Gov. Charlie Baker told WGBH News Friday that the state appears to have enough ventilators on hand to handle the surge of infected patients coming to hospitals, but he said the pandemic is highlighting the importance of maintaining strong supply chains for emergency equipment.
"I feel very good about where we are with ventilators," Baker said, with 400 from the national stockpile and another 400 on loan from New York, as well as other sources that have provided ventilators for patients in respiratory distress.
But Baker also said the state will continue to pursue personal protective equipment like masks and gowns. "One of my big lessons coming out of this is, you can never have enough of this," he said.
As a country, Baker said, "when we get out of this, we are going to need to make sure that we have the supply chains that involve a lot of this key stuff that don't all require us to start the supply chain in some other country."
Read WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu's entire interview with Gov. Charlie Baker, below. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Testing is ramping up. So is the number of cases. I know you've been trying to prepare people for this moment for weeks, Governor. What do you say to people who are calling to reopen? I saw there was even a small group of protesters over by your home yesterday.
Gov. Charlie Baker: Well, you know, I think most of the folks in the public health space and the health care space, not just here in the U.S. but also in other parts of the world that are dealing with this issue, would basically say that, you know, a big part of the reason for the stay at home [advisory] and the essential work and the sort of essential life issues associated with distancing and stopping the spread, that's all about limiting the impact of the surge and making sure that when the surge comes, your health care system's in a position to deal with it. And we predicted we'd be in the surge around now, and we are. We also did a lot of work to make sure we'd be ready for it. And we actually had three hospital CEOs at our press conference yesterday talk about the fact that while they are dealing certainly with a lot of folks who are struggling with COVID, they also are continuing to take care of all kinds of people who have heart issues and trauma and strokes and cancer and all sorts of other things. And that because of the planning and the work that everybody did to create capacity to deal with COVID, our health care system is more than able, at this point in time in the surge, to serve everybody — not just those people who are dealing with COVID, and to be able to do it safely. So point number one: You really can't make a decision to reopen until you get past the surge, OK. And and that's pretty much the guidance that's come from almost all the experts. And there's a bunch of measurements for that. One is, you know, what percentage of your tests test positive. And we have ramped up our testing dramatically from where it was a month ago. And if you look at our test results in terms of positive tests for the past week or so, you can see either a flattening out or a slight dip in the number as a percent of the total number of tests that are being done. You can see that that's pretty much flattened out or gone down a little, which is a positive sign. And on the hospital side, if you look at hospitalizations, which is another key metric to measure where you are with respect to the surge and all the rest, you can see that our hospitalization data, for the most part is flatter or creeping up a little, which is a good sign, as well. But we're definitely not on the other side. You got to get to the other side and be there for a while before you can start talking about sort of carefully and cautiously reopening up the economy.
Mathieu: Governor, I know you've been on quite a journey lately on a quest to acquire personal protective equipment for our hospitals, for our first responders — without a lot of help, sometimes, from the federal government, with the million masks from China that you had flown in with Robert Kraft and now more than, I believe, 800 ventilators at the ready. Do we have what we need?
Baker: Well, we've also managed to secure additional masks as well over the course of the past week or so. And what I would say is that — the ventilator thing, I feel very good about. You know, we we got 400 from the stockpile. We got 50 from manufacturers. We got nine donated from people who weren't in the COVID space. We borrowed 400 from New York, whose surge happened a little bit before ours. So I feel very good about where we are with ventilators. But on all the PPE stuff, whether you're talking about gowns or gloves or masks, one of my big lessons coming out of all this is you can never have enough of this. So I think you're going to see us continue to pursue personal protective equipment for a long time. And just so you know, there are also businesses that we've been working with in Massachusetts to convert their operations — Merrow down in Fall River is now making gowns. 99 Degrees, which is another manufacturer of sportswear up in Lawrence, is now making gowns. Hasbro, which is a Rhode Island-based company that everybody knows, has converted an operation they had in East Longmeadow, they're now making facemasks. New Balance, which we all know makes sneakers in Lawrence, is now making personal protective equipment. I mean, there's been a real drive amongst a lot of the folks who are in other lines of work to step up and start making, here in Massachusetts, many of the important elements of protective equipment. And honestly, I think this is something that as a country, when we get out of this, we're gonna need to make sure that we have supply chains that involve a lot of this key stuff that don't all require us to start the supply chain in some other country. Because when you get into this scarcity situation, that's not just true here. It's true in many parts of the world. It gets really hard to get this stuff and I hope we learn that lesson.
