Apr 21, 2020
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 21
Governor of Massachusetts Charlie Baker’s coronavirus press conference on April 21. He announced that Massachusetts schools will close through end of the academic year. Read the full transcript here.
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Charlie Baker: (00:00)
… going on on the ground here in Massachusetts, support that kind of thing. Doing it wrong could create more hardship for everyone in the long run, and we’re going to do everything we can to avoid that. So right now people need to dig deep and stay put. Please only go out when you need to, and wear a mask or cover your face in public, especially if you’re in a position where you won’t be able to physically distance. We are all in this together, Massachusetts and we will come out the other side of it stronger than ever. With respect to testing, yesterday the Commonwealth conducted 7,157 new tests. That brings us to a total of around 169,000 tests. The state reported 1,566 new cases of COVID-19. The last few days we have seen fewer positive cases day-to-day, but it’s too soon to draw a conclusion from that data. First, a few days does not represent a trend. We’ve said that many times. I’ve seen it bounce around over the course of more than a few days. The number of positive tests is entirely dependent on who gets tested. What I mean by that is the daily test totals don’t represent necessarily what’s happening across the entire Commonwealth. For example, we’ve prioritized testing for nursing homes and hotspots, which obviously affects the number of positive tests we get when we test. One piece of data that we watch very closely is the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19, and we are still seeing an increase here. On personal protective equipment, we’re pleased to receive 400 ventilators from New York on loan. We reached out to Governor Cuomo’s office in New York last week. They’re on the other side of this surge and they were kind enough to lend Massachusetts this lifesaving equipment during our surge, and for that we are enormously grateful. As of yesterday we’ve delivered over five million pieces of personal protective equipment, and our command center is communicating daily with hospitals and medical professionals around the Commonwealth to monitor the capacity of our hospitals. As of the end of the day yesterday, there were approximately 18,100 available beds statewide. Approximately 3,800 beds are occupied for patients with COVID-19. About 10,300 beds, or about 53% of our beds, 58% of our beds overall, remain unoccupied and available for patients. Those empty beds include about 6,800 acute care or non-ICU beds, approximately 2,600 ICU beds, and 900 beds that are field medical hospitals. Although we do anticipate that hospitalization rates may increase in the coming days. As I said before, this is an insidious virus and it puts our doctors, our nurses and our other frontline medical staff to the test, but thankfully we have some of the greatest healthcare providers in the world here, and we have all worked enormously hard to prepare for this.
Charlie Baker: (03:09)
Many hospitals have reported a reduction in patients seeking care for other serious medical conditions like heart problems and cancer treatments and kidney dialysis. It’s important to remind the public that our hospitals have made accommodations for COVID-19 to ensure that they can also care for other healthcare problems. People should still call their doctor to talk about their own health and their own healthcare, and go to the hospital if they have an emergency. We worked hard to set up a telehealth program for people so that they could more easily connect with their healthcare provider, and many people are doing that. And buoy.com, which is a Massachusetts based company that gives people the opportunity to diagnose online using their artificial intelligence tools have actually served at this point over 90,000 people. And there have been people in cases where they’ve worked through the system where their recommendation has been to call 911 and to go get the healthcare that they need.
Charlie Baker: (04:13)
Please, use the system. We worked really hard to make sure that it would be there for you if you had an issue or a problem that had nothing to do with COVID-19. If you don’t feel well, please contact your clinicians, engage and be involved in making sure that your healthcare needs are taken care of. Call 911 in an emergency and get to a hospital if you need immediate medical help. We don’t want people getting sicker or exacerbating an illness or an injury because they have concerns about the healthcare system’s ability to meet their needs. Folks are there, folks want to serve. That’s what all this preparation was all about. Today, with respect to schools, today our administration’s announcing that all public and private schools will remain close to the end of the school year. Remote learning will continue in all districts. This does not apply to residential special education schools. This is a big decision and the Lieutenant Governor and I have spent tons of time talking with Secretary Jim Peyser, Commissioner Jeff Riley, and many of our leaders in local communities about this decision across the Commonwealth.
Charlie Baker: (05:25)
It’s the right thing to do considering the facts on the ground associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. And at this point in time there is no authoritative guidance or advisories with respect to how to operate schools safely and how to get kids to and from schools safely. We believe students therefore cannot safely return to school and avoid the risk of transmitting this virus to others. As we’ve said before, closing the actual school buildings for the year does not mean it’s time to start summer vacation early. We’re making this decision to allow school districts to plan through the end of the year to offer remote learning for all students. This includes students with special needs and English language learners. Massachusetts is home to some of the brightest students in the nation and this pandemic has upended their lives as well.
Charlie Baker: (06:20)
Being away from their friends, their teachers, their sports, and other important resources, for many of them, all of them, has been a terrible loss. School administrators, principals and teachers have worked hard to create curriculums and materials and to help their students keep learning at home under these very difficult circumstances. We appreciate how challenging it is to be apart from your students and still find ways to keep them motivated and committed to their studies. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is taking additional steps to boost remote learning efforts for the remainder of this school year. The department will start preparing for summer learning, especially for students at risk of falling behind grade level to ensure a strong start for all students in the fall. In the immediate future, the department will launch a remote learning initiative that will provide more tools for teachers and students to utilize from home. The department will also launch an advisory group comprised of school officials, students, parents and business leaders to work on creating more resources for schools. Commissioner Riley will expand more on the details of this shortly.
