Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of the coronavirus on Tuesday, after officials announced 51 new presumptive positive cases of the virus. The total number of confirmed and presumptive cases in the state is now 92.
The news comes the day after Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency, and amid several cancellations of events throughout the state. Many local colleges and universities are holding online-only classes, asking students to vacate on-campus dormitories and not to return to campus after spring break.
“This declaration will give our administration more flexibility to respond to this evolving outbreak,” Baker said. “In addition to the state of emergency, our administration is moving forward with enhanced guidance for employers and large organizations. Responding to this evolving health threat requires everyone to be vigilant and for everyone to be part of this effort.”
Person-to-person spread is beginning to occur in Massachusetts, officials said, meaning that the virus has spread beyond people who contracted the disease overseas.
A "presumptive positive case" is a person who has tested positive by state officials but has not yet been tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the CDC gets a positive result for coronavirus, it becomes a confirmed case.
In Massachusetts there are now 91 presumptive positive cases and one confirmed positive case.
Baker announced new guidance for all employers throughout the state, which includes discontinuing all work-related travel, both foreign and domestic, and encouraging telecommuting whenever possible. He emphasized that any person feeling sick should stay home from work.
"The purpose of moving forward with these measures now is to act before the numbers increase to a point where the virus spread is severely impacting the commonwealth," Baker said. "The highly contagious nature of this disease means that if everyone plays their part in slowing the spread, the number of people who become infected and require medical attention doesn't spike all at once, which would overwhelm many of our systems."
Baker reiterated that "for the vast majority of people who contract this disease, it is not deadly. And the latest research shows that children and young people are at an especially low risk of health complications. But we must step up these mitigation efforts to avoid large numbers of people requiring medical care all at the same time."
The T will increase disinfection and sanitation of all vehicles, he added.
Logan Airport will also increase the frequency and intensity of cleaning public surfaces, Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito said.
"The T has issued a new protocol requiring all high-contact surfaces at subway stations to be cleaned every four hours, including station handrails, fare gates and fare vending machines across the system," Polito said. "The T has also added hand sanitizing dispensers in stations across the system."
Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said that state officials made a request for supplies from the strategic national stockpile. That request has been approved and state officials have been told that the supplies needed to test an additional 2,000 people are on their way, she added.
A percentage of those new kits will go to Berkshire County, she said, where officials say the virus is community spread, meaning they have not traced the origin to one person in that county. In other counties, officials have been able to figure out where the spread of the virus began.
Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders reiterated that vulnerable populations — the elderly, pregnant and immunosuppressed — should avoid large gatherings.
Sudders said that nursing homes and rest homes "will be directed to actively screen and restrict access to visitors to ensure the safety and health of residents and staff."
No visitors who display signs of illness should be permitted to enter nursing homes, she said.
"Visitor access will also be restricted to anyone who had international travel within the last 14 days and individuals who are residing in a community where community-based spread of COVID-19 is occurring," Sudders said.
Baker added that the last time Massachusetts saw a state of emergency was the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas fires.