On the day that Massachusetts health officials announced the state's first coronavirus death, Gov. Charlie Baker pledged action from his administration to protect renters and homeowners, touted a new effort to collect critical health care supplies, and again encouraged social distancing practices to help mitigate spread of the respiratory illness.
Public health officials announced Friday that a Winthrop man in his 80s died Thursday evening. He had been hospitalized and had underlying health conditions.
"Obviously, it's heartbreaking to say, but this is certainly a day I think we all knew would come," Baker said in his daily briefing on the virus that has claimed more than 200 lives in the United States and thousands globally.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the man's death underscores the vulnerability of older adults and people with health conditions, and the need for everyone to do what they can to support those who are sick.
An emergency fund the state launched earlier in the week to support small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will receive another $10 million, Polito said. The first $10 million round was "oversubscribed," Baker said, and the MassDevelopment board plans to approve the second round of funding at a meeting next week.
The Department of Revenue will waive late-file and late-pay penalties for returns and payments due from March 20 through May 31 for meals and room occupancy taxes, Polito said. That follows a postponement announced earlier this week for collection of sales, meals and room taxes would be postponed for small businesses.
Polito said a new order will also allow the Registry of Motor Vehicles to extend car vehicle registrations, to modify the conditions of registrations, plates and titles, and, with the Department of Environmental Protection, to waive certain inspection requirements. A separate order last week allowed the RMV to extend licenses, permits and IDs, and Polito said these additional steps mean people won't need to make in-person trips to the registry.
"We can't state enough the importance of understanding what social distancing is, and more so practicing it," she said.
Data released Friday showed 418 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, 85 more than the previous day's tally. Hospitalizations also climbed, from 43 to 58.
On Thursday evening, Baker activated the National Guard to support the state's efforts in combating the virus.
Securing testing equipment and personal protective equipment for health care workers are among the priorities of the state's coronavirus command center, Baker said. The center is helmed by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.
A total of 3,132 Massachusetts residents have been tested for the virus, Sudders said.
Baker said the state's first large-scale, drive-through testing facility opened Thursday at a CVS in Shrewsbury, as a partnership between the pharmacy, the Baker administration, the federal government and local health authorities. He said the state will continue working to expand testing capacity.
Baker said he had not been tested for the virus, because he is not experiencing symptoms.
The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, working with the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council, the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association and the Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals, has launched an "emergency supply hub" to coordinate efforts to bring extra resources to health care institutions, including protective equipment, testing and diagnostic supplies.
The groups are asking life sciences and health care organizations, including dentist offices and universities, to fill out a survey indicating what they can donate, and providers to send an email requesting what they need. The supply hub is not collecting the equipment, but is sharing its information with the Department of Public Health.
In the first 24 hours of the program, almost 200 companies responded with supplies they are willing to donate, MassBIO President Bob Coughlin said.
Coughlin said the groups are working together to help "the real heroes of all this -- the folks who are on the front line fighting this fight and keeping us safe."
"It's so important that we give the equipment, materials and PPE that we have to them now, so that they can can do the amazing work that they're doing protecting all of us," he said.
Sudders said $200 million in accelerated payments and cash advances will be infused across MassHealth and safety net health care providers as a "stopgap measure" to help ensure the system can provide necessary care. She urged that people use telehealth instead of going to doctor's offices to help conserve resources.
On Friday evening, state officials plan to file a waiver request with the federal government seeking emergency flexibilities, Sudders said. If approved, the waiver would allow fast-tracking of MassHealth enrollment and streamlining of administrative requirements for providers.
She said the waiver and other authorities the state is seeking will allow for non-traditional care sites to expand surge capacity, including the use of testing tests and overflow hospital sites.
With the economy disrupted by the virus and related precautions, Baker said his administration will "do everything we can to ensure that nobody loses their housing because of this crisis." A standing order in the Trial Court barred pending eviction cases from proceeding until at least April 21.
"To be clear, this administration will be taking action in the coming days to ensure that homeowners and renters are protected," he said.
Schools are closed across Massachusetts, and early education providers will be shut down starting Monday, except for those that will operate on an emergency basis. Some municipalities have also closed businesses including gyms, hair and nail salons, and theaters at the local level.
Restaurants cannot serve food on-site and Baker said he is not at this time considering allowing to-go alcohol service, as some states have done.
Baker reiterated that he is not planning to impose a mandatory shelter-in-place order, saying his decision was based on the guidance of medical and public health officials and that particulars vary from state to state. On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered residents of his state to stay in their homes.
"We have shut down enormous parts of our economy and our communities across the commonwealth, and I'm sure all of you have seen many of the same videos and had the same kind of conversations I have with people who expressed the fact that their once-thriving downtown is now a ghost town," Baker said. "We are very much in social distancing and shutdown mode here in Massachusetts based on what we've already done."
Led by Rep. Mike Connolly, a group of state lawmakers and local officials -- now numbering 32 -- continued Friday to press Baker to issue a shelter-in-place order. Connolly wrote in a message to his colleagues that the Baker administration "is responding to this imminent catastrophe in a similar way to how they would respond to an approaching blizzard or hurricane."
"However, COVID-19 is not like a weather-related natural disaster," the Cambridge Democrat wrote. "Unlike falling snow or blowing wind, we actually have the ability to control, suppress, and practically eliminate the incidence and spread of coronavirus."
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who issued an order Friday temporarily closing all personal service and "general retail" stores -- excluding, among others, grocery stores, bicycle shops, hardware stores, laundromats and liquor stores -- also called for Massachusetts to implement a stay-at-home order. "This is no time for half measures and there is no time to delay," Curtatone said. "Municipalities can start this process but the region must complete it."
Asked about a national lockdown, President Trump on Friday said, "I don't think so. Essentially you've done that in California. You've done that in New York. Those are really two hotbeds. Those are probably the two hottest of them all in terms of hotspots." In the Midwest and other locations, Trump said, "they're watching it on television but they don't have the same problems."