Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that while the state continues to see overall positive downward trends in hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19, it is still too early in the effort to contain coronavirus to lift most statewide shutdown measures.
Baker said that efforts to prioritize quarantine and treatment capacity to prevent hospitals from being overhwhelmed have been effective, and hospital capacity remains more than adequate to treat COVID-19 patients while maintaining capacity to treat other urgent and emergency health needs.
The number of deaths and hospitalizations has been slowly declining after peaking in the past two weeks.
But, Baker cautioned, “At the the same time, we did see days this week where the data was not so promising.“
Baker said the state continues to ramp up capacity for testing and tracking the virus. The governor used Friday’s briefing to highlight the role of community health centers in providing testing to 18 communities around the state.
Baker also voiced sympathy with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and his decision, announced an hour earlier, to not allow large summer events to take place as originally planned.
“I think one of the biggest challenges everyone everywhere is going to face is what to do about those big shoulder-to-shoulder, mass-of-humanity events,” Baker said.
During the briefing, Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the growing use of and comfort with telehealth services has been a significant and positive development over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s no question that telehealth has expanded exponentially as a result of this pandemic,” Sudders said, noting that telehealth visits can not only protect doctors and patients from potential infection, but can also give more access and flexibility to patients, especially those seeking behavioral and mental health care.
Telehealth visits at community health centers for behavioral health alone skyrocketed from about 500 visits in January to more than 2,000 visits in April. And, there have been more than 600,000 telehealth visits via the state’s MassHealth since March.
“Many of us have become comfortable … to video chat with our loved ones,” Sudders said. “So it shouldn’t be that difficult to make the leap of having a video treatment appointment with your primary care provider.”
Sudders said the growth in telehealth is thanks in part due to an executive order issued by Baker in March requiring Massachusetts insurance companies to reimburse for telehealth visits at the same rate they do in-person medical appointments.