Why Mass. Gov. Baker Is Resisting A 'Shelter-In-Place' Order

Mar 23, 2020

Over the weekend, the number of Massachusetts residents who tested positive for COVID-19 increased by more than 100 each day. Governor Charlie Baker appears to be preparing people for those numbers to keep going up. 

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk through what's going on in state politics and government during the health crisis.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: As the state ramps up this week to perhaps testing as many as 3,500 people a day at both the state lab and the private labs that have come online, the governor wants people to know that they should expect to see those [positive case] numbers increase. And it doesn't necessarily mean a severe worsening of the outbreak.

Some other states, and now Nantucket, have issued shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders. But Baker has resisted this. Why?

There's a growing number of lawmakers and other public officials who have been calling on the governor to take this step.

The governor says he is reluctant to take this step because he doesn't think the facts on the ground support it. He also points out that in places, New York included, where the governor has ordered basically all non-essential businesses to shut down, people are still allowed to go outside, they're still allowed to go for a walk, they're still allowed to go to the grocery store, the pharmacy, to get things they may need.

So the traditional idea of shelter-in-place, the governor believes, may create more of a panic than it will actually change behavior, which is why we have not seen him take that step yet. But as the situation changes, it's certainly something that the administration knows is available to them.

The Baker administration also confirmed that at least one inmate in the state has tested positive for the virus, certainly triggering worries that it could spread quickly in such tight living spaces. What's the latest?

Yes, the prisons being one of those congregate settings like nursing homes — where people are concerned that if it breaks out, it will spread quickly. The first case reported over the weekend at a medium-security prison in Bridgewater, where they house a lot of people who have been convicted of sex crime, men mostly. This is the first instance, as I said, and it kind of sparked a new round of calls for the administration to consider things like de-incarceration, releasing people who may be a low risk to the public and of high risk of contracting and developing severe symptoms from coronavirus.

The governor for now says that he is taking his cues from his public safety experts and his secretariat. They have not ordered any major changes, but [the Department of Correction] has severely cut back, and is restricting friends and family from visiting inmates, in an attempt to prevent any large or widespread breakouts in the prison.

Massachusetts state lawmakers are back at it this week. One bill would let towns delay local elections that had them scheduled for April and May. There are some special elections for legislature, including one in western Mass. that will also be delayed. What are you hearing?

We've seen this new bill for cities and towns. This will allow them to postpone elections that have been scheduled up until May, and push them out at least until June. This would give cities and towns the ability to look at their town meetings where a lot of these decisions get made about spending and such. 

The House and Senate are both talking with campaigns to reschedule special elections scheduled for March 31. We also learned on Sunday night that the speaker and the Senate president are considering legislation perhaps as soon as today — but if not, this week — that would protect renters and homeowners from foreclosure or eviction while this crisis persists. 

So they're trying to get some of these emergency protection legislation pieces in place while they continue to meet in these informal sessions with very few lawmakers present. 

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.