Charlie Baker: (07:33)
School closures also put a tremendous strain on parents and guardians at home. Remote learning means parents have to juggle their own job, whether it’s working from home or still making their shifts while helping their kids stay focused on school. We know it’s not ideal and we recognize that we’re asking a lot from parents to hang in there for the remainder of the school year. The end of the school year typically represents an exciting time for all students. Championship games, field trips, outdoor activities and other great events that sometimes happen once in a lifetime are supposed to fill the calendar, and that’s especially true for high school seniors.
Charlie Baker: (08:13)
They’ve all worked hard for four years and they look forward to the so called last season, whether it’s to play lacrosse, run track, participate in a school play, go to the prom, graduate. Because of COVID-19 a lot of this will not happen, and some of it will happen in ways that are far different than anybody would have imagined it just a few months ago. And as the father of three grown children, it stinks for me too because I remember how precious this time is. So to all the seniors we would just say, you should keep your heads up. The end of the year may not proceed as planned, but there will be because there always are brighter days ahead. We’ll get through this pandemic together and thanks to the creativity and spirit of your parents, coaches, school administrators and teachers, we will do all we can to do what’s best for kids across Massachusetts.
Charlie Baker: (09:09)
We’re also extending the previous executive order closing all non-emergency childcare programs until June 29, 2020 as well. Emergency childcare programs will continue operating as they have been. These programs will keep serving healthcare workers, first responders and other essential personnel who must continue to work, including grocery store workers. There are currently 523 programs statewide serving families of essential workers who are serving an average of 2,500 children per week. And we’re grateful that so many providers stepped up to participate in this program.
Charlie Baker: (09:46)
The department will continue to pay subsidies to childcare providers based on their pre-COVID-19 enrollment in order to support their workforce. Again, we know that the lack of childcare for many families has created an unanticipated burden and it’s hard to look after young children and balance the demands of working at home under the same roof. But maintaining this structure is the best way to keep our kids and our providers safe from the spread of this insidious disease. In the coming months we’ll be working towards slowly restoring childcare capacity for both family childcare and center based programs once it can be done safely.
Charlie Baker: (10:26)
In the meantime, EEC is developing a partnership with care.com to help unemployed childcare workers provide in-home care for essential workers, and to support families with children who have special needs. The department’s also launching a partnership with WGBH to build on efforts to provide resources and activities for parents that they can do with their young children. I want to thank the team at the Department of Early Education, and especially all those early educators and childcare providers for stepping up during this extremely difficult times. They’re making it possible for our frontline workers to get the work, keep us healthy and safe.
Charlie Baker: (11:10)
As some of you may know, yesterday we launched the new unemployment application form for workers who are not typically covered by unemployment insurance under the traditional benefit program, self-employed and so-called gig economy workers. The new benefit program called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program was created under the Federal Cares Act. It creates an unemployment benefit for people out of work due to COVID-19 who do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance because they don’t have a traditional employer relationship set up. Claimants who qualify will receive weekly benefits that include the additional $600 that all claimants are now receiving, which is the result of another Cares Act benefit. We’re glad that we were able to quickly build up and launch this new platform to accommodate this benefit about two weeks ahead of schedule. Massachusetts is one of the first states in the country to implement this benefit.
Charlie Baker: (12:09)
Thanks to a lot of hard work from Secretary Ros Acosta and her team and unemployment assistance the new application form is working well and was able to process a major influx of about 50,000 claims in the first day. Residents can go online at mass.gov/pua and apply if you do not qualify for traditional UI, unemployment insurance. We’re also working to help people navigate the state’s traditional unemployment system. We have an 850 person remote call center connecting with applicants every day to help them through the process and have daily town halls in English and Spanish that have been attended by over 175,000 constituents. We know this virus has caused serious economic disruption and anxiety for people, and we’re working as hard as we can to get people the benefits that they need.
Charlie Baker: (13:07)
Yesterday here in Massachusetts was Patriot’s Day. And for lots of people who have appreciated what Patriot’s Day has meant over the years, it was obviously not the same. No marathon to cheer on, no Red Sox game to watch while you should have been working. These aren’t small things to miss out on for people in Massachusetts. Like everybody else, I was missing these things yesterday as well, but I also got an email that helped me work through that. I’m going to keep some of the details vague so it remains anonymous, but I want to share a little bit of what it said with everybody. The email was from a woman who’s going through a lot. She has a spouse with stage four cancer, and an adult child living at home who works in the public sector who’s out there every day doing their job.
Charlie Baker: (13:58)
Not only is she worried about getting the virus herself, she has some special people in her life who really are at risk. She wrote to tell me about the support she’s gotten from her neighbors, small acts of kindness, like dropping off protective gear for her husband so he can wear that when he goes out to get his cancer treatments. Strangers have given her child their masks just in case her child didn’t have access to those at work. And in the middle of all this she wrote to me just to let me know that they’re doing okay and they’re getting by. I know we were asking a lot of people when we put the stay at home advisory in place in the first place. And I know we were asking a lot from people when we ordered certain businesses closed temporarily. And I know that we all miss sports, gatherings, meetings, friends, all the stuff that has always been a presumed part of our daily lives. But we all need to remember why we’re doing all of this.
