BOSTON (SHNS) – Ten more commercial laboratories are now testing for COVID-19 infections in Massachusetts and the state delivered hundreds of thousands of pieces of protective equipment to health care workers, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday, adding to the administration’s efforts to ramp up virus detection and support those on the front lines of the outbreak.
The new facilities running tests significantly increase the testing capacity for Massachusetts patients. Ten new laboratories were listed as conducting tests in Tuesday’s daily summary of testing data from the DPH: ARUP, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, BioReference Laboratories, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Hospital Boston, Mayo Clinic Labs, Partners Healthcare, Tufts Medical Center and Viracor.
Through Tuesday afternoon, more than 13,700 patients had been tested thanks in part to the new laboratory infrastructure, almost 4,000 more than on Monday.
“Ramping up testing capabilities is a big part of pushing back against this threat,” Baker said at a Tuesday noontime press conference. “As the number of tests we do in Massachusetts goes up, we will expect the number of cases, the number of positive tests, to go up as well.”
The scope of the crisis is accelerating in Massachusetts, where total cases jumped by almost half overnight to reach 1,159 Tuesday afternoon, and nationally.
Baker said Tuesday that the Department of Public Health received more than 750,000 masks, face shields, gowns and pairs of gloves from the strategic national stockpile and has made 89 deliveries of equipment to health care facilities across the state.
At least 15 locations including fire and police departments received personal protective equipment from the department on Monday, Baker said, and several entities including the Massachusetts dental community have donated masks, hand sanitizer, and other essentials to the state to help with the response.
The administration filed a new bill Tuesday with wide-ranging relief components, and additional federal aid may come in a legislative package expected to resurface Tuesday afternoon.
Another new tool Baker unveiled is an automated text service. Those interested can text COVIDMA to 888777 to get updates, prevention advice and other health information. The governor said only one or two texts would go out every day because the administration is “not looking to bombard folks and add to the information overload many already feel.”
Baker’s press conference came as his latest emergency order requiring all non-essential businesses to close and a separate advisory recommending all residents stay at home whenever possible kicked into effect.
The governor urged people to call or video chat with friends and family members.
“This, of course, is not easy,” Baker said. “It’s not what we’re used to doing with our family and our friends, but it’s hugely important and it is one very significant way everyone can participate in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and especially keeping loved ones safe.”
The governor once again stressed the importance of social distancing, a common refrain as public health experts and health care providers grapple with larger infection increases every day and a rising death toll.
State public health officials on Sunday began publishing an age breakdown in their daily update on total COVID-19 cases, a step that Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders — who is leading the coronavirus command center — said should send a clear message that “pretty much anyone could be infected.”
Older adults and those with underlying health issues are more vulnerable to the virus’s impact and experience higher fatality rates, but “no one is immune,” Sudders said. Children and teenagers had fewer confirmed cases, but every age group older than 20 represented somewhere between 14 and 20 percent of total cases in the state’s latest data.
“When you get into people between the ages of 20 and 60, the variability with respect to how this is going to play out for them varies dramatically,” Baker said. “Just because you may not feel it or don’t know you have it, you can in fact and in many cases might be a carrier and you could deliver it to someone you really care about and it could cause tremendous difficulty and potential mortality for them.”
“This is not something to quibble about if you’re young just because you’re young,” he said.
Administration officials have said in recent days they are aware Massachusetts has not yet hit the worst of the outbreak.
Nine states so far have more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, though none come close to the more than 25,000 identified — 4,790 of which came overnight, according to a Newsday report — in the outbreak epicenter of New York.
Cases are growing in New York “unabated,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, and are now doubling every three days. He cautioned in stark terms that the peak of the illness could hit his state in two to three weeks, sooner than originally expected, and that hospitals will not be able to absorb the wave without immediate aid from the federal government to increase capacity and address a critical shortage in ventilators.
“We have exhausted every option available to us,” Cuomo said at a press conference. “We’ve closed all the businesses, we’ve reduced the street density, and we’ve increased testing to the highest level in the country.”
Cuomo warned, though, that not only neighboring states such as Massachusetts face risks: the entire country should look to New York as a harbinger of what may come next, he said as he asked for resources to be deployed to his state and then shifted to others as needs arise.
“New York is the canary in the coal mine,” Cuomo said. “New York is going first. We have the highest and the fastest rate of infection. What happens to New York is going to wind up happening to California and Washington state and Illinois. It’s just a matter of time. We’re just getting there first.”