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Massachusetts eases virus test rules, creates command center

“Far more people are going to get tested,” said Gov. Charlie Baker.

Pedestrian traffic is light outside Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Saturday, March, 14, 2020. 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. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. (Michael Dwyer / AP Photo))

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts relaxed rules on who can get tested for the coronavirus Saturday in an effort to slow the spread of the outbreak as more cases in the state were announced.

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.

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A homeless woman going by the name of Miss Bee seeks donations at an outdoor produce market in Boston, Saturday, March, 14, 2020. 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. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

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.

Matthios Zewda dons gloves before disinfecting his cab between fares in Boston, Saturday, March, 14, 2020. 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. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

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The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Massachusetts rose to 138 when officials announced the latest numbers Saturday evening, an increase of 15 over the day before.

“We are preparing for more confirmed cases,” Baker said.

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