Charlie Baker: (15:02)
We’re doing it, so women like that woman who emailed me on Patriot’s Day, can still get her husband into the hospital for cancer treatment and do so safely. And we’re doing it so public servants like that woman’s child can do their job serving the community as best they can under the current circumstances as safely as possible. I know yesterday was a hard day for many, but it’s a lot harder for many of our neighbors. Those who are caring for the sick are out there every day serving the public. On behalf of them, and so many others who are stepping up day after day in the midst of this pandemic, let’s all just keep up the fight against the virus. And I want to thank you again for all that you’re doing. With that, I’m going to turn it over to the Lieutenant Governor.
Karyn Polito: (15:52)
Good afternoon, and thank you God for sharing that message and for emphasizing the recognition that this is difficult for so-
Karyn Polito: (16:03)
… many here in our Commonwealth, and today is another tough day in the COVID state of emergency that we are all living within, and especially for our students. I would like to also speak to the seniors who are looking at their final days of high school and just say to you, you lived a lot, you’ve had great times, you’ve learned a lot, and you’re ready to take that next step in your life, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the creativity of your superintendent, your principal and your parents will make sure that the milestone that you’ve achieved will be celebrated and will be honored.
Karyn Polito: (16:45)
I wish to also thank the many that helped the governor and our administration come to this decision today, which is not an easy one, but I wish to thank the superintendents, the principals, the educators, parents and students for helping us arrive at what we know is the right decision at this point in time, and that it’s driven primarily around the safety and wellbeing of the students and the people who make up the workforce that enter the schools, in the classrooms all across our Commonwealth.
Karyn Polito: (17:25)
While health and safety remain the number one priority during all of this, I just wanted to say thank you and also to emphasize that the way we get through these times is by working together, working in partnership and we will continue to do so, the department working with our local officials and our school administrators to get through. But beyond getting through, I think it’s a really important moment for us to recognize that while learning won’t take place in your classroom or in your school, that it’s an opportunity to deeper the learning that is available to you remotely, or through WGBH, or however you’re accessing the curriculum and programs that are introduced to you.
Karyn Polito: (18:12)
While it is remote, it needs to be embraced, and that’s an easy thing for us to say and a hard thing for you to do. As a parent of two teenagers who inspire me every day to get up and do the best I can for them and for the people of this Commonwealth, my advice along with my husband’s is to learn as much as you can with the tools that your teachers are sharing with you, to live, enjoy your friends and the things that make you happy, whether it’s exercise or using technology to keep you connected to your community, and to lean in.
Karyn Polito: (18:48)
Now is a time to not say this is a message around school’s out for the summer, but in fact to lean in, to embrace it and to do the best you can, not only for yourself, but encourage your peers and to win that last day of the school year arrives, feel like you’ve accomplished something which will set you up better for the next stage of your education, which will be coming this summer or certainly in the fall.
Karyn Polito: (19:19)
So I’m putting my role on as the chair of the STEM council to share with you some of the work we’re doing around STEM education to contribute to the most robust remote learning opportunities for our students across this Commonwealth. STEM education, and working with DESE STEM team, pulled together online resources to assist you. In partnership with DESE, the Mass STEM advisory council and the Regional STEM networks, we’ve compiled a list of resources from various organizations that are free and open to all of you.
Karyn Polito: (19:56)
This includes resources for students across multiple grade levels as well as different abilities, and they provide teachers with the resources they need to be able to include these in your programming daily with your students. Examples include virtual field trips to the national science foundation, Ted talks for kids or MIT’s STEM videos. This information is accessible through DESE’s COVID-19 website at www.doe.mass. edu/covid-19/STEM.
Karyn Polito: (20:35)
I also wish to announce regarding student loans that in response to this pandemic, the Massachusetts department of higher education is deferring scheduled repayments for its non-interest loan program for a period of four months. Students that participate in the department’s no interest loan program administered through the office of student financial assistance will not receive a bill until the middle of July, 2020 with the next payment due in August.
Karyn Polito: (21:10)
These deferments will help approximately 12,000 students that participate in the $5 million program annually funded through the repayment of loans. The office of student financial assistance is also suspending penalties for student borrows, not in good standing with repayment. Our hope is that these deferments help some students as they navigate the many challenges this pandemic has created and help ease the financial burden even just a little bit.
Karyn Polito: (21:41)
In closing, I just wish to emphasize that these decisions are not made lightly but certainly made in partnership with all of you and we feel at this moment that we’re going to do the best that we can for students who are our children and our future. I’d also like to emphasize the message that I’ve shared here before and that’s relative to those who are vulnerable in our communities, particularly those who suffer from abuse, from sexual assault and domestic violence, and I wish to share again the toll free numbers that are available through Safelink. One is (877) 785-2020, for hearing impaired it’s (877) 521-2601, and there’ll be more information available for the hearing impaired through these hotlines and we will share that information with you. And if you are in immediate danger, you know to call or text 911.
