BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a slate of new coronavirus response efforts—along with his request to the federal government for a Major Disaster Declaration.
"Today our administration submitted a request through FEMA to the president for federal disaster assistance in response to the COVID-19 epidemic," Gov. Baker said. "This request for a Major Disaster Declaration, if approved, would provide the Commonwealth additional federal assistance beyond what was included in the emergency declaration I announced on March 13."
It includes a request for FEMA's Public Assistance Program, which would make financial assistance available to cities and towns, state agencies, and certain nonprofits.
“We hope to see the feds move on this quickly so that we can get those resources deployed to our residents as soon as possible,” Baker said.
Baker also requested FEMA's Individual Assistance Program, which would give the state assistance for disaster unemployment and crisis counseling.
He said state is working to figure out how to get unemployment to those who are outside of the system, like those who are self-employed.
Unemployment has skyrocketed in Massachusetts, with nearly 150,000 people filing unemployment claims last week—seven times the highest number during the 2008 financial crisis.
The governor also issued the following orders Thursday:
- An emergency order allowing faster approval for pharmacists licensed in other states to practice in Massachusetts, and allowing pharmacy techs to process prescriptions remotely. Read that order here.
- An emergency order exempting health facilities from the requirement to submit a "Notice of Determination of Need" for certain activities supporting their COVID-19 response. Read that order here.
- An emergency order exempting hospitals from certain nurse-staffing requirements. This order still requires that hospitals have adequate numbers of staff with the training and competency to meet patients' needs. Read that order here.
- An emergency order that pauses the expiration of permits from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development for 45 days.
Now that testing for coronavirus is being done on a larger scale across Massachusetts, Baker told residents to expect a rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth.
"I want to remind people that as we continue to increase the number of tests, we expect to see case numbers rise as well," Baker said. "But more tests means more people know for sure whether they have COVID-19, and from there, those who test positive can work with their healthcare providers and others to take the steps that they and we need to take to limit the spread, and the people they interact with can do the same."
Baker said there are now 21 labs running tests for the virus in the state, and they've tested about 21,000 people so far. Just one week ago, the state had only tested 2,600 people.
The governor thanked those on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
"It is a profoundly challenging time for all of us, unlike anything I've ever been a part of," Baker said. "But the many acts of kindness, compassion, bravery, and creativity that we hear every day remind us that you are all very special."
WBZ NewsRadio's Shari Small (@ShariSmallNews) reports