the Governor of Massachusetts in the event or imminent threat of a natural or man-made disaster. Under a state of emergency, Chapter 639 of the Acts of 1950, as amended, grants the Governor and other state officials the power to protect the Commonwealth. A state of emergency may cover a specific municipality, multiple communities, or the entire Commonwealth.

Declaring a state of emergency helps state agencies protect you from the immediate dangers of a disaster, in part by providing resources for rescue, shelter, or evacuation. The instructions you receive during a state of emergency will depend on the emergency itself — every situation is different, and different factors will impact the decisions made by state officials. Pay close attention to news media and stay informed.


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