Karyn Polito: (22:44)
Thank you and I now wish to turn it over to Secretary Peyser. And before sending it to Secretary Peyser, we’re going to send that to Commissioner Riley. Commissioner Jeff Riley. Thank you for your leadership.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (23:01)
Good afternoon everyone. Before beginning, I just want to thank the teachers, parents and students who are making remote learning work every day. None of us expected to be having school this way, and I know it isn’t easy. As a parent of two public school teenage children, I understand the challenges, and I also recognize that we can keep doing better, we can keep making things easier for families, and we’re going to do that.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (23:25)
Today’s announcement makes it extremely important for students to continue learning remotely until the end of the school year. This has been an unprecedented interruption to an entire generation of students and we want to minimize learning loss as much as possible. I’m proud of the collaboration with teacher, administrator and parent organizations that produced our initial remote learning recommendations. In fact, those recommendations were among the best in the nation according to a recent study by the MIT Teaching Systems Lab that looked at similar guidance from all 50 States, but we know we have more work to do.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (24:02)
We have a long way to go to make remote learning work smoothly for our students, and we’re committed to doing that. Later this week, I expect to issue additional guidance about remote learning to help students and teachers continue their progress. When I think about what’s happened with the onset of this virus, I think about what we’ve done at education is four phases. The initial closes was phase one, where we brought a focus on students and families, immediate needs, their health and safety, working with districts to get food feeding sites up and running.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (24:36)
The second phase with the guidance we put out. In conjunction with various partners, we put out guidance when we weren’t sure how long this was going to be closed. The third phase starts later this week when we put our next set of guidance out to help continuously improve the experience for families and students. And then the fourth phase we’ll also be addressing in the guidance later this week, which is the idea of reopening schools, a process that we hope will happen in the coming months in collaboration with health experts and the school community.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (25:08)
Today’s announcement gives us additional time to work on phase four and consider what that will look like. When we have more information on safety and how that will work in our schools. We will share it with you. For now, I hope everyone will continue to work with their students to do the best they can on remote learning. Thank you very much. And I believe I’m turning it over to Commissioner Treworgy, is that correct? Early educationer Commissioner Sam Aigner-Treworgy.
Commissioner Sam Aigner-Treworgy: (25:40)
Hi, good afternoon. Thank you Commissioner Riley and Governor Baker. I want to echo, thank you to our state’s early educators, our childcare providers, the staff, the program leaders, and everyone who’s been working to keep our children, families and educators safe during this crisis. The providers across the Commonwealth have stepped up to serve our essential workers, and their commitment to children and families has really been the backbone of the essential workforce as we navigate this complicated time.
Commissioner Sam Aigner-Treworgy: (26:12)
Today’s announcement to extend the childcare closure helps the department of early education and care continue to keep the best public health interest of our families and our workforce at the forefront. It also gives us a time to look ahead and align the reopening of childcare with the reopening of employment across the state. We know that reopening childcare won’t be as simple as flipping a switch, which is why the department has begun working with stakeholders, with advocates, with providers, families and employers to make sure that we are addressing a multi-phase plan that ensures that we are taking the best advice of the public health world as well as the needs of the business.
Commissioner Sam Aigner-Treworgy: (26:52)
Parents cannot go back to work if their children are not safely cared for. Educators cannot go back to work if proper preparations and protocols aren’t in place, and programs cannot reopen if meaningful policies, guidance and support is not there for them, and businesses cannot reopen if their employees don’t have safe high quality childcare to send their children to. This phased approach we are developing, we’ll address these challenges head on and ensure that there is the availability of this care for parents when the time comes to reopen the Commonwealth.
Commissioner Sam Aigner-Treworgy: (27:27)
In the interim, as the governor mentioned, we are launching a suite of supports for our communities. For educators, today you can log on to mass.care.com to connect with the frontline families in need of childcare to address the non-group care settings, to provide non-group care settings for the support for children, particularly those with special needs or other opportunities that our educators who are in our closed programs are uniquely qualified for.
Commissioner Sam Aigner-Treworgy: (27:58)
Massachusetts essential workforce and families are offered free subscriptions to be able to find these educators to support their needs during the closure. For families and children, we will both be providing a local resource directory to allow you to find the specific needs that families have during this closure, things like diapers, food and other things that families with very young children need. As well, we’ll be launching a partnership with WGBH and The Basics where we are building these engaging opportunities for families to help with ideas of things to do with their children while they’re home with them.
Commissioner Sam Aigner-Treworgy: (28:36)
For sustaining our programs, we are launching a partnership with The Children’s Investment Fund, creating resources that apply the business opportunities and supports that the federal government and the state are providing, helping translate those to the childcare field so our field is prepared to reopen as we look forward. You can find all these resources on mass.gov/eec, and we’ll continue to communicate about the reopening plan in the next few weeks aligned with the broader Commonwealth goals. Now I turn it over to Secretary Sudders.
Secretary Sudders: (29:17)
She used a baseball analogy unlike the closer. Thank you Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and our friends from education. Just a couple of updates to augment what the governor had to say. So updates on mobile testing and public reporting of data and the family resource line. So as you know, we have prioritized longterm care facilities that continue to be a priority for both testing and for distribution of personal protective equipment.
Secretary Sudders: (29:46)
Our mobile testing program test both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and staff at nursing homes, rest homes, assisted living residences, and executive office of health and human services, group homes, and hospitals, and developmental disability centers. We have paused for the moment on sending test kits to nursing homes given the experience recently of we sent 14,000 test kits, and only 4,000 of them were returned. We will continue to maximize our mobile testing with the National Guard in partnership with the Department of Public Health, Fallon Ambulance and the Broad Institute of Cambridge. We’re working with the nursing home industry so that we can restart up sending test kits once we understand what some of the logistic issues are.
