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City, State Officials Call for Shelter in Place to Control Coronavirus, Gov. Baker Rejects Proposal

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Thirty-two municipal and state officials sent a letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 Wednesday calling for a “shelter in place” to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Despite this, Baker said in a press conference Friday that there is currently no plan for a statewide shelter in place.

The letter urged Baker to impose a shelter in place measure similar to the one imposed in the San Francisco Bay Area on March 16.

Massachusetts’s almost seven million residents would be “asked to stay home except for essential needs,” according to the letter. Essential needs may include caring for others, being cared for, or performing vital jobs.

The letter further asked the state to make room for those in need of shelter where “congregate” housing could pose a risk in the face of the highly contagious coronavirus.

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State Senator James B. "James" Eldridge, who cosigned the letter, said college dorms and public buildings should be opened up to provide housing with adequate social distance to those in need.

Before Baker’s press conference Friday, Eldridge had predicted the governor would “order a shelter in place in a matter of days.”

The list of signatories is Cambridge-heavy. City Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon, and six other Cambridge City Councilors signed on.

State Representative Mike Connolly, a Cambridge resident who drafted the letter, wrote in an email to constituents Thursday that such a shelter in place measure is essential.

“The sooner we are all able to get everyone who possibly can to stay home, the sooner we can ‘flatten the curve’ on the spread of COVID-19 and begin to get back to normal,” Connolly wrote.

Both Connolly and cosigner City Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan argued that a shelter in place order would need to last at least two weeks. Eldridge said a shelter in place should remain in effect until Massachusetts has “adequate” COVID-19 testing.

Many cosigners shared similar sentiments of hoping to “flatten the curve” and dampen the spread of the virus.

“Most people in Cambridge understand that this is very serious,” City Councilor Marc C. McGovern said.

Connolly called the Baker Administration’s decision not to impose a shelter in place “disappointing.”

“They must not be listening to public health experts,” Connolly said in an interview. “Every hour that goes by means many additional lives could very well be lost in the coming days and weeks.”

When asked for comment, Baker’s director of communications Elizabeth Guyton pointed to Baker’s comments at his press conference.

Baker stated that he based his decision not to pursue a shelter in place advice on medical professionals.

“I’m not going to do it just because somebody else did it,” he said, referring to stay-at-home guidelines put in place in California and New York.

Still, Connolly, in an email to other state legislators, implored colleagues to prioritize aggressive policies to control the outbreak.

“Suppression has to be our main and overriding focus right now,” Connolly wrote. “From there we can figure out all the other details to make this situation workable for the next few weeks at least.”

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

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