The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, a pandemic. Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency as the number of presumed and confirmed cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts are expected to increase. Employees are starting to work from home, municipalities are forgoing nonessential public meetings and colleges and universities are moving all classes online. Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch spoke with WGBH News' All Things Considered anchor Arun Rath from Washington, D.C. about the evolving outbreak in the Commonwealth. This transcription has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: First, I want to talk to you about the tests. So far, we've had close to 100 positive tests in our state, but we've only had one confirmation from the CDC. Do you know if there's a reason for that? It seems like there's a delay in getting those confirmations.
Rep. Stephen Lynch: I've heard this from several states, and I know other members were complaining about that as well. The tests were submitted, but no confirmations returned. So there's been a general back-up on the tests themselves. And this whole process seems to be rather gummed up in spite of the fact that the president announced about six days ago that they had plenty of tests and anybody who wanted to be tested could be tested. That turned out to be completely false. And last night, Vice President Pence announced that more tests were being submitted to state labs. Each state has a federal lab. And so, many of my health centers and hospitals are still complaining that they don't have kits on hand to conduct the testing, even if somebody were to show up. And then the other bottleneck is on the analysis side, after the testing is done, getting the results back. So it's pretty dire right now in terms of the number of tests we have out there and available and also the process of getting the results back and the delay in getting the results back.
Rath: And the delay in getting the results back, I have to imagine that causes problems for us on the ground here.
Lynch: Oh, absolutely. You know, because people can't be referred to quarantine until there's a proper diagnosis. You have cases where people might have simple strep or garden variety flu, or colds, and so we would like to be able to affirmatively say whether that person should be in quarantine for any amount of time.
Rath: But beyond the test, are we getting more generally the support we need from the federal government to be fighting this disease on the ground here locally?
Lynch: Well, there was a considerable delay. We did approve about $8 billion in aid. Most of that being geared towards helping health centers and hospitals deal with the added cost. And then also just simple things like our stockpile of personal protective equipment running from suits to masks. Originally, they thought we had about 19 million masks available only to find out that a majority of those had expired.
Rath, So, we're having events canceled. It seems as though almost every hour here we're hearing about something new. Do you think things like the Boston Marathon, we should be thinking about canceling?
Lynch: Well, I tend to think, based on the data, that would probably be wise from a public health standpoint. We did pull the plug on the St. Patrick's Day parade in South Boston. On a reasonably warm day, we usually exceeded a million people coming into that small neighborhood. Because of the lack of original testing being available, now, as testing gets pushed out into the communities, we're seeing the numbers spike, as you've seen in Boston and in Massachusetts. So we think as more tests become available, those numbers will get even higher. And under the circumstances, I think it's wise to think about canceling the marathon as well. I've run a couple of Boston marathons. We get people from all over the world and they usually come in for a week and they got family with them. And it's a major event. So I think it would certainly be prudent to try to reschedule or postpone it entirely for the year.
Rath: Before I let you go, can I just ask you quickly, what do you see as the next steps here in Massachusetts in managing and handling the virus?
Lynch: Well, we've authorized the funding. We just have to make sure that the conduit for that funding gets out there. We're trying to expedite the vaccine process, but that could be an 18 month process. So we really do have to make sure we limit contact. You've got to do this distancing protocol to avoid contact. We've got to stop shaking hands. We've got to increase washing hands and taking these reasonable steps. Otherwise, we're going to see the number of infections expand and the number of fatalities increase as well.