Secretary Sudders: (30:29)
To date, our onsite testing program has visited 311 longterm care facilities to conduct more than 8,800 tests, and we have sent test kits to 146 facilities. On the human services in health and human services side, in terms of congregating group home testing program, we’ve conducted testing at 206, and have completed 3,700 tests. In terms of the public reporting of data, we continue to refine the level and formatting of data available to the public. The release of reliable actionable information is an important part of responding to any public health emergency. Yesterday we released a reformatted and detailed COVID-19 data report including trend data in a variety of areas.
Secretary Sudders: (31:18)
The daily dashboard is now 23 pages in length and includes information on case rates, testing and breakdowns by age, sex, race, and ethnicity, and geography of confirmed cases. It also includes a similar breakdown of death data. Beyond the case data, the report includes specific information on COVID-19 hospital census information and data on PPE, distribution by recipient type and geography. It also includes a list of longterm care facilities along with the percentage range of the number of positive cases in each facility. The goal providing this information, that information in particular is to ensure that families with loved ones have consistent access to information.
Secretary Sudders: (32:02)
Additionally, based on questions to the Family Resource Line, we’ve created guidance for families if they are considering the complex decision of moving a loved one out of a longterm care facility during this pandemic to their home. And since its launch on April 7th, the Family Resource Line has received more than 3,000 calls. As you know, that line is available from 9:00 to 5:00 PM seven days a week and can be reached by calling (617) 660-5399. The enhanced data report can be found on the state’s website, mass.gov/COVID19. Thank you. Governor?
Charlie Baker: (32:46)
We start on the education stuff so that if you have questions for either of the commissioners or the secretary or the lieutenant governor, we can go there first.
Speaker 3: (32:54)
Governor, what took you so long to make this announcement? 13 days or so before you had said you were going to make an announcement soon. What was the struggle with making this announcement?
Charlie Baker: (33:06)
Well, I think the big issue associated with this announcement was, and I’ll let the commissioner Riley take a swing at this one too. The, there was a lot of mixed feelings amongst the education community about whether or not going back. Let’s put it this way, I think most of the folks that we talked to said if there was a way to go back safely, they would have liked to have done it. The overwhelming sense for most of those folks is they like having the kids in front of them. They like being able to engage them and they want to know how they’re doing. And in a year like this where we’ve had such a terrible disruption in the first place, to have a chance to eyeball them and think a little bit about how to help them get through to the end of the year and then figure out how they’re going to prepare for the fall.
Charlie Baker: (33:55)
But I think at the end of the day, the conclusion that we all came to was, while that might be what people would like to do, there just isn’t enough guidance or enough information out there about how to do it safely. And there were a number of issues that came up there. One is how do you configure a school classroom that is built on one set of assumptions about how many kids you can put in a class and now would have to live under a very different set of assumptions. Transportation, buses, right? Think about all the kids who pile all over each other when they get on a bus. I mean, it’s half the fun if you’re a kid and in many ways that would no longer be possible. You need guidance and construct about how to deal with that.
Charlie Baker: (34:40)
What’s going to be the issue with respect to how you deal with kids and adults? This was one of the main reasons that the higher ed system, for all intents and purposes, pretty much closed its doors back in March was because they had a lot of adults, grownups who fell into population that were particularly vulnerable based on their age or their medical condition, who would be in constant contact with a lot of the kids in the college set up. The same thing would be true in the K through 12 space and you start working through those issues and discuss this, as the commissioner said, with public health people and other safety experts. And eventually it just became pretty clear there wasn’t really a way to make this work at this point in time.
Charlie Baker: (35:24)
I think the other thing that I would say, and again I’m going to let the commissioner speak to this, is there is some momentum out there with respect to the remote learning and the online stuff, and that’s a positive, and I think making an announcement on this at this point in time will make it possible for people to continue to build on the work they’ve done creating that momentum over the course of the past few weeks. But commissioner, say what you want to.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (35:51)
So the governor hit many of the points. What I would say, speak on behalf of the field is that we heard from teachers, administrators, superintendents, that if there was any way to get back in school this year, we wanted to try to do that. They missed the kids, right? They love what they do, but the data didn’t support it. And at the end of the day we’re going to err on the side of the caution and the best interest of the safety of our children and the adults. And that’s why the decision was made.
Speaker 3: (36:19)
Well, it seems like teachers have been [inaudible 00:04:22]. I’m just wondering why it took so long.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (36:29)
Well, I mean I think there’s people on the other side as well that, I mean, look, this is a challenging situation and so what we did was we tried to listen to everyone, parents, teachers, superintendents, school committees, and try to get a consensus and make the best decision we could. And I think this is the right decision.
Speaker 5: (36:44)
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (36:58)
I don’t think we’ll really know one way or another for a few years. What we’ve asked districts to do is to track students that may have fallen off the grid, they can’t be found for whatever reason. Maybe they moved out of state or maybe the phone service isn’t in, and try to identify the kids that we are most worried about going forward so that we can offer remedial supports. I do think we are probably better positioned than most states to come out of this in a better situation, because in my opinion we have the best teachers and principals in the country.
