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Facing COVID-19 Surge, Massachusetts Is Short 1,300 Ventilators Baker Requested

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said he's requested 1,400 ventilators from the federal government. So far, the state has received 100. 

As New England states approach an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, everyone's getting ready. In Massachusetts, the surge is expected somewhere between April 10-20.

Ventilators are a big part of the game plan, and Massachusetts is still well short. Reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about what he's hearing among state officials.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Getting an exact count on how many ventilators are actually in the state, and how many hospitals are going to need for that surge has been difficult.

But we do know that the state has requested from the national stockpile 1,400 ventilators. The governor had initially requested 1,000, and thought they were going to be here by the end of last week. Instead, only about 100 showed up. And the governor attributed that to a change in the way the federal government seems to be approaching this.

They're sending them to states, the governor said, on a need basis. The federal government is trying to assess which state needs them the most.

It seems, though, that they're trying to parcel them out to a state where they're experiencing the surge, when they're experiencing the surge.

And we saw reporting from the federal House Oversight Committee last week that FEMA told national lawmakers that there were only about 9,500 ventilators in the national stockpile. So maybe you can understand why they're trying to be judicious in where they send them.

The rising death toll at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke has been a terrifying example of how quickly this virus can move through a complex where people are living closely together. We've seen an increasing number of cases and deaths at nursing homes in general. You also reported that advocates are now worried about group homes for people with developmental disabilities. What's the latest there?

These concrete care settings are a real point of concern because of how quickly it can spread within a facility like this. Advocates at COFAR — the coalition that represents a lot of the home patients and their families — these are teenagers perhaps with substance abuse disorders, or other developmental disorders. They're urging the state to institute mandatory testing in all of these, the idea being: get ahead of this, and in an initial case, to take action quickly.

We've seen it spread fast in the Holyoke Soldiers' Home. It started in the Chelsea Soldiers' Home, and they started moving patients out. We've seen in some of the nursing homes, including at AdviniaCare in Wilmington, where they're hoping to empty the facility and turn it into a COVID-19-only facility to treat patients as they come out of the hospital.

But what they found, when they tested patients before they moved them to different facilities, was that some 50+ residents of that nursing home, of roughly 100, had already been infected.

The Democratic state committee wants lawmakers to lower the signature requirement for candidates to get onto the ballot this election year. They say it's about public health. But the requested changes still call for U.S. Senate campaigns to collect several thousand signatures. I can't imagine anyone walking up to somebody on the street with a clipboard and a pen right now. Is there any thought of doing away with signatures altogether?

This has been something that some of the candidates, particularly on the Republican side — trying to meet that pretty high threshold of 10,000 signatures to qualify to run for U.S. Senate — have been pushing for. We have heard about lowering the threshold. I have not heard talk about completely eliminating all signature gathering, but I wouldn't say it is out of the realm of possibilities.

The House and Senate already passed an election bill allowing for the postponement of some elections. They say they're considering the signature issue.

So expect to see more, particularly after the Democratic Party voted over the weekend to recommend a severe lowering of the threshold to qualify for seats from Senate on down to a representative.

House and Senate lawmakers are working through some differences on legislation, including a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Are we likely to see a deal on that and other COVID-19 inspired bills soon?

Yeah, I think some of these get done this week, particularly the eviction bill. That's one that has a lot of momentum. And I think there's some real urgency behind giving some guidance on how schools should proceed with MCAS testing.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Correction: An earlier version of this story's headline said Massachusetts was 1,100 ventilators short of the governor's request. That number should have been 1,300.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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