As of 1 p.m. Friday, March 13, test results show that two Maine residents have tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
BOSTON — Massachusetts relaxed rules on who can get tested for the coronavirus Saturday in an effort to identify more cases and slow the spread of the outbreak.
The state also announced a new command center to coordinate the response to the virus. State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders will lead the center, which state officials said will focus on expanding testing, preventing health care equipment shortages and ensuring hospitals are ready for large numbers of patients.
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“Far more people are going to get tested,” Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said Saturday morning at a news conference called to announce the changes.
The state has tested 475 people for the virus as of Friday. Before the change announced Saturday, health professionals had to seek state approval before administering a test for the virus.
The new rules will allow a physician to administer the test without approval if a patient meets certain requirements, such as international travel to affected regions or contact with someone who is showing symptoms of the virus.
The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Massachusetts rose to 123 when officials announced the latest numbers Friday evening.
“We are preparing for more confirmed cases,” Baker said.
Three casinos in Massachusetts will close temporarily because of the outbreak.
The suspensions at Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino were approved unanimously Saturday morning at a hastily called meeting of the state’s Gaming Commission. Gaming floors are set to close to visitors by 6 a.m. Sunday.
The closures come after a person who visited Encore Boston Harbor earlier this month later tested positive for the virus.
Encore Boston Harbor said in a statement it plans to pay all full-time employees during the suspension. It says some workers will remain at the casino to oversee cleaning.
In Rhode Island, the state’s top casino regulator ordered Twin River Casino and Tiverton Casino to close for at least a week beginning Saturday.
Hospitals in and around Boston are changing their visitation rules to protect patients and the public.
At Brigham and Women’s Hospitals in Boston, each patient will be allowed one healthy guest each day. Starting Saturday the hospital began screening all visitors for signs of the virus.
Boston Children’s Hospital is limiting visitors to two adult caregivers for each patient.
Massachusetts General Hospital, meanwhile, says visits will be limited to one person per patient at a time, and all visitors under age 18 are prohibited. The hospital says exceptions will be made for patients at the end of life, for pediatric patients and for women in labor.
BAN ON LARGE GATHERINGS
Baker on Friday issued an emergency order banning most gatherings of more than 250 people.
Schools in many districts in the state have been canceled. In Boston, schools will close Tuesday and reopen April 27.
The Archdiocese of Boston and the Diocese of Springfield have also announced that they are suspending all daily and Sunday Masses.
NO FOOD SHORTAGES
Baker cautioned Massachusetts residents not to hoard food or supplies because of the virus.
While customers have reported empty shelves at many stores, he said, new shipments are quickly arriving. People stocking up with extended supplies could cause temporary shortages and make it harder for others to find what they need.
“Filling your basement with two years of canned soup will just mean your neighbor has to go without,” he said.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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