(Updated, Sat., April 4, 1:00 p.m.)— The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts exceeded 10,000 for the first time on Friday, as the number of people tested for the highly contagious and dangerous coronavirus continued to climb.
As of Friday afternoon, 62,962 people had been tested, and 10,402 were confirmed to have the respiratory disease. More than 2,000 cases were reported in each Middlesex (2,202) and Suffolk (2,183) counties. Thirty-eight new deaths were reported, the most of any single day so far, for a total of 192 deaths linked to COVID-19. At least 966 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized, and 382 residents of long-term care facilities have tested positive.
- Katie Lannan, SHNS
(Updated, Tues., March 31, 11 a.m.)—The number of COVID-19 fatalities in Massachusetts continued its climb Monday when the state reported another eight deaths, bringing the state's total number of deaths linked to the disease to 56.
The overall number of cases here crossed the 5,000 mark Monday and rose to 5,752, up almost 800 from Sunday, the Department of Public Health reported Monday.
Massachusetts has continued to ramp up its testing capacity, with the number of people tested landing at almost 43,000 Monday, an increase of more than 3,700 over Sunday. In a video update posted after three consecutive overnight shifts, emergency physician and Boston state Rep. Jon Santiago said the state's testing numbers are "fantastic" and said it's time to focus now on contact tracing.
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, the head of the state's coronavirus command center, said Friday that more information on tracking and tracing measures would be announced this week. Gov. Charlie Baker reiterated that on Monday.
The governor said Monday that the surge in COVID-19 cases that the state and its health care system have been bracing for looks like it will hit Massachusetts between April 7 and April 17, underscoring the importance of continued social distancing efforts. The governor identified four key areas of focus in the days leading up to the peak: protective gear, hospital bed capacity, ventilators and staffing.
One step the administration is taking is setting up dedicated nursing homes to treat older patients with COVID-19, aiming to prevent those individuals from infecting other residents and staff in skilled nursing facilities.
With cases of the virus now reported in all counties of Massachusetts and most new cases linked to community transmission, the DPH on Saturday stopped its daily reporting of exposure.
"Coronavirus is in each of our neighborhoods," Marty Martinez, health and human services chief in Boston, said Monday afternoon. Close to half of cases in the city involved infected individuals under the age of 39, he said.
The Baker administration will give its daily coronavirus response briefing at 2 p.m. Tuesday, officials announced Tuesday morning. Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders will address reporters in the State House's Gardner Auditorium and livestream the event.
At the end of Monday's press conference, Baker said he would make an announcement Tuesday about extending an executive order closing non-essential businesses and speak "a little later this week" about efforts to trace contacts of those who contract COVID-19.
Four more Massachusetts residents have died of COVID-19 and almost 700 more have tested positive for the disease, bringing the state's total death count to 48 and the overall number of cases to 4,955.
The Department of Public Health announced the new data Sunday afternoon, 57 days since the first confirmed case of the coronavirus-caused disease was reported in the Bay State.
In addition to the 698 new confirmed cases and the four new deaths, DPH also reported that an additional 4,017 people have been tested for COVID-19, for a total of 39,066 individuals tested in Massachusetts.
The four people who died of COVID-19 since the state updated its figures Saturday afternoon were: an Essex County man in his 80s who was hospitalized; a Middlesex County woman in her 90s who had pre-existing conditions and was hospitalized; a Norfolk County woman in her 70s who was hospitalized; and a Berkshire County woman in her 80s who had pre-existing conditions, according to DPH.
Gov. Charlie Baker did not hold a press conference Sunday, the first time in weeks that the governor has not spoken directly to residents about the threat of the coronavirus and the state's efforts to combat it.
Instead, the administration announced a new COVID-19 PPE Procurement and Donation Program that will streamline procurement of personal protective equipment and allow the state to better ensure that the gear in short supply gets into the hands of the people who need it the most.
The state also asked health care professionals to volunteer to assist the state response to the pandemic.
As another work-from-home week dawns, the scant few lawmakers physically on Beacon Hill are likely to continue advancing measures designed to address municipal governance challenges brought on by the pandemic.
On Friday, the House passed a bill (H 4598) that would extended the state income tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15 -- something Baker and legislative leaders said they've already agreed to -- give restaurants the ability to sell beer and wine via take-out or delivery as they try to remain afloat during the pandemic, and give municipalities more flexibility around property tax deadlines.
