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State Officials Bracing for COVID-19 Surge Next Week
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:41PM / Monday, March 30, 2020
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Gov. Charlie Baker gives an update on pandemic planning.

BOSTON — State officials are ramping up for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases between April 7 and 17. 
 
Gov. Charlie Baker at Monday's briefing said reviewed plans being implemented to reduce pressure on the health system including increasing bed capacity, equipment and staffing. 
 
"This isn't an exact science, but generally speaking, most of the calculations that are out there with respect to Massachusetts both, some of the ones we've done and some of the others, suggests that the surge here is probably going to start somewhere between the 7th and the 17th," he said.
 
Massachusetts has seen the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases jump by nearly 700 percent in a week and the number of hospitalized patients rise to 350. 
 
The governor last week said the state had been in talks with the Army Corps of Engineers on transforming appropriate spaces for isolating patients with the novel coronavirus. Officials had also announced a partnership with health systems and homeless advocates in Boston to house patients at Newton Pavilion, with the idea it could be a model for other communities.
 
"This week the Covid-19 Response Command Center is establishing a set of dedicated skilled nursing facilities to care for older adults who are infected with COVID-19," Baker said. "This is one more way to relieve pressure on build and maintain acute care pack capacity for patients who are critically ill, to allow hospitals to move more patients into the recovery phase and out of hospital beds and into a safe professionally staffed setting."
 
Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester was the first, the governor said, to answer the call for expanding skilled nursing beds and anticipating 150 beds by Thursday with another 150 to follow. These dedicated facilities would obviate the need for hospitals to transfer COVID-19 patients to long-term care homes with the most vulnerable populations. 
 
"The goal is to have about 1,000 beds available for older residents for the COVID-19 surge," the governor said. "We've also received federal approval from [ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] to implement this program, and we'll continue to work this issue around the clock to increase our bed capacity to prepare for this search."
 
The administration has also issued orders to get retired and out-of-state essential medical personnel licensed expeditiously and has sent out a call for medical professionals and volunteers with more than 1,800 signing up.
 
The pursuit for personal protective gear continues with many first-responder agencies soliciting donations to keep their personnel save during the pandemic. Baker said the state had received more supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile over the weekend.
 
"I think for governors, generally, the whole issue of personal protective equipment has been a difficult one," he said. "I've made that clear to the people in the [Trump] administration as well as to many of the folks who work down the chain from there."
 
Governors, including Baker, have expressed frustration at the challenges in getting supplies through the federal government and on the open market. Some states, such as Florida, have been given more than requested while others like Massachusetts have received only a small percentage. 
 
Baker thought the "quick turnaround" within 48 hours to approve a request for 1,000 ventilators was a sign that the federal government was recognizing the needs of Massachusetts. There are also orders outstanding for PPE that will make a big difference when they arrive. 
 
An estimated 28,000 masks and 120,000 pairs of gloves were distributed last week, he said, and supplies that came in over the weekend are being inventoried for distribution. Another $50 million in orders are outstanding. 
 
"But obviously, we will need more," Baker said. "Yesterday, the command center launched an online portal where individuals and companies can donate or contract with the commonwealth to supply PPE."
 
Massachusetts and regional manufacturers are stepping up efforts to fill the gap, with shoemaker New Balance the latest to retool to produce to face masks. 
 
The governor stressed that residents need to continue social distancing to "flatten the curve" and reduce a surge of patients overwhelming medical facilities.
 
"We know many of the measures have been disruptive and difficult, but if everybody follows them, we believe they will have a significant impact on slowing the spread of the virus and make it possible for our health-care system and our communities, generally, to manage the surge, and to come out the other side of it in a position to successfully figure out how we move forward from there," he said. 
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