Gov. Baker Declares State of Emergency as Suspected Coronavirus Cases Double to 92

Gov. Charlie Baker exited his press conference with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, left, and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, right, after declaring a state of emergency amid a rising number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts. (File photograph by Sam Doran/SHNS.)

Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency Tuesday after the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts more than doubled to 92 overnight, joining about a dozen other states with a formal emergency declaration as the coronavirus-caused illness continues to spread in the United States.

Baker was originally scheduled to remain on family vacation in Utah until Thursday, but he cut his trip short and returned for a Tuesday press conference where he announced the new numbers, implemented the emergency status, and instructed tens of thousands of executive branch employees to discontinue all work-related travel and work remotely when possible.

Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said Massachusetts is at “a critical point in this outbreak,” noting that community spread—in which multiple people in an area are infected, some of whom are unable to trace it back to a sourc—has begun in western Massachusetts.

All but one of the cases are presumptive positive and have not yet been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Seven are in Berkshire County, one is in Essex County, 41 are in Middlesex County, 22 are in Norfolk County, 20 are in Suffolk County and one is in Worcester County.

  • New cases as Baker returns: When Baker departed for a family vacation in Utah on Friday, eight people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Massachusetts. By Monday, when Baker decided to return, that figure hit 41, and on Tuesday afternoon, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the latest number is 92 cases, 70 of which are linked to a Biogen employee meeting in Boston in late February.
  • Boston Chamber goes virtual: After Gov. Baker on Tuesday afternoon encouraged employers and organizations to limit large meetings and gatherings, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce announced all its in-person programs and events “will be rescheduled, include a virtual option, or be only virtual.” Ticket prices will be reduced for programs that are moved to a virtual option, and Chamber staff will reach out to people who are already registered for upcoming events.
  • State coronavirus fund: Lawmakers will vote next week on a $15 million spending bill creating a fund to assist with COVID-19 response efforts, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced in a joint statement. The additional funding will not be targeted at specific areas, but instead will be flexible for the administration and Department of Public Health to use as they see fit to mitigate, contain and combat the illness’s spread.
  • Other states of emergency: Baker was one of at least four governors Tuesday to newly declare a state of emergency, alongside Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Gov. Gina Raimondo did so on Monday and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did so on Saturday.
  • Pot conference canceled: New England Cannabis Network announced that its conference scheduled for March 20-22 in Boston has been postponed “due to the increasing concern and public health crisis due to the COVID-19 outbreak.” Organizers said they are “working with our venue partners and city officials to select a new date in 2020” to hold the cannabis get-together.
  • Tech council going virtual: Massachusetts High Technology Council President Chris Anderson announced the council would be postponing all events expected to attract 25 or more attendees through April, including its March 26 Women in Leadership Initiative Roundtable. The action was taken based on the input members gave the council over the past several days about steps they were taking to protect the health and safety of employees. Anderson said the council will use digital communication methods to conduct meetings and engage with member companies.
  • Dem caucuses suspended: The Massachusetts Democratic Party “temporarily” suspended all caucuses following the Baker administration’s recommendations on large events Tuesday, MassDems Chair Gus Bickford announced. Bickford said the party informed U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and his primary challenger, Congressman Joe Kennedy, and that a “replacement” would be developed if the temporary suspension lasts for an extended period of time.
  • Task force convened: The Massachusetts Public Health Association convened an emergency task force on Tuesday to develop policy recommendations on how to respond to COVID-19 and its economic repercussions with particular focus on inequities across demographic groups. The task force will release its recommendations on Friday, March 20.
  • Potential spread in federal prisons: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are among several senators who wrote to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and three private-prison operators to ask about their plans to prepare for and manage potential coronavirus spread in federal prisons. Nothing the “vulnerability of the prison population” and the “unique challenges in ensuring that incarcerated individuals receive appropriate monitoring and care,” the senators asked for a response by March 16.
  • Arc cancels major fundraiser: The Arc of Massachusetts has called off its 65th anniversary celebration slated to be held at the Boston Marriott Newton on March 26 amid mounting concern over the spread of the coronavirus. “While we are deeply disappointed, the Board of Directors and staff leadership felt we needed to take this proactive step out of an abundance of caution and concern for the health and well-being of our guests, many of whom are caregivers to family members who have disabilities or are elderly or are professional caregivers providing critical assistance to people with disabilities,” Executive Director Leo Sarkissian wrote. The Arc said its annual event is the biggest single source of revenue for the organization and that the cancellation “undoubtedly will have a serious negative impact on the funding that sustains our advocacy, outreach, and education.”

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