As Massachusetts residents find other governors warning their constituents not to visit the Bay State as COVID-19 transmission rates climb, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday he told New York and Connecticut they were making a mistake, to no avail.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont added Massachusetts to his state's advisory list on Tuesday requiring visitors to fill out a travel form when they arrive in Connecticut and to present proof of a negative coronavirus test or quarantine for 14 days.
And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was not "practically viable" to try to limit travel between neighboring states, but discouraged his own people from non-essential travel to Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Baker said Wednesday his administration spoke with New York and Connecticut on Tuesday about the travel advisories, and respected each state's right to do what they think is best.
"We said we thought it was bad idea and they said, "Thank you very much for your opinion,'" Baker told reporters at a State House press conference.
Massachusetts currently has no travel restrictions on visitors from nine states and the District of Columbia, including New York, New Jersey and four of the other five New England states, with the exception of Rhode Island.
"States are doing what they believe is the best thing they can and should do to keep their states safe. We have travel advisories. Other people have travel advisories. My one message would be people should do what they can to abide by those," Baker said.
Most state travel advisories have exemptions built in for work, family and routine traffic that takes place along borders for grocery shopping and other activities.
In Massachusetts, public health officials monitor two-weeks of data before moving a state from low-risk to high-risk, while they take into account only one week of data in order to put a state into the lower risk category.
Risk for the purpose of interstate travel policy in Massachusetts is determined by the Department of Public Health based on whether a state has fewer than 10 daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and a positive test rate under 5% over the prior seven-day period.
"These are an important part of how states manage travel into their states, and we do as well," Baker said.
Based on the way Massachusetts calculates its own metrics, it would not consider itself high-risk based on an average daily case count of 9.2 per 100,000 people over the last two weeks and a seven-day weighted average positive test rate of 1.7%.
The daily positive test rate, however, has been much higher by some measures in recent days, including over the past four days when new cases have surpassed 1,000 for the first days since May.
On Tuesday for instance, 5.9% of new individuals tested for COVID-19 were positive for the virus, according to DPH, while only 1.2% of all tests conducted came back positive. Baker has argued people getting repeatedly tested for work or school, such as college students, should be counted.
The travel advisories flagging Massachusetts as a high-risk locale come as families are weighing how to celebrate Thanksgiving next month, which is traditionally one of the busiest travel holidays of the year.
Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on Tuesday encouraged residents to scale back celebrations this year and consider limiting Thanksgiving dinners to just people living in individual households.
Asked what is different now than in March when the governor shut down the economy as the first wave of infections washed over Massachusetts, Baker said, "The biggest thing that's different is we know a lot more about where cases are coming from and we have way more testing capacity, tracing capacity and knowledge and understanding about the virus than we had then."
"We also have rules for basically every employer that's open, which we didn't have, about how to operate safely, back in March," Baker said.
As the state deals with a resurgence of the virus this fall, Baker said the health care system is also "far more knowledgeable" and prepared to treat the virus.
"We are playing a really different game at this point than we were playing then, and I think in many ways it's important for us to continue to message, especially to young people, the importance of taking this seriously, wearing face coverings, and recognizing and understanding that's not just about you might get it, it's also about you might give it," Baker said.