Mathieu: It's been really impressive to watch all of this click and see all of us come together. We actually spoke with the head of 99 Degrees here earlier in the week, Governor. And the stories have been remarkable.
Baker: Did you really?
Baker: Good for you.
Mathieu: Well, I saw her up there with with you at the daily briefing and we thought, We need to talk to her about how you actually turn an entire factory into making something else. So we learned a lot. We were joined last hour, Governor, by Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, who described her recovery from COVID-19. We're very glad to know she's okay. It sounded awful. I asked her, Governor, about President Trump's suggestion that U.V. light and even disinfectants could be a cure. And the doctor pointed us to a fact sheet on the state's website. I wonder if you're worried that people might actually try this.
Baker: Well, I certainly hope that most people, and I believe this is the case for most people, will rely on the advice from what I would call, you know, a trusted clinician. I mean, time and time again, what we have said to people is: If you feel sick, call your doctor. If you don't have a doctor, call folks at your local hospital. If you don't get a hold of somebody, if you can't use telehealth — you remember, we made telehealth a covered benefit here in Massachusetts as part of our emergency orders here — go to the emergency room. And one of the points the three hospital CEOs made yesterday is, we have room and we're organized to be able to separate our COVID folks from everybody else. We have so much outstanding health care here in Massachusetts — really one of our greatest assets, that I would hope people here would choose to connect with the people they're most familiar with and who are most familiar with them, the folks in our health care community to help them make decisions about the best way to deal with their circumstances or their situation. I don't give people medical advice. And I say almost every day that I get most of my advice about all these issues from people who are experts in these fields and here in Massachusetts, we're blessed to have a lot of those folks. People should use them.
Mathieu: We certainly are. Although I can't imagine telling my family to ingest disinfectant. I understand, Governor, you're going to be on a conference call today with President Trump, you and all of the governors. Is there anything you plan to tell him? Do you have a message for the White House?
Baker: Well, I mean, sometimes Larry Hogan, who's the governor of Maryland and the chair of the NGA, often speaks on kind of what I would describe as the general state of play with respect to what governors want to talk to the administration about or would like to see the federal government focus on. I'm sure that one of the things Governor Hogan will talk about is testing. Governors were big advocates of putting resources into this last, latest version of sort of the fourth COVID-19 response legislation around testing and tracing and treatment. And thankfully, there's a bunch of support financially for all three of those in this bill. I mean, what governors talk about a lot amongst ourselves is the importance of surveillance. And surveillance is a combination of testing and treatment — excuse me, testing and tracing. And we've had tremendous outreach from governors, both parties, all over the country about the tracing program we're putting up with Partners in Health. And they get the fact that a much more aggressive approach to dealing with those who are deemed test positive so that you can get in touch with their close contacts and help everybody isolate is a key part of how other countries have managed to contain the virus. And all of us, you know, all of us believe we should do more testing.
Mathieu: Governor, I know we're both out of time here and I apologize. But is that program, that's an important deal. Contact tracing, is that up and running? And if not, when will it be?
Baker: Yeah. It is. There are about, I think there are around 400 people, plus or minus, who have started doing this work with Partners in Health.
Mathieu: You're hired up, as they say.
Baker: Well, we're going to hire a thousand. And several people said to me, Well is a thousand enough? And I said, well, whatever the number is, is going to be enough, because this is a critical part of how we actually identify people who are tested positive, identify those close contacts they have, they've had, and then help all of those folks isolate so that the virus can't jump from infected people to uninfected people. And in other parts of the world, South Korea is probably the best example, this has been enormously effective at containing the spread of the virus. And I think it's a must-do for us. And I fully expect it's going to be a must-do for a lot of states.
Mathieu: Governor Baker, thank you for leaning into this and for the daily updates and for joining us this morning on WGBH Radio.
Baker: Take care, Joe. And by the way, thanks for having Monica on. She's terrific.