Transcript: Governor Charlie Baker discusses coronavirus on "Face the Nation," April 19, 2020

Massachusetts governor says there's "value" in phone call contact tracing
Massachusetts governor says there's "value" i... 06:29

The following is a transcript of an interview with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker that aired Sunday, April 19, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Boston and Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker. Good morning to you, Governor.

GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: Good morning. How are you?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Very well. And as we just heard from Dr. Birx, she is very concerned about what's happening in your state, which is experiencing such an outbreak right now. I want to ask you about how states are working with the federal government, because the president said this week he has the ultimate authority to make the decision to reopen. That same day, you and a number of governors throughout the Northeast announced you're going to come up with your own regional strategy. The White House has now said, OK, you're in charge of it anyhow. Do these mixed messages impact your planning? Do you as a governor need more federal guidance?

GOV. BAKER: Well, I guess the first thing I'd say is part of the reason we chose to join that collaborative is there's a tremendous amount of cross-border activity that takes place when there is a functioning economy between and among all those states in the Northeast. We have people who work in those states. We have people who live in those states and work in Massachusetts. We have tons of companies that do business back and forth. And I think us thinking about this regionally is an important element because I don't want Massachusetts to do something that makes life incredibly complicated for New York or New Jersey or New Hampshire or Vermont. And I certainly don't want them to do something that unwittingly creates issues and problems in Massachusetts. I think generally the biggest thing we're interested in guidance from the feds on is a lot of the stuff that comes out of the CDC and the FDA, which we take very seriously, incorporate into our own guidance and our own advisories reason and in some cases orders that we issue in Massachusetts. I know that's true for many other states. I also think the other issue that's important from the feds is- is they approve and drive a lot of the policy and what ultimately becomes sort of the facts on the ground with respect to testing and treatments. And- and as- in a state where there are a number of companies that are deeply invested in either the development of treatments or vaccines or have hospitals that are involved in clinical trials associated with treatments for COVID-19, the federal government's role with respect to treatments is enormously important. And on the testing piece--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah, do you need a national strategy?

GOV. BAKER: --they fundamentally have a huge role to play,-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: For testing? 

GOV. BAKER: --pardon me? 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you need that national strategy for testing?

GOV. BAKER: I think, generally speaking, governors appreciate the fact that the feds have acknowledged that the surge is in different places and different states at different times. We're in a very different place here in Massachusetts than other states are. We're right in the middle of the surge now. But I certainly believe that the more guidance and- and expec- especially the ability to put the foot on the accelerator with respect to advancements in testing, everything associated with testing ultimately has to be approved by the CDC and the FDA.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

GOV. BAKER: As it should be. The states shouldn't be making their own decisions on that stuff.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, one decision you have made in your state is to launch contact-tracing. You're getting that program still up and running.

GOV. BAKER: Yep.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're doing it with phone calls. You're about to hire about a thousand people to do it. Explain what the idea is.

GOV. BAKER: So there's an organization in Massachusetts called Partners in Health, which has been doing work in developing countries around public health for years. And- and they are, in my opinion, kind of the gold standard around contact-tracing generally. And they've been doing it in- in places where Ebola and Zika become horrible epidemics and outbreaks. And they started talking to us about creating a contact tracing program in Massachusetts. And first of all, it's not theoretical. They've done it before. They know how to do it. Secondly, I absolutely believe that, in Massachusetts any way, for us to get back on our feet and start thinking about reopening, we have got to have better knowledge and better understanding and support for people who are dealing with this virus and those they've come in close contact with--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But why do it-- 

GOV. BAKER: --and this is going to be a big initiative. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do it the old fashioned way of- of phone calls? Couldn't it happen more quickly if you did it digitally?

GOV. BAKER: Well, I certainly think that there's going to be a role for a variety of digital interventions to support this. I don't think it's an either or. I think it's a both and. But just based on this stuff we started doing already, there's tremendous value in having conversations with people who are COVID-19 positive, not just in terms of who they've been in contact with, but also what it's gonna take to help them stay isolated and, you know, manage their way through the- the virus themselves. And when we have a thousand people working this, and it may be more than that over time, the goal here is to push back on the virus the same way they did in South Korea, to contain it, understand where it is and control it. And I think it's going to be critical for every state that wants to get open and back to something like a new normal to put some kind of mechanism like this in place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right now, there is this struggle in Congress and with the White House about how much money to give to states and if it should be included in this upcoming package. Does Massachusetts need more federal funding? I know governors in a bipartisan group said they need about 500 billion dollars in unrestricted aid.

GOV. BAKER: Well, the big issue for states is not dissimilar to the one you see for municipalities and other entities, which is if you shut down the economy, you shut down the revenue stream. But that doesn't mean you're no longer in the business of providing health care for people. You're not out of the business of operating correctional facilities. You're not going to get out of the public safety business or the environmental protection business or the transportation business. But I think every state in the country is struggling with what the hit to their economy has done to their balance sheet and to their budgets. And if the feds are interested in sort of reopening the economy and they've certainly talked--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

GOV. BAKER: --a lot about the importance of stimulating the economy going forward. For states to be able to support that initiative--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

GOV. BAKER: --obviously, it's important for the feds to support our efforts to fund the stuff we do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

GOV. BAKER: If we're laying off tens of thousands of people at exactly the time when they want to reopen the economy, we're going to be swimming against the--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly. 

GOV. BAKER:  --the current they're trying to create.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be watching for that. Governor, thank you for your time. We'll be right back.