Speaker 3: (37:27)
Not every student has access to a computer or wireless internet. What are you doing for students like that? What do you say to them?
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (37:36)
So our guidance which came out during the second week was very explicit. It said that remote learning is not synonymous with online learning. We think there’s many ways to skin the cat. We’ve seen project based learning taking place, we’ve seen work packets, we’ve seen different ways to reach kids and what we are trying to do is make sure that we can maximize all of our learning for our kids, recognizing that there are new challenges.
Speaker 3: (38:02)
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (38:04)
Excuse me, he’s next.
Speaker 6: (38:06)
[inaudible 00:38:06] to prepare for fall?
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (38:10)
So that planning is already underway. Part of it is about the group we talked about, bringing together many stakeholders to talk about what the opening will look like around safety. And what we’ve seen from other countries that have started the process of opening are things like temperature checking students, keeping desks six feet apart from students. Some people have staggered schedules. There are many possibilities. What we’re going to do is work with everyone, including and probably most especially the healthcare professionals to get the best advice possible for how we bring our kids back.
Speaker 3: (38:45)
The new guidance-
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (38:47)
I’m sorry, he was next.
Speaker 7: (38:49)
[inaudible 00:38:49] about pass fail systems or?
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (38:56)
So our initial guidance did in fact recommend that school districts use a credit, no credit system. We however did say that we understand perhaps in high school there may be some schools that want to go forward with the grading. We’ve left that to the local decision making bodies to decide what they’re going to do for that, but our initial recommendation was to go with a credit, no credit system.
Speaker 8: (39:19)
Commissioner, will the new guidance or any work with the advisory group involve any additional resources or recommendations for those who don’t have [inaudible 00:39:29]. I understand you said it’s not just about online learning, but you know there are some of those who rely on it some level.
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (39:35)
Yeah, it’s a great question. I would say absolutely. What you’re going to see in this new guidance is sharing of some best practices for what remote learning looks like, both on an online perspective and from a non online perspective. Obviously we’re going to talk a little bit in this guidance about what a plan for reopening could look like. Not congealing that plan, but just talking about possibilities. There’s going to be more guidance for mental health supports for our students. This is a unique situation and we want to be very cognizant of that and then there’s going to be discussion about what are the essential standards that our students need to learn to be able to go to the next grade? So those are kind of the four big buckets that will be coming out with the new guidance probably on Friday this week.
Speaker 6: (40:17)
Were the teachers unions involved in this decision making at all?
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (40:22)
So what I would say is the governor has made the decision. I certainly listened to all stakeholder groups, the PTA, the superintendents association, the school committee association and our two unions as we put together that initial guidance and we’ll continue to work with all groups to try to get the best decisions for our kids.
Speaker 3: (40:41)
What about the summer classes? What’s the story with that?
Commissioner Jeff Riley: (40:45)
I think it’s too early to say right now and I think that will be another meeting.
Speaker 6: (40:52)
Governor, you talked about the [inaudible 00:40:55] overall situation. What kind of hope do you have for people who are thinking about school here in Massachusetts state, and also May 4th is that … Was that line that people were just trying to work towards. You may not have that date now to get back to work, so [inaudible 00:41:14]. What kind of hope do you have?
Charlie Baker: (41:16)
Well, first of all, the main message I would start with on the hope piece is if you look at almost all the modeling that was done with respect to where people thought Massachusetts would be six weeks ago or seven weeks ago when it came to the coronavirus, everybody has adjusted downward dramatically from where they thought we were going to end up. So point number one is the work that people did as painful and as difficult as it was, was absolutely purposeful with respect to what we were seeking to achieve, which was a change in the dynamic based on the early trends that appeared here. And I think in many ways that tends to get lost in the midst of the difficulty that’s associated with what everybody’s working through.
Charlie Baker: (42:08)
But the whole point behind the school closings, the essential businesses, the stay at home orders and advisories, the guidance on so many different issues, the no beach parking at public beaches, the all the social distancing stuff, the hygiene issues, all of it, the disinfectant surfaces, and then all the work we did with the healthcare community to help them prepare for this was all about trying to make sure that it wasn’t as bad as everybody was projecting it would be. And certainly at this point in time, while it is bad, there’s no question about that, it’s nowhere near as bad as a lot of people said it was going to be at the beginning when it came to Massachusetts. So I do take some hope from that. I also take some hope from the fact that people for the most part have been pretty good about living with a very new way of life for six, seven weeks here, and there are stories every day about how people are supporting one another as they work their way through this.
Charlie Baker: (43:16)
Some of them are small and some of them are big, but the bottom line is people have really put what I would call the baloney aside and tried to be constructive and helpful in the midst of all this, which is not an easy thing to do given what we’re asking. And I also take some hope from the fact that when our business leaders talk to the lieutenant governor, or to me or to Mike Keneally or to Mary Lou Sutters and the folks in the command center about sort of what they think a reopening would look like, they talk about it in an incredibly informed and careful and planful way.
Charlie Baker: (43:52)
People around here aren’t looking to jump off the deep end of the pier. They’re looking to find a way to do something safely. And they’re talking to their colleagues in other countries, if they have businesses in other countries, they’re talking to their employees and their managers in other countries about how people are thinking about this going forward. And I don’t see, amongst the vast majority of the folks that I talk to, and I don’t think the LG does either, a tremendous appetite to get this wrong on a go forward basis. I see just the opposite, which is a lot of people trying to gather as much data and information as they possibly can and try and come up with a way to move forward on this that makes sense, which I appreciate.
