It likely came as no surprise that Gov. Charlie Baker has extended the state’s stay-at-home order, originally set to end April 7, through May 4.
“We are about to enter the most difficult period associated with this virus,” Baker said last week in announcing that all “non-essential” businesses, schools and most state government buildings be closed for another month. And he made no promises that the order wouldn’t be extended again.
It was a wise move. While there have been some encouraging signs in recent days in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus — chiefly, the widespread willingness of people to stay inside, or at least practice social distancing — the toughest stretch is yet to come. While that is true for those of us stuck inside, it is especially true for the doctors, nurses and other health professionals already stretched to the breaking point trying to treat those infected.
Baker said as much last week in predicting a surge of COVID-19 cases in the first half of April.
“This isn’t an exact science, but generally speaking, most of the calculations that are out there with respect to Massachusetts, both some of the ones we’ve done and some of the ones other people have done, suggest that the surge here is probably going to start somewhere between (April) 7th and the 17th,” the governor said.
That means a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and, sadly, an accompanying spike in deaths. For most of us, the effects have moved beyond the relatively minor inconvenience of searching for toilet paper or working from makeshift offices in our kitchens and bedrooms. It has become deeply personal, as the virus has sickened colleagues, friends and family members. Isolated in our homes, we can’t reach out to one another. Seniors are being isolated in nursing homes, grandparents are meeting their grandchildren behind a wall of glass, and those longing to make arrangements for a loved one who has died are doing so alone.
And now, as a long March gives way to April, we're being asked to endure, to continue to hold the line. The social distancing of the past several weeks — the shuttering of schools, the closing of church doors, the cancelling of weddings and funerals — has at least given doctors and nurses a fighting chance against the coming wave of COVID-19 cases. It must continue, even as state and federal lawmakers rush to build a safety net for the millions of lives and businesses uprooted by the pandemic.
There have been some signs of order emerging from the chaos.
The state is adding 1,000 beds for older adults who have contracted the virus, and is calling back to service nurses and other medical professionals who moved on to other careers. After a long delay, an order of 1,000 critically needed ventilators is on its way from the federal government, and the state has already received another shipment of personal protective equipment from the national strategic stockpile. The National Guard has been mobilized to help set up field hospitals and step up testing, especially among the elderly population. Everywhere, companies with vital expertise are chipping in. In Lawrence, for example, New Balance has shifted from making shoes to manufacturing face mask prototypes.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in this battle,” Baker said. “Everyone needs to play their part. ... This state is filled with remarkable people and remarkable communities. And time and again we have watched them rise together to fight, to battle, and to win.”
The hope is that the number of new cases crests sometime in the middle of the month, then starts to recede as the effects of social distancing and the statewide shutdown take hold.
“I think by the time the beginning of June rolls around, we will be at the tail, if the social distancing stays in place and if — the biggest if — if (social distancing) works like it did in China,” Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told the Boston Globe.
June is a long way from April, especially after a March that felt as long as a calendar year. But if June is really to be the “tail” of this virus, as Murray said, it is going to take another several weeks of citizens coming together to stay apart.