The Senate is planning to meet Monday at 11 a.m. and could also continue the work on a handful of other COVID-19 related bills.
The new week is also expected to deliver extensive information about a new tracing and tracking program to help slow the spread of the highly-contagious virus. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Friday that those measures would be announced this coming week.
Meanwhile, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner now advising Baker and the administration on its COVID-19 response tweeted Sunday morning that "this is now a national epidemic with multiple epicenters."
"New Orleans, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles are among cities doubling cases every 3 to 4 days," Scott Gottlieb, who serves on Baker's COVID-19 Advisory Board, tweeted. "This reality may severely stretch our ability to federally assist local healthcare systems."
Gottlieb also released a new report Sunday that outlines a "road map to reopening" the country, including gathering and using better data to identify areas of spread, making improvements to state and local health care system capabilities, ensuring adequate medical supplies, and developing "therapeutic, prophylactic, and preventive treatments and better-informed medical interventions that give us the tools to protect the most vulnerable people and help rescue those who may become very sick." -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
Gov. Charlie Baker gestured to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders while giving his daily COVID-19 press briefing on Saturday afternoon. Sam Doran/SHNS photo
(Updated, Sun., March 29, 12:30 p.m.)— State public health officials reported nine additional deaths and more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the greatest single-day increase in the number of cases yet seen in the Bay State. There are now 4,257 confirmed cases of the coronavirus-caused illness in Massachusetts, an increase of 1,017 or about 31 percent from Friday, the Department of Public Health announced. The state also announced nine new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the fatality count to a total of 44.
It has been 56 days since Massachusetts announced the first positive case of COVID-19 in the state on Feb. 1.
The nine Massachusetts residents who recently died of COVID-19 were: an Essex County woman in her 60s who had pre-existing conditions and was hospitalized; a Suffolk County woman in her 80s who had pre-existing conditions and was hospitalized; a Worcester County man in his 80s who had pre-existing conditions and was hospitalized; a Norfolk County woman in her 80s; a Hampden County man in his 70s who had pre-existing conditions and was hospitalized; a Hampden County man in his 80s who had pre-existing conditions; a Norfolk County man in his 80s; a Worcester County woman in her 50s who was hospitalized; and a Hampden County woman in her 90s, according to DPH.
As of midday Saturday, 35,049 Massachusetts residents had been tested for COVID-19, an increase of 5,678 over Friday. As of Saturday, a little more than 12 percent of tests conducted resulted in confirmation of a case of COVID-19.
On Saturday morning, the governor and First Lady Lauren Baker made a visit to the Red Cross donation center in Dedham to urge Massachusetts residents to donate blood, calling it a way to save lives as the state strives to prevent its health care system from becoming overwhelmed by the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.
Baker addressed the news that broke late Friday of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel having tested positive for COVID-19, saying that she is a "rabid distancer" who stayed apart from others. He said he was not among Bharel's close contacts traced by public health officials and that he has not been in the same building as Bharel in about a week.
The governor said Saturday that he has not been tested himself, has not developed any symptoms and that his temperature was 97.7 degrees when the Red Cross checked it before allowing him to donate blood Saturday.
Also Saturday morning, the White House announced that President Donald Trump had approved the disaster declaration requested Thursday by Baker, opening a spigot for more federal funding to supplement local COVID-19 efforts in the Bay State.
The Baker administration said that the disaster declaration means that "affected local governments, state agencies and certain private non-profit organizations statewide will be reimbursed for 75% of their costs associated with response and emergency protective measures." It also means that the Mass. Department of Mental Health will receive federal aid to "assist individuals and families in recovering from the psychological effects of the COVID-19 outbreak through electronic phone and chat technology." -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
(Updated Fri., March 27, 11:15 a.m.)— Massachusetts is heading into the third weekend under a state of emergency and the first under a government advisory to stay at home as much as possible as the state continues to try to staunch the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus. The Department of Public Health reported 10 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday in addition to 579 new cases of the disease, bringing the state's total case count to 2,417 and its death tally to 25.
Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to provide an update at 11 a.m. on the state's strategy to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 patients and its efforts to obtain the protective gear doctors and nurses say is running out of stock. Meanwhile, schools will remain closed until at least May 4 and all non-essential businesses are to stay shuttered for at least another 12 days. DPH reported Thursday that an additional 3,827 people had been tested for the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, clearing the 3,500-test-per-day threshold that Baker had set as a minimum for testing in the state. In total, 23,621 people have been tested for the coronavirus in Massachusetts.
