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Baker Discusses Genesis of 'Essential' Business List
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
03:32PM / Tuesday, March 24, 2020
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BOSTON — As the state order to close "non-essential" businesses went into effect on Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker addressed criticism that the commonwealth's definition of "essential" is overly broad.
"The essential operation portfolio we put out builds off a national standard that every other state that heads down this road has used as a baseline," Baker said in response to a question at a noon news conference. "I don't know what the crossover would be between states, but I would put it north of 90 percent."
Baker said the list of essential operations published by his administration is "well defined and user-friendly," and he specifically addressed the inclusion of the construction trade on the list of businesses that can continue operation after Monday's order.
He said that in some cases, temporary shutdowns of construction projects could mean permanently suspending the project. And when it comes to housing in particular, the commonwealth needs housing too much to put such projects in jeopardy.
"No one disputes the fact that we have a housing problem in Massachusetts," Baker said in response to a question from the sparsely populated press room. "There's a lot of housing construction going on. To potentially lose all of that new housing for the housing stock would be a tremendous loss.
"There is public construction going on that needs to be completed … a lot of it has to do with expanding infrastructure that needs to be continued and finished."
Baker was asked specifically about concerns that social-distancing protocols are not being employed on construction sites and answered that the administration is working on specific guidance for the industry.
"There absolutely needs to be guidance and standards in place with regard to safety," he said.
Baker said on Tuesday that there have been 9,000 COVID-19 tests conducted in private and state labs as of noon, up from 6,000 on Sunday. He also reported that 10 additional labs have testing processes up and running.
"As the number of tests goes up, we will expect the number of positive tests to go up as well," Baker said. "If you have questions about tests for yourself or your family, if you're showing symptoms, stay home and begin by contacting your provider."
Baker reiterated that the first point of contact should be by telephone and that the commonwealth has approved telehealth services as a defined benefit in Massachusetts.
Another development to come out of Tuesday's update was the creation of a text alert service for Massachusetts residents.
Anyone looking for the latest information or updates from the state's COVID-19 Response Command Center can text "covidma" to 888-777.
"We're not looking to bombard folks and add to the information overload everyone already feels," Baker said. "Most days we may only push one or two messages.
"But it may provide relief from staying glued to your television all day."
Baker also Tuesday addressed the delay in Washington, D.C., in passing an economic relief package.
He noted that states — unlike the federal government — are constrained by the need to have balanced budgets. Congress has the ability to deficit spend in the event of emergencies and needs to take the lead in responding to the crisis, particularly the economic impact of the public health measures taken to slow the spread of the virus.
Baker called the partisan bickering in Washington "appalling" but not surprising.
"I've seen governors shift their focus to the task at hand without the slightest economic bent," Baker said. "I think it's possible for D.C., to do so also if they put their minds to it. This kind of partisan behavior is simply not an option.
"It may take a little longer than it should — in fact, it already has — for Washington to come around, but I'm confident it will."
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