No early ‘starting gun’ for Massachusetts businesses closed by coronavirus: Charlie Baker

Boston, MA – 5/11/20 – Gov. Charlie Baker gives a press conference on May 11 in the Gardner Auditorium of the State House over Massachusetts approach to re-opening the economy. (Pool Photo By Blake Nissen/ For The Boston Globe)

Gov. Charlie Baker isn’t budging on his decision to make businesses closed amid the coronavirus pandemic wait until Monday for more news on how the reopening will proceed, saying he doesn’t want to pull the trigger on an early “starting gun.”

“I don’t want the starting gun — so-called — to go off today or tomorrow. I want it to go off on Monday and I want it to go off in a targeted and phased way, period,” Baker said.

Baker has repeatedly declined to give details around his planned timeline for the reopening of the state’s shattered economy, providing scant details on what businesses might be allowed to reopen first. Critics are calling on the governor for more clarity in advance so businesses can plan.

“Every job is essential and every day is essential. The governor needs to be clear and transparent with the specifics of his plan and not delay another day,” said Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

The pro-business advocacy group on Wednesday mailed a letter to every lawmaker in Massachusetts, urging them to begin a “safe and responsible reopening”  on May 18.

Baker reiterated his intention for a “slow” and “deliberate” reopening, indicating the roll-out would depend on key coronavirus data including positive test rate, hospitalizations, deaths and the scaling up of testing capacity.

“The reason we want this reopening to be phased and to be a slow roll is because that is what many in the health care community have made absolutely clear is the only safe way to go forward,” Baker said after touring a drive-thru testing facility at Stanley Street Treatment and Resources in Fall River.

The Baker administration has worked with community health centers like SSTAR in recent weeks and on Tuesday, the state issued updated guidance to make COVID-19 tests available to more people. The Department of Health now recommends testing anyone with symptoms — including mild symptoms. People with mild symptoms have not always been tested due to shortages of testing swabs and other critical equipment.

“Early on, everybody remembers that this was certainly one of the barriers associated with getting tested and that resulted in a lot of frustration … and left public health experts with limited awareness of where the virus was,” Baker said.

As of Wednesday, 410,032 people have been tested for COVID-19 — including 8,536 new tests. The positive test rate has dropped in the last two weeks, hovering around 10%, but Baker said the state needs to “ramp it up in a pretty big way” before Massachusetts can open for business.

Massachusetts plans to build out capacity to conduct and process 30,000 test per day — a plan Baker said would be forthcoming.