BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts relaxed rules for 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.
“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.
Twin River Casino and Tiverton Casino in Rhode Island have also announced plans to close temporarily for cleaning.
BAN ON LARGE GATHERINGS
Baker on Friday issued an emergency order banning most gatherings of more than 250 people.
The order prohibits sporting events with spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, festivals and other events that bring together 250 or more people in a single room or venue.
The order exempts airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping malls, polling locations, and grocery or retail stores. Restaurants are exempted, provided they encourage social distancing. Offices, government buildings and many factories are also exempt.
Schools in many districts in the state have been canceled. In Boston, schools will close Tuesday and reopen April 27.
Baker said Friday that he won’t order a statewide closure of schools but that state education officials are offering school departments guidance about when to close individual schools if needed.
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.
ABOUT THE VIRUS
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
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.