The 579 new cases announced Thursday marked the second time in the last two weeks that the state announced fewer new cases than it had the previous day, but it is still by far the second-largest single day increase in the number of new cases. The state reported 679 new cases on Wednesday. DPH will issue updated figures on COVID-19 cases, deaths, hospitalizations and testing by 4 p.m. Friday. -- Colin A. Young
Update from Boston City Hall: Boston Mayor Martin Walsh plans to provide an update on Boston's coronavirus preparedness and mitigation efforts Friday afternoon as the number of cases in the capital city continues to climb. Walsh will meet the press at 2 p.m. outside on City Hall Plaza. On Thursday, Walsh told WBZ Radio that there were 364 positive cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts and that 34 Boston residents had recovered from the disease. -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
April 15 Tax Deadline Delayed: The April 15 deadline for filing state income tax returns will be postponed until July 15 under a deal announced Friday between Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders. The change, which requires legislation, means the state tax deadline will now align with the new federal tax deadline, which was postponed last week by Internal Revenue Service. "In partnership with our colleagues in the Legislature, we are committed to providing this flexibility to taxpayers in a way that protects the Commonwealth’s strong fiscal footing that we have all worked hard to develop over the past several years," Baker said in a statement announcing the agreement.
Conservative groups like the Pioneer Institute and the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, along with the Massachusetts Society of Certified Professional Accountants, have been calling for days for the state to delay the tax filing deadline, and give filers and tax preparers clarity on what will be expected of them. As of Wednesday, 21 states had already postponed their tax filing deadlines, including 17 that had pushed back to July 15. State budget writers, however, had concern about what a July deadline would mean for tax collections this fiscal year, and the state's ability to continue to meet its financial obligations. The Executive Office of Administration and Finance had told legislative leaders that the revenue hit for the final three months of fiscal 2020 could be between $2 billion and $3.5 billion. Baker said he would be filing legislation to postpone the tax deadline that would also request borrowing authority to maintain adequate cash flow, and repay the debt in fiscal 2021 when the deferred taxes are collected. -- Matt Murphy 10:25, SHNS
Baker Plans 11 a.m. Update: The Baker administration's now-daily press conference update will come at 11 a.m. Friday. Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who has been leading the state's coronavirus command center, will speak to reporters in the State House's Gardner Auditorium. Baker inadvertently hinted one topic to come up at Friday's press conference: when he introduced Sudders to speak on Thursday, he said she had news to share about engaging health care volunteers within communities. "Actually, governor, that exciting opportunity will be announced tomorrow," Sudders replied. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
(Updated Thurs., March 26, 12 p.m.)— Unemployment claims nationwide hit record levels, according to new data published Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered wide swaths of public life and left millions out of work.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion aid bill late Wednesday night — the largest stimulus package in American history — after party leaders and the White House reached a deal. Eyes now turn to watch how quickly the House can take up a wide-ranging bill that includes direct payments to Americans, business relief, stronger unemployment benefits and an injection of health care spending.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker plans his daily COVID-19 briefing for 2 p.m. On Wednesday, Baker ordered schools and child care centers to remain closed through at least May 4, a further extension indicating the state has not yet reached the peak of the outbreak.
Both the state House and Senate will return to session Thursday, where the Senate will act on a bill not popular in the House that empowers advanced practice nurses to practice without supervision during the emergency to address the potential for doctor shortages. The House, meanwhile, is still working through Baker's proposal to allow restaurants to sell beer and wine to go as part of their takeout-only offerings during the outbreak.