Speaker 7: (44:38)
Governor, do you sometimes feel like you’re trying to hold back the tide with people jumping to get back to whatever normal is, and you said they’ve done a good job for the last six or seven weeks, they’re going to have to be doing a great job for another six or seven weeks ahead. Are you feeling that pressure?
Charlie Baker: (44:57)
I think I want to see my dad. Okay? I mean, on a very personal level, I understand what’s going on with this. Lieutenant governor and I talked a lot about the fact that we got into public life because we like the public part of public life. I mean my day, her day, used to consist of 15 or 20 things that started around seven o’clock in the morning and ended around nine o’clock at night and they were all over the Commonwealth and we hugged, shook hands with, took pictures with, talked to, met with, engaged with hundreds and most of the time thousands of people. And it’s the best part of the job.
Charlie Baker: (45:40)
We don’t do that anymore at all. I mean, basically what we do is we work from home, and when we aren’t working from home, we’re here in this building, usually right before or right after we come talk to the media, and we don’t have meetings. We talk on the phone, we Skype, we do Zoom or whatever. I mean, anybody who’s who likes public life knows how much we like the opportunity to literally and figuratively embrace the people that we work with. And there’s none of that. And I fully expect … We talked about this, there’s going to be none of that going forward. We’re not going to shake hands anymore. We’re not going to hug. We’re not going to do any of those things. And so yeah, look, I’m part of the community that would like to see something close to something like a new normal sooner rather than later.
Charlie Baker: (46:39)
But I’m also the person who’s looking at all the data every day and talking to the folks at the command center about what’s going on out there and recognizing and understanding that I’ll be damned if the way this works is we go through this thing, we flatten the curve, we do all this stuff we were supposed to do and then we create some run up again in the fall because we don’t handle the re-entry, the reopening in a way that actually works and makes sense and keeps people safe.
Charlie Baker: (47:06)
I mean, so yeah, this is difficult. It’s also purposeful and in many cases and in many ways it has worked and we should all remember that. Okay? And the last thing we should do is give this insidious and somewhat invisible virus the opportunity to breathe on a go forward basis. The whole point behind this contact tracing program, which will be probably the biggest tracing program in the country once we get it fully up and launched, is about getting our arms around, identifying where this thing is, and then working to help people isolate and support them in those circumstances, and to know where the virus is and how to keep it there. Along with a whole bunch of other rules and regulations. That’ll probably be part of the way this all works. But we’ve got to do this right, and we’ve got to respect the virus big time.
Speaker 9: (47:59)
[crosstalk 00:47:59] website. Most notably long term care facilities-
… and a number of staff. And also with residents who are infected at these facilities. Why is that true?
Speaker 10: (48:11)
So, if you looked at the website, that was an error. When the data pulled into the new reporting system, it literally just got dropped. And I think we’ve explained that to a couple of reporters. There’s a note actually on the website and it’ll be on today’s data report. I’m looking forward to the day we’re perfect in reporting data in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It probably will not occur in my lifetime. I’m sorry?
Speaker 10: (49:04)
All right. So I saw, I think, I want to say Steve’s email a little while ago of a whole bunch of questions from this. So the data, so the nursing home data pulls from … It’s one of the things I have come to appreciate as the Command Center Director is where all of these data elements pull from. So one is we wanted to get it out and we’re obviously still cleaning up. Chelsea Soldier Home is clearly, last time I looked, Chelsea was not in Metro West. But we wanted to get the data out and we’ll continue to clean it up. I would never say that Chelsea being reported as Metro West is a minor issue because I don’t minimize how important it is to get data correct, but the data around the percentages is accurate. And the death list literally just didn’t get pulled in today’s report. And you should see all of those, the things that I think that Bruce raised, you raise, you should see that cleaned up in today’s data report.
Governor, are you considering extending the nonessential business closure beyond May 4th? And if so, when could we expect a decision?
Charlie Baker: (50:10)
I think what we’re going to focus on for the short term is managing our way through the surge. I mean, everybody who has talked about any kind of reopening talks about a prerequisite. And it’s got nothing to do with essential versus nonessential businesses. It has to do with a demonstration in your state that you are seeing positive trends when it comes either to testing or to hospitalizations. And those are going to be, in many respects, the sort of key elements that we’re looking at to make decisions about what happens next. I do think what happens next is going to be more about guidelines and rules and regulations because in many ways, remember, the reason we created essential businesses was because the federal government determined what they felt was essential in a pandemic. And those essential businesses were then deemed as such while all the others were basically told to either work from home or work remotely or not work at all. The goal going forward here is going to be to establish prerequisites around when we believe it is safe and appropriate to open the doors and then make rules and regulations and requirements and capacity to monitor around how businesses of Massachusetts can operate safely. Because that’s got to be the measure going forward.
But if daycares are closed until June 29th, is there any way that businesses can open before June 29th? [inaudible 00:51:46]
Charlie Baker: (51:46)
Well, there are plenty of businesses that are open now that aren’t relying on the daycare programming to operate. There are many that would benefit from it if it were to be able to do so. I think obviously we’re going to have to align a bunch of different pieces and parts as we go forward on this, but I want to remind everybody we are in the surge and that’s what we’re focused on right now.
