U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville compared efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus to a battle against an invisible enemy as he joined Gov. Charlie Baker and National Guard officials for a pre-Patriots Day visit to the field hospital set up in South Boston.
“We’re all going to work together with a whole-of-government effort to defeat it and we will defeat this virus,” McConville, a Quincy native, said.
With COVID-19 infections rising and a surge in patients needing care expected to peak in the next few days, Baker said “people feel pretty good about where we are with respect to” hospital capacity for both that population and individuals with medical needs unrelated to the virus.
Saturday’s numbers from the Department of Public Health show 36,372 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, with 1,560 deaths.
Of the 1,000 beds in the Boston Hope medical station inside the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, about 150 are currently filled, Baker said.
The Army deployed two urban augmentation medical task forces from the Reserves, McConville said, and their members are “very, very proud to have this opportunity to serve side by side with the great medical professionals” at Boston Hope.
“We are in a war against an invisible enemy, the COVID-19 virus,” McConville said. “And what I saw here today is tremendous teamwork, from the governor to the mayor to the real heroes of this fight, which are the doctors, the nurses, the medical professionals and all the committed folks that are working against this.”
The Boston field hospital, and similar sites in Worcester, Lowell, Dartmouth and Bourne, are part of an effort to make sure the state’s health care system does not become so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases that it cannot tend to other patients.
Baker and Partners HealthCare’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Gregg Meyer said people should still seek care if they need it.
“I would urge you, if you need care of a medical condition, COVID or non-COVID, the hospitals, and the medical centers in this region are open to you and they’re available to provide care,” said Meyer, who is also interim president of Newton Wellesley Hospital.
The Massachusetts Medical Society sounded a similar note, reminding patients that doctors and health care workers are available by phone, telehealth and in-person visits. Society President Dr. Maryanne Bombaugh said patients who need to make in-person visits should be assured that safeguards are in place in doctor’s offices.
“It is more important than ever for our patients to be as healthy as possible, and forgoing appropriate and timely care from their physician could prove dangerous,” she said in a statement on Saturday. “Ensuring patient safety is our responsibility and our obligation in any and every interaction. We urge patients to never abstain from seeking care out of fear of contracting COVID-19.”
Baker said testing, contact tracing and isolation make up a “crucial element in our ability to provide people with confidence that we’re doing all the things we need to do to contain the virus on a go-forward basis once we get past the surge.” He touted the state’s status as “a top five player in terms of testing per capita in the United States.”
The 156,806 people who have been tested for COVID-19 as of Saturday afternoon account for about 2 percent of the population in a state with approximately 6.9 million residents.
“If you were to say to me today, ‘What’s the right number of testing?’ I would say I’m not sure,” Baker said. “I just know it’s a lot more than we’re doing now, even though we’re one of the three or four biggest testers on a per capita basis in the country right now.”
The state holiday Patriots Day is Monday, and it is traditionally marked by the running of the Boston Marathon. This year’s marathon has been postponed until September, and Baker echoed calls made by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh in asking people not to visit the route or attempt to run it.
Staying away from the course, Baker said, will allow the law enforcement personnel, National Guard members and medical professionals who typically support the marathon to focus on their efforts fighting COVID-19.
“This year while the race will not be taking place on Monday, the sentiment I think we all feel here in Massachusetts on Marathon Monday remains true, and that’s that Massachusetts is strong, we are resilient, and we can run any marathon anybody wants us to run,” the governor said. “We’ll get through this crisis and we’ll get through it together.”
McConville, Baker and Meyer all encouraged people to maintain social and physical distancing and practice good hygiene, including frequent hand washing. Baker reiterated that people should cover their faces in situations when they can’t guarantee a safe distance, and can use a scarf, bandanna or heavy turtleneck if a mask is not available.
“Everybody needs to continue to do what we have done so well for the past month or so, which is to stay at home, follow all the distancing guidelines and criteria that we’ve set up, wear a mask or a face covering if you can’t keep distance between yourself and the people you come in contact with so that we can stop this disease and run the big race that everybody thinks of as a signature event here in Massachusetts and the city of Boston, on September 14th,” said Baker, who wore a mask during the press conference when he wasn’t speaking.
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