Driven in part by rapid increases in testing capacity, the number of confirmed cases in Massachusetts grew dramatically again from 1,159 on Tuesday to 1,838 on Wednesday, more than double what it was just two days ago. The state now has 15 deaths attributable to the illness, which is affecting all age groups despite warnings from public health officials that it poses higher risks to older adults. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
Baker Plans 2 O'Clock Update at State House: Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders plan to provide a 2 p.m. update on the coronavirus emergency Thursday in Gardner Auditorium at the State House. The governor's press office announced his plans at around 9 a.m. - Michael P. Norton, SHNS
New Unemployment Claims Skyrocket: In the week ending March 21, U.S. workers filed nearly 3.3 million unemployment claims, an increase of 3 million from the previous week's revised level, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday morning. "This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series. The previous high was 695,000 in October of 1982," the department said. The federal agency's report lists just under 7,500 initial claims filed in Massachusetts for the week ending March 14, with initial claims then surging by more than 140,000 in the week ending March 21. - Michael P. Norton, SHNS
Pressley Awaiting Test Results: U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley has been tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting results, a spokesperson said Wednesday night. The spokesperson, Lina Francis, said Pressley "sought professional medical treatment out of an abundance of caution" after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Seth Moulton announced that he and his wife were in self-quarantine after experiencing symptoms consistent with the coronavirus-caused respiratory illness, but did not qualify for testing. - Katie Lannan, SHNS
(Updated, Wed., March 25, 2:30 p.m.)— Gov. Charlie Baker is meeting with medical professionals Wednesday afternoon, the sixteenth day of a state of emergency he declared around the coronavirus outbreak, and plans to update the press and public afterwards about the state's continued response.
"The coronavirus has upended the lives of so many of our friends and neighbors over the past few weeks. And unfortunately, the worst is yet to come," Rep. Jon Santiago, an emergency room physician, wrote in an email update Wednesday. He said, "COVID-19 testing has finally scaled up to the capacity that we need yet obtaining sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) remains an issue. We no doubt have a long way to go but I'm confident we'll get through this crisis together."
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 1,159 COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, including 11 deaths and 94 hospitalizations. A total of 13,749 people had been tested for the virus.
The latest daily COVID-19 case numbers, testing information, and a death count are set to be released by 4 p.m., and Department of Public Health data published earlier in the day show a total of 3,802 Massachusetts residents have now been subject to quarantine and monitoring for potential symptoms of the respiratory illness.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., federal officials have announced a deal on a $2 trillion economic aid package that includes money for hospitals, nurses and doctors, nursing homes and community health centers. -- Katie Lannan, SHNS
New Quarantine Numbers: More than 2,000 Massachusetts residents are officially under quarantine as they undergo monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, according to the latest set of Department of Public Health figures. Along with the 2,147 people currently in quarantine, another 1,655 have completed monitoring and are no longer quarantined. The department is set to release updated case numbers, along with statistics on testing and fatalities, by 4 p.m. Wednesday. - Katie Lannan, SHNS
(Updated, Tues., March 24, 4:20 p.m.)— The number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts shot up above 1,000 for the first time on Tuesday in a dramatic increase over the previous day's tally. New Department of Public Health figures show 1,159 cases of the respiratory illness in the state, up from 777 on Monday for a 49 percent increase in one day.
Eleven deaths are now attributed to the virus, up from nine on Monday.
The two victims reported on Tuesday— both females, one in her 80s from Middlesex County and one in her 60s from Berkshire County - were hospitalized and had "underlying health conditions," according to the Mass Dept. of Public Health.
Testing numbers also rose significantly. As of Tuesday, 13,749 patients had been tested, or 4,827 more than Monday. At a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said the state has made "big progress" in expanding testing capacity over the last week, and advised that case numbers are expected to go up as testing increases. - Katie Lannan, SHNS
(Updated Tues., March 24, 9:45 a.m.)— Massachusetts begins its most aggressive phase yet in the fight against the highly-contagious coronavirus at noon Tuesday, when any business not deemed essential must shutdown for two weeks as the state attempts to get on top of the viral outbreak that's so far claimed nine lives here.
Baker's latest order requires any workplace that does not conduct a service the state considers essential -- a detailed list that includes grocery stores, pharmacies, media and transportation -- to close its physical operations and also cuts the maximum size for public social gatherings from 25 down to 10.
Residents of the state are advised — the administration stopped short of declaring a formal shelter-in-place order Baker has repeatedly resisted — to stay home as much as possible and avoid "unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities" for the next two weeks.
On Monday afternoon, the Department of Public Health announced that the total number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts reached 777 and that nine deaths have been linked to COVID-19.
The governor is expected to address the public and provide an update on the state's efforts against coronavirus at noon, just as his latest order takes effect. This time, the update will come from Gardner Auditorium, the State House's largest public meeting room, rather than Baker's press briefing room. In addition to providing more space for social distancing, Gardner also has livestream capabilities.
The White House is planning to detail the federal response to the pandemic during a live town hall-style event on Fox News on Tuesday, also at noon. The federal Coronavirus Task Force, helmed by Vice President Mike Pence, will meet at 3 p.m. but no on-camera briefing was mentioned on the White House public schedule Tuesday.
The latest numbers on positive cases, testing, hospitalizations and deaths connected to the coronavirus are expected from DPH by 4 p.m. Tuesday.
-- Colin A. Young
MBTA: Only Essential Passengers Should Ride: Hours after the Department of Public Health issued a new advisory urging Massachusetts residents to stay home whenever possible, MBTA officials stressed that commuters should only travel by train and bus for essential trips. The T said customers should "avoid any and all unnecessary service," and that by doing so, the service that does remain will be available to health care workers, grocery store employees and other travelers who rely on public transit to get to jobs at the front line of fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
Schedules across the system are reduced amid plummeting ridership, though the T will add some new morning commuter rail trips on Wednesday specifically aimed at hospital employees who need to make 7 a.m. shift changes. - Chris Lisinski , SHNS
New Balance Foundation Commits $2 Mil to Virus Response: The Boston-based New Balance Foundation on Tuesday morning announced it has committed $2 million in non-profit grants to help support local, regional and global communities with COVID-19 response. Grant recipients include Global Giving, No Kid Hungry, The Boston Resiliency Fund, Groundwork Lawrence, Good Shepherd Food Bank in Maine and the St. Louis Area Foodbank. "We firmly believe it is our civic duty to support our communities in need around the world," said Anne Davis, managing trustee New Balance Foundation. "As we witness the growing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are inspired by the acts of humanity, kindness and compassion that have emerged in support of one another during this health crisis. Guided by our values, NB Foundation will remain generous, flexible and responsive recognizing the uncertainty created by these challenging times." - Michael P. Norton, SHNS
(Updated Mon., March 23, 6 p.m.)— The state's fight against the coronavirus outbreak, which continues to expand at an accelerating pace, took another major step Monday when Gov. Charlie Baker instructed all non-essential businesses to close.
Baker's latest order requires any workplace not deemed essential by the state -- a detailed list that includes grocery stores, pharmacies, media and transportation -- to close its physical operations starting Tuesday at 12 p.m. His order also cuts the maximum size for public social gatherings from 25 down to 10.
While he stopped short of issuing the formal shelter-in-place order he has repeatedly resisted, Baker's Department of Public Health formally recommended alongside the new order Monday that residents stay home whenever possible and avoid "unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities" for the next two weeks.
The actions are the most substantial the administration has taken yet in a constantly escalating response. Hours later, the DPH announced that the total number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts reached 777 and that nine deaths have been linked to the illness.
Early education facilities officially closed their doors Monday under an order Baker issued last week, except for some emergency centers that will operate for parents involved in fighting the outbreak and for vulnerable children. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
Death Toll Hits Nine in Massachusetts: Nine Massachusetts residents have died from COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak, the Department of Public Health announced Monday, and total confirmed cases now number 777.
The death toll increased by four since Sunday afternoon's daily update, while overall cases jumped another 131 in the largest day-over-day growth yet. Gov. Charlie Baker said Sunday that the rapid growth is in part a result of increased testing for the coronavirus across Massachusetts. The source of most cases as of Monday is not yet known: 499 are under investigation, 99 are linked to a late February Biogen conference, 75 are travel-related and 104 are the result of local transmission, according to the DPH. Seventy-nine patients have now been hospitalized, while 286 were not hospitalized and the status is unclear for the remaining 412. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
WATCH: Gov. Baker's press conference of March 23, 2020:
Updated (Sat., March 21)— Massachusetts reported more than 100 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday as testing for the highly-contagious coronavirus, like its impacts on the region's health and economy, continues to expand.
The 112 new positive cases reported by the Department of Public Health on Saturday brings the total number of cases in Massachusetts to 525. The state's first, and so far only, COVID-19 death was announced Friday. The first confirmed case was reported here Feb. 1.
DPH's Saturday update was the first to report a case of the coronavirus on either Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. It's unclear which island now has a case, since DPH reported Dukes and Nantucket counties together have a single case. Middlesex County continues to have the largest number of cases, 177, followed by Suffolk County with 108 cases and Norfolk County with 69 cases.
Earlier Saturday, during his daily coronavirus press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said that the state had made good progress in the last week to up its testing capacity. Between Wednesday and Friday, the governor said, capacity at all labs increased roughly 65 percent, from just under 700 tests on Wednesday to 1,144 on Friday, Baker said. The number of tests actually conducted nearly doubled from 520 tests conducted Wednesday to 962 tests performed Friday, he said.
New testing numbers released Saturday afternoon by DPH showed that 5,277 COVID-19 tests have been performed in Massachusetts -- 3,031 by the state public health lab and 2,246 by commercial and other labs -- since Feb. 28.
Baker said Massachusetts can mirror what's been done shown to be effective in other countries "by testing enough fast enough to be able to catch up to the growth in new cases, and then doing the tracing work and isolating everybody. And that's where we got to get."
By the beginning of the coming week, Baker has said, the state's public health lab and commercial labs must get a to a point at which they can conduct a minimum of 3,500 tests each day.
The governor also said Saturday that he and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh have had productive conversations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about retrofitting college dorms or other facilities into extra hospital space. He said the state's Coronavirus Command Center has been talking to hospitals to "scenario plan" for an influx of COVID-19 patients, and will now work to pick some sites in Massachusetts that the Army Corps might be able to convert over the next few weeks.
The MBTA announced Saturday morning that buses and street-level trolley stops will begin to use rear-door boarding in an attempt to limit contact between drivers and passengers during the coronavirus outbreak. Passengers with accessibility needs, including seniors, can still use the front doors, but all others will be asked only to use the back doors to enter buses, Green Line above-ground trains and the Mattapan Line trolleys. -- Colin A. Young
UMB Unions Call for Continued Pay: Unions at the University of Massachusetts Boston are calling on campus and system leadership to continue paying all workers -- including part-time and full-time staff, faculty and student workers -- while the school continues the rest of its semester through online learning. "We should seek savings where we can--through cancelled travel and events, and even through saved office supplies--but we should guarantee that every worker who depends on us for their livelihood will continue to be paid," the unions wrote in a message to UMass President Marty Meehan and interim UMass Boston Chancellor Katherine Newman. "To do less would irresponsibly shift the burden onto other public funds which are needed for workers in businesses and industries that are failing."
The note was signed by representatives of UMass Boston's Professional Staff Union, Department Chairs Union, Graduate Employee Organization, Classified Staff Union and Faculty Staff Union. - Katie Lannan 3:33 PM
(Updated Fri., March 20 at 3:55 p.m.)— The first death from COVID-19 in Massachusetts was reported early Friday afternoon by the Department of Public Health, which announced the victim, a Suffolk County man in his 80s, had been hospitalized and had underlying health issues that "put him at higher risk for COVID-19."
The announcement of the state's first coronavirus fatality came one day after public health officials announced the largest one-day increase in coronavirus cases since the outbreak began on Feb. 1 -- an increase of 72 cases to a total of 328. On Thursday evening, Gov. Charlie Baker activated the Massachusetts National Guard to boost supply chain and logistical resources.
DPH on Friday said 3,132 residents have been tested for COVID-19 by the state's public health lab and commercial labs. By next week, Baker and other state officials have said, Massachusetts labs need to be conducting a minimum of 3,500 tests each and every day. With the "enormous increase" in testing that Baker has pledged will happen, the number of positive cases is also likely to increase.
Baker is scheduled to provide an update on coronavirus preparedness and response with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel at 2 p.m. Friday from the State House. An update on the number of cases and number of people tested is expected by 4 p.m. from DPH.
Earlier Friday, Attorney General Maura Healey filed emergency regulations to prohibit price-gouging on goods like hand sanitizer and face masks during the ongoing state of emergency. The Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants called Friday for the state Department of Revenue to follow the federal government's lead and extend tax filing and payment deadlines.
And Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who will give his own update at 4 p.m. outside City Hall, said on WGBH that there are "no plans for a lockdown or shelter-in-place." While he also noted "we are heading potentially to that," he said the area is not yet at that point.-- Colin A. Young, SHNS
Plastic Bag Bans a Danger?: Grocers are seeking a temporary suspension of city and town bans on single-use plastic bags in an attempt to protect workers and react to a shortage of paper bags that come from China and other foreign countries. The Massachusetts Food Association on Friday said its request was only temporary, but timely in light of the risk posed to workers. Reusable bags, the association said, could potentially contribute to the spread of the virus if they are brought into stores by people or from homes exposed to COVID-19. Many supermarket suppliers also source their paper bags from overseas manufacturers, