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Baker says state is keeping an eye on college coronavirus testing and tracing efforts

Governor Charlie Baker in Fitchburg on Tuesday.
Governor Charlie Baker in Fitchburg on Tuesday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the state is keeping an eye on how colleges are doing in handling the coronavirus.

State officials worked together with the Broad Institute and the colleges and universities “to put together a very robust platform for testing and contact tracing in Massachusetts ... and we are currently reviewing all of the protocols associated with testing and tracing and isolation and quarantining and notification, and plan to engage with the colleges generally on this,” Baker said at a news briefing in Fitchburg.

Baker’s comments came in the wake of an outbreak at Boston College that raised concerns.

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Baker said that colleges' testing efforts had generally been “pretty robust” and “pretty effective,” with the vast majority of colleges undertaking regular testing. The positive test rate so far is “very low, but clearly we need to make sure we stay on top of that,” he said.

He said that contact tracing was important and Boston College had faced a challenge because it stretches across three different jurisdictions, but the college had agreed to let the state’s contact tracing collaborative step in, which could handle multi-jurisdictional tracing “more effectively.”

In a separate news briefing, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said, “I just want to say I certainly remain concerned about the situation of Boston College ... or any outbreak, quite honestly, in the city of Boston. We are working with Boston College and the city of Newton and the state to make sure that we address [the outbreak] in a swift, thorough way so both students and the surrounding communities are kept safe.”

“I want to remind all residents, including students, to follow public health guidelines and make every effort to keep yourself and your community safe,” Walsh said at the briefing outside City Hall.

Marty Martinez, the city’s health and human services chief, said the city had been partnering with the college and the state “to make sure that we can support [the college’s] current efforts, their isolation efforts. And we’ve also worked with them to increase testing, which was necessary as they saw some individuals test positive. So it’s been an all-hands-on-deck effort. BC’s been very responsive and worked in collaboration with us and Brookline and Newton, as well as the state, to address these issues, and we’ll continue to monitor them.”

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Baker said the general message from virus outbreaks is: "There are reasons why protocols are in place. Because when they’re not in place, stuff happens.”

He said that "when people don’t play by these rules and somebody has the virus, it spreads. And it spreads quickly. And that’s been proven time and time again.”

“In Massachusetts, it’s been the vigilance and the discipline of the people of the Commonwealth that’s made it possible for us to get to the point where we’re at the second-lowest positive test rate in the country, and where over half the communities in Massachusetts haven’t had more than five COVID cases per 100,000 now for over a month," he said.

“The big message for me is: This stuff works. We should stay on it,” he said.

In other news from Tuesday’s briefings:

-- Walsh said that Boston’s positive test rate for the week of Sept. 7 had dropped to 1.6 percent from 1.7 percent. He said that in East Boston, the seven-day positive test rate was 6.4%, which was slightly down from the week before and down from 11.4 percent three weeks ago. He said community outreach work and expanded testing were having an impact.

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Walsh said the city was keeping a close eye on parts of Dorchester and Roxbury, where the zip codes 02121 and 02125 had a “slightly elevated rate of 4.1 percent.”

“We are monitoring those numbers," he said. “It’s not quite at a place where it puts a big alarm on it, but we don’t want to see that number go any much above 4.1 percent. So we’re going to go back out there and continue to do work."

-- Walsh said the city was extending the city’s outdoor dining season past the original closure date of Oct. 31 to better support restaurants.

-- Walsh said the city, hoping to emerge from the pandemic a “healthier and more equitable" place, would be making transportation improvements starting this fall, including installing new bus lanes on neighborhood corridors where working people rely on the bus. New bus lanes are planned on Columbus Avenue in Roxbury and North Washington Street in the North End and West End. An outbound evening bus lane is also planned on Washington Street in Roslindale.

He said the city was also making many of its new, “popup” bike lanes into permanent, separated bike lanes in the fall. And the city will continue to offer its free, 90-day bike pass program for essential workers.

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-- Baker lauded the late Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, saying Gants left a legacy “as a jurist and a public servant that is unparalleled."

“Like everybody I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn about his passing, and he was clearly taken from us far too soon,” Baker said. “He spent his entire 40-year legal career dedicated to justice and to the integrity of law. He was an exceptional leader, an incredibly hard worker, and somebody who led the court with honor and distinction.”

“And I know I speak for so many when I say that that’s a really bright light that just went out,” he said.


Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com