BOSTON (CBS) — Gov. Charlie Baker established a coronavirus command center that will be headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.
The command center, located in Jamaica Plain, will focus on expanding testing capacity and distribution, plan quarantine operations, coordination communication across government, respond to local boards of health, monitor supply chains, contingency models and identify search capacity in the healthcare network, the governor said in a press conference Saturday.
Baker also said the center will have “complete authority” over the $15 million fund recently established by lawmakers to fight off the virus.
“By convening decision-makers from these faculties of state government, our administration will be able to continue to ramp up our dedicated response to this developing and evolving situation,” said Baker.
According to Sudders, recent changes to testing criteria will speed up and increase testing in the state. “Clinicians no longer need to receive testing approval from the state lab prior to submitting specimens for patients, that meet particular criteria,” she said. “The second change is that clinicians can submit a single swab rather than the previous two swabs.”
While a third state lab was federally approved for testing Saturday, Sudders stressed that Massachusetts needs more labs to be approved.
“Commercial labs do not use the CDC test kits, they have their own tests that have been approved by the FDA,” Sudders clarified.
Beginning next Wednesday, the state will regularly post the number of people tested. As of Friday, 475 patients have been tested for coronavirus.
While Baker said he assumed the number of cases in Massachusetts would continue to rise, he stressed the public has a role to play in keeping the virus under control.
For most people, COVID-19 would feel like the flu and patients could recover without hospitalization, Baker said. “The reason we are taking this so seriously is because it is incredibly contagious, much more contagious than the flu, and it is especially dangerous for people with certain preexisting conditions and for senior citizens.”
Baker said, “We truly are all in this together, and if we act now to practice good hygiene, keep surfaces clean, engage in social distancing and do the common sense things that we’ve all been talking about for the last few weeks, we can make a difference.”
Mass. Health, the state’s public insurance program, has also made changes to assist anyone impacted. Coverage will include over-the-phone care, 90-day prescriptions and early refills.
“We are expanding hospital presumptive eligibility for anyone suspected by a provider for COVID-19,” Sudders said. “If they meet verbally the Mass. Health income standard, they will be automatically enrolled in Mass. Health and we will do the paperwork after the fact.”
The 211 coronavirus hotline has answered 760 calls. Most questions were about coronavirus testing, access to supplies such as hand sanitizer and workplace-related inquiries, Sudders said.
Baker also stressed unnecessarily stocking up of food and supplies is not the answer. “I ask everyone to please use their heads, get a few extra items when you go out — perfectly appropriate. But filling your basement with two years worth of canned soup will have to go without.”
He added, “In addition to the role we all have to play in pushing back against the virus, there are other things we can do. Call your neighbors, your friends and your family members. A friendly check-in can go a long way right now in helping somebody through their day.”
Boston residents said they approved of the plan.
“Since I do work on Newbury Street, a very highly tourist-populated area, I feel like it’s important that we do have test kits available,” said Freddy Lane of Boston. “It’s always possible people are carrying, but just don’t know.”