Speaker 11: (52:09)
Governor, I’ve only got a question [inaudible 00:52:11] what you’re looking at. The White House said to look at new positive tests, whether they’re going down, 14 days. And then they talk about [inaudible 00:52:24].
Charlie Baker: (52:32)
We’re looking at a lot of things. And I think at the end of the day, we’re going to rely on the advice from the folks on the medical advisory board that serves the command center and some others to make the decisions we think make the most sense for Massachusetts. Again, I do think the other thing, remember, is we’re also talking to our colleagues around the northeast about what kinds of measures and prerequisites they’re going to rely on as well. Because we think that’s important too.
Governor, any concern about people getting desperate?
Charlie Baker: (53:04)
Say it again.
Any concern about people being desperate and some people having to pay their bills?
Charlie Baker: (53:10)
The reason we literally worked all day every day to set up that Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and create a system that basically has financial integrity and program integrity in less than two weeks was because that community in particular was one we’ve been very concerned about. The reason that we now have 850 people working in our remote call center at DUA, which had 50 people working in a call center back at the beginning of March, was because we want to be able to process and deal with the enhanced volume, 10 times, 12 times, 15 times what they’ve ever seen before in the traditional program. And that’s why we’ve held town halls basically every single day in English and Spanish to help people work their way through that system. I mean, we want people to get access to the resources that they need to get access to. And it’s why the Lieutenant Governor’s on the phone literally with the mayors and the municipal officials many times a week just to hear from them about what issues we need to work with them on.
Charlie Baker: (54:18)
The whole shelter program we put up was basically a combination of shelter providers, local governments, and the Commonwealth. And I’ve talked to a bunch of folks who say that it’s way more robust than what they’ve seen in other parts of the country. So I get the fact that there’s a lot of anxiety out there, but what people need to remember here is it is the public health issue associated with COVID-19 and the coronavirus that created the conditions that required us to separate from one another. That Biogen outbreak, which was kind of the launch, for all intents and purposes, of coronavirus in eastern Massachusetts, that was two people from Europe.
Charlie Baker: (55:09)
And I think one of the things we all need to remember here is this is a very dangerous virus. It’s a very contagious virus. And in many cases, it’s invisible. No one can figure out exactly how many of the people who get it never show symptoms, but everybody agrees it’s a big number, probably more than 10%. And that by definition sets up a dynamic where in the short term, the only thing you can do to truly stop it from spreading is to move people away from each other as aggressively as you possibly can. And that by itself creates tremendous disruption, tons of dismay. Look, we’ve talked before about funerals and churches and so many of the things that people can’t do. And I mean, a lot of kids this year are going to have a prom. That’s a huge loss if you’re high school kid. I mean, we live right across the street from the town common in Swampscott and every year, one of our favorite days is just sit on our front steps and watch all the kids and their parents and their dates gather on the front lawn of the town hall and celebrate. And that’s not going to happen this year.
Charlie Baker: (56:36)
The rituals that we’ve lost will come back. They’re going to come back different, in many cases, than they were before. But they will come back. And it’s important for people to realize that there will be an end game here. But it’s also important to remember that this is a very difficult virus. We need to respect it. It’s very contagious. And when we’re ready to come back, we’ll start to do that. But I don’t want people … This is the third or fourth quarter. Okay? And we are holding our own here. Don’t let the virus win the game. Play it all the way to the end. That’s the way people need to think about this.
Can you respond to the President’s immigration order?
Charlie Baker: (57:30)
I’m opposed to the decision that the President made. I’m opposed to the order. It doesn’t make any sense and I don’t think it makes us any safer. I mean, I just pointed out that the first two people who created the biggest part of the eastern Mass spread of the virus were two folks who were here at a business conference. Right? So I don’t support it. It doesn’t make us any safer.
Speaker 11: (57:53)
Governor, Mayor de Blasio said today that New York is planning to create their own strategic reserve stockpile instead of having to rely on the federal system. Is that something that Massachusetts is considering doing or [inaudible 00:58:08]?
Charlie Baker: (58:11)
I certainly think that we are going to be very aggressive about continuing to chase PPE. I said at this press event a few weeks ago, somebody asked me when I thought we would have enough, and I basically said never. And I think every state will be very aggressive about collecting PPE and making sure they have a ton on hand. The other thing I hope comes out of this is a recognition and understanding on the part of both business leaders and folks in government that having critical supply chains associated with healthcare and especially PPE and safety for your healthcare workers, they can’t all start in other countries. I mean, we need to bring some of that stuff back home and make sure that we can manufacture that stuff here. I’m really proud of the fact that we have companies in Massachusetts that are converting their operations and working with us to get federal approval and CDC approval so that they can make gowns and masks and face shields and all the rest. But this should not be something that serves as a passing moment associated with this pandemic. We should not have to scour the world and hire private planes and all the rest to figure out a way to actually keep our frontline workers safe. And we’ll be very aggressive about that issue going forward.
Charlie Baker: (59:40)
They go through the regular system. But that is operational at this point in time. Yeah. Thanks.
Speaker 11: (59:45)
Thank you. We got to get going. Thanks.