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A COVID-19 testing facility for first responders opened Sunday in Foxborough after it was built in just four days, and Gov. Charlie Baker said conversations are underway about setting up similar sites in western Massachusetts and the Merrimack Valley.
After visiting the new drive-through testing site, set up in a Gillette Stadium parking lot, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito provided updates on the state's continuing efforts to prepare for the coming surge in cases of the dangerous and contagious coronavirus.
Baker said state officials received a shipment of 100 ventilators — a fraction of the 1,400 requested — from the national equipment stockpile, and those ventilators will likely be distributed "over the course of the next 24 hours." On Monday, Baker had predicted 1,000 ventilators would arrived by week's end.
"We believe that the process as it's been laid out to us is going to be an incremental one," Baker said. "We don't believe this is the last shipment. We fully expect that we'll get additional ventilators over the next two weeks."
The governor has said that modeling shows the peak of the surge will arrive in Massachusetts sometime between this coming Friday and April 20. He said those projections could vary by a few days, and that there has been discussion as to whether the social distancing measures put in place — including the stay-at-home advisory and mandated closures of most businesses — "have actually flattened the curve a little and pushed it out."
The Department of Public Health reported Saturday afternoon that more than 1,000 people had been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 216 people have died from the disease. There are 11,736 confirmed cases in Massachusetts, and 68,800 people have been tested. Modeling shows tens of thousands of cases are expected during the pandemic.
"All About Gratitude"
With more than 5,800 tests conducted Saturday, Baker said there has been "significant progress on expanding our commonwealth's testing capacity," and that the goal of testing at least 3,500 people per day has been consistently eclipsed for almost two weeks.
The new testing site in Foxborough will be able to perform up to 200 tests a day, Baker said as health care workers in gowns and protective suits moved about in a tent behind him. The site will test police officers, firefighters and other public safety personnel who experience one or more symptoms of the coronavirus, free of charge and by appointment only, he said.
The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security sent out information on how to set up an appointment to public safety departments on Friday, and Baker said eligible workers can contact their supervisors for more information.
"We know these people as our heroes, but they're human," Polito said. "And in order for them to do their jobs, a couple of things that are really important — first of all, that they have the gear, and we've talked a lot about that, to be able to get into their jobs and do their work for us. But this piece is also really important, for them to know their status. A testing site like this allows for police officers, firefighters, emergency responders to be able to get tested if they feel symptomatic, and that test will allow them to understand what their status is so that they can then take the next step to protect themselves and recover and also to protect their families at home."
Baker said the Foxborough testing site will run "as long as it needs to." He said it is a partnership between the Executive Office of Public Safety, the New England Patriots, Quest Diagnostics, Wellpath and the Department of Correction, which "has actually put together and made a lot of the gear that's being used."
On Thursday, a New England Patriots plane delivered 1 million N95 masks from China to Massachusetts for health care workers here, the result of what Baker has described as a humanitarian mission.
Baker on Sunday called that "a tremendous asset in terms of taking that issue and that question about available N95 masks sort of off the table, at least for the short term."
A decontamination system to clean N95 masks so that they can be reused is expected to be up and running this week at the site of a former Kmart in the Assembly Row area of Somerville. Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone tweeted Sunday morning that the system had arrived in the city.
Baker said Massachusetts is a world leader in health care and home to a lot of "mission-driven" people who are responding to the call to help their community.
"We're going to do all we can to make sure they have the gear they need, but my message, our message is going to be all about gratitude," he said.
He said 500 people have volunteered to help UMass Memorial Health Care run a field hospital at Worcester's DCU Center. Other field medical centers are planned for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and Joint Base Cape Cod, and Baker said there have been conversations about setting one up in the western part of the state as well.
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