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With one of the nation's hottest coronavirus zones just 200 miles south on Interstate 95 in New York City, Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday urged people who are thinking about traveling to Massachusetts to reconsider, and said that anyone arriving to the state through an airport or train station will be advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.
"We're asking that folks considering travel to Massachusetts for whatever reason, do not travel to our communities, especially if you have symptoms," Baker said at his Friday morning press conference.
The new guidance from Baker follows a recommendation from the White House coronavirus task force on Tuesday that anyone who has left New York or who has passed through through New York City on their way somewhere else self-quarantine for two weeks.
Baker on Friday also shot down President Donald Trump's suggestion that he would like to see the economy of the United States reopen for business by Easter Sunday, which arrives in two weeks on April 12.
"Yeah, no. We're not going to be up and running by Easter. No," the governor said to end his daily briefing.
The contradiction of the president by Baker was just the latest expression of frustration from the governor with the federal government's coronavirus response, which included an op-ed by Baker, a Republican, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, published in the New York Times pleading for more support.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the Trump administration had come through with approvals for some of the state's Medicaid waiver requests to "fast-track MassHealth enrollments," enroll out-of-state providers, and to allow providers to be reimbursed for care delivered in alternative settings like tents or congregate care facilities. More approvals from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ease restrictions on the delivery of care are expected by the end of the day, Sudders said.
Baker said anyone traveling through Logan International Airport, Worcester Airport, South Station or one of the state's other transit hubs will be given fliers requesting that they self-quarantine for 14 days. The state will also be putting messages on electronic highway billboards along the Turnpike and putting notices at visitor centers advising travelers to self-isolate.
"I would call it at this point instruction and advisory. There is no enforcement mechanism," Baker said.
Asked if he had considered taking the temperature of people entering the state from New York or elsewhere, Baker said, "The answer at this point is we are engaged in discussions with a lot of people about what we can and cannot do, Ok. And there are plenty of legal and constitutional issues involved in this."
The self-quarantine advisory was one of several updates Baker provided Friday morning as the state neared the end of nearly three weeks under a declared state of emergency.
Since Baker declared the public health emergency on March 10, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts has climbed from 41 to 2,417, with 219 hospitalizations and 25 deaths attributed to the disease.
Before the press conference, the Baker administration announced that he had reached agreement with Democratic leaders in the Legislature to postpone the income tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15, consistent with a step taken by the Internal Revenue Service last week for federal tax returns.
The governor also announced a new partnership between the state and Buoy Health, a Massachusetts-based e-health company that utilizes artificial intelligence to match people with the health services they need.
The online tool will be available for free to Massachusetts residents at buoy.com/mass where residents can complete a risk assessment interview to screen for symptoms of COVID-19 based on Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control guidance, and be connected with the appropriate medical care.
Dr. Andrew Le, the CEO of Buoy Health, said the company was created at Harvard University in 2013 and has had 7.5 million users access medical care through its program.
To continue to meet the demand for clinical care, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said a public health order had been issued expanding the scope of practice for 13,642 advanced practice nurses to allow many with more than two years experience to write prescriptions without doctor supervision.
The order is similar to a bill passed by the Senate Thursday to address the shortage of health care workers by giving nurses more latitude to practice outside the supervision of an overseeing physician. Despite support in the Senate, House leaders said they didn't think it was an appropriate action for the Legislature to take, and House Majority Leader Ron Mariano said Baker had the authority to do it on his own if necessary.
Sudders also formally announced an agreement that the governor teased on Thursday between the state and deans of various medical schools in Massachusetts to allow the early graduation of qualified fourth-year students from schools like Boston University School of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.
Those students entering internships, residencies and fellowships at board-certified health facilities in Massachusetts will be given emergency 90-day licenses to begin practicing medicine immediately before those programs begin this summer.
"The COVID-19 public heath emergency has put a tremendous demand, as you know, on our health care system, and access to health care workers," Sudders said.
The need for workers is particularly acute in the respiratory therapy and public health nursing fields, Sudders said, and the state has launched a portal to be coordinated by the Massachusetts Medical Society for volunteers with professional health backgrounds to sign up and be matched where their expertise can be used.
Potential volunteers can sign up at maresponds.org.
This article was originally published on March 27, 2020.
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