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Baker cites a number of large social gatherings as a recipe for coronavirus disaster

Governor Charlie Baker spoke at a recent news conference.
Governor Charlie Baker spoke at a recent news conference.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that recent large gatherings in communities throughout the state were a “recipe for disaster” in potentially spreading the coronavirus, and warned residents that “we’re going to have to make some changes” if the positive test rate continues to move up.

Baker made the comments during his regular State House briefing.

“Recently, we’ve seen disturbing reports of large gatherings where people are letting down their guard, not wearing face coverings, not social distancing, and giving the virus the opening that it relentlessly seeks to spread,” Baker said.

He cited a recent lifeguard party in Falmouth, a house party in Chatham, an unauthorized football camp in Weymouth, a Chelmsford party, a Wrentham gathering, and a prom party in Cohasset attended by 90. He also noted reports about a cluster at Bay State Medical Center in Springfield. A party on a private boat in Boston Harbor is also under investigation as a cluster by the Department of Public Health, he said.

The governor said the gatherings have been planned by both adults and young people.

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Baker noted that a key indicator the state is monitoring, the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive, has increased in recent weeks from about 1.7 percent to roughly 2 percent.

Gov. Baker warns large social gatherings are a recipe for coronavirus disaster
Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that recent large gatherings throughout the state were a “recipe for disaster” in potentially spreading the coronavirus. (Video: Handout, Photo: Sam Doran/Pool)

“Things are definitely different because of the virus but there’s a responsible way to gather,” Baker said. “People need to do their part to protect their friends, their families, their neighbors, and their communities.”

On Friday, state officials reported that the death toll from confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Massachusetts rose by 14 to a total of 8,389, and the number of newly reported confirmed cases climbed by 387, bringing the total to 109,787.

The seven-day weighted average of positive tests increased to 2.1 percent as of Thursday. It was the first time that figure has risen above 2 percent since mid-June. But the current number represents a 93 percent drop from mid-April highs.   

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Baker said the state’s current guidelines limit indoor gatherings to 25 people. He said that if the numbers get worse, he would have to consider options, including reducing the size of those gatherings.

Baker’s words were echoed during the briefing by state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

“You can have a good summer, we can celebrate these milestones, but we need to do it responsibly, in order to continue to drive down the numbers in Massachusetts for us to continue to reopen everything,” Sudders said.

Sudders said officials were seeing a worrisome “slow creep” upward in numbers on the coronavirus pandemic in the state.

She called the Weymouth football camp “informal, illegal, unauthorized” and said, “it is several individuals who have tested positive now.”

The governor unveiled a new #MaskUpMA social media campaign that the state has launched to promote the use of face coverings. More information, including video testimonials from Baker and others, is available online at mass.gov/maskup.

“The bottom line here is the ask — the ask for the people in Massachusetts, so that all your friends who work in the health care world can maintain an ability to deal with all the things that they deal with, in addition to COVID — is a pretty small one,” Baker said. “Wear a face covering if you can’t distance, use your head about sharing food and drink and all the rest, respect the virus, and don’t do the large-gathering, close-contact things that create super spreaders and clusters.”

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Baker was asked about the state’s testing capacity during the news conference.

He said the state has the capacity to perform 45,000 coronavirus tests daily, “if we had 45,000 people’s worth of tests to do.” He said he expects that when students return to the state’s colleges this fall, there will probably be a significant increase in the number of tests performed.

Baker’s news conference followed Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s earlier briefing outside Boston City Hall.

Walsh said Boston Public Schools students will only return to the classroom part time, if at all, when school resumes in September, and he announced that the Boston Resiliency Fund for coronavirus relief had disbursed $750,000 to 21 organizations and nonprofits, bringing the tally to more than $24.4 million in grants that have gone to 328 groups, most of which are led by women and people of color. The fund has raised more than $33 million.

“The Boston Resiliency Fund was created at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic because we wanted to support vulnerable populations as we addressed the ongoing public health crisis,” Walsh said in a statement released after his press conference. “Grantees’ work with individuals hardest hit by the pandemic continues to prove the importance of partnerships with local organizations that are directly helping neighborhoods and communities in need.”

Martin Finucane and Felicia Gans of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.