Governor Charlie Baker instructed all non-essential businesses in Massachusetts to either move all work online or shut down entirely and issued a statewide stay-at-home advisory on Monday in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state, stopping short of an outright order to shelter in place.
The new restrictions were “a very, very important step” in helping people understand the gravity of the situation, Dr. Joshua Barocas, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center and Boston University’s School of Medicine, told Jim Braude on WGBH’s Greater Boston.
“I hope that the citizens of Massachusetts take this seriously now that it’s coming from the highest level of government in the state,” he said. “As much as we can unify that message across all sectors, then that message will get out more and more.”
A tweet from President Donald Trump a day before Baker’s announcement signaled that messages from the federal government may not be in line with those coming from the states. Both the Mass. order and advisory are expected to remain in effect through at least April 7, but the president said he may relax federal recommendations for such policies as early as next Monday.
The president wrote in all-caps on Twitter Sunday, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
President Trump’s tweet suggested that his concerns about the economy might be playing a greater role in his decisions about coronavirus-related restrictions, but Dr. Barocas said that lifting social-distancing orders and advisories too early may be worse for the country’s financial well-being in the long run.
“If we don’t do these measures right now … the long-term consequences are, I think, a lot more dire than short-term economic instability because that longer-term instability in the healthcare sector and in the health of our citizens is actually going to lead to more economic instability,” he explained. “So, taking these aggressive measures right now, as the governor has done and as governors across the country have done, are hopefully going to stave off longer-term economic instability.”
Dr. Barocas, who serves on the hospital's COVID-19 response team, said there’s also a disconnect between the Trump administration and the state government when it comes to the push for an adequate supply of medical safety equipment, such as masks and protective visors.
“The scale of what we’re trying to accomplish may be off from that of the federal response,” he explained. “On the ground we are … trying to make sure that [supplies last] us as long as possible because we don’t know how long the epidemic is actually going to last.”
But, Dr. Barocas added, hospitals in Massachusetts are not in crisis mode yet.
“I do have very hope and every confidence in, certainly here in Massachusetts, that the hospitals are working together, that the cities and the state are working together to … fill that gap.”