Gov. Charlie Baker launched a new coronavirus “command center” Saturday to direct the state’s response to the virus, with broad authority to direct state resources to address the outbreak.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders will chair the command center, and said she is handing over her day-to-day responsibilities at HHS to her deputy.
Baker said command center will have “complete authority and discretion to tap whatever state funds are necessary” to address the crisis. The group will also be a central point of decision making on other governmental issues that arise, such as how to handle open meeting laws at a time when public meetings are being discouraged.
The senior officials appointed to the command center will be assigned there full time and “They are not going to be distracted by whatever else is going on in their day jobs,” Baker said.
The command center will include an array of state agencies including public safety agencies, the MBTA, the Department of Public Health, the state emergency management agency and others, and will serve as the “single point of strategic decision making and coordination” for the state, Baker said.
Sudders and Baker said the center will immediately focus on increasing access to tests for COVID-19 and helping hospitals prepare for a potential surge in patients.
Sudders also said the state is changing the criteria for testing patients to make it easier for hospitals to offer the tests. So far the state testing lab has tested 475 people. “I think it is important that we test a lot more people,” Baker said.
“In the past you had to be symptomatic,” Sudders said, and clinicians had to consult with state officials before authorizing a test. The new guidelines will be “far more expansive” and will allow more tests.
Baker also cautioned residents not to stockpile food or groceries, as social media filled with images of empty shelves at local stores. “There is no shortage of food or dry goods at our stores,” Baker said. Shelves do get empty, he said, but they are being refilled, so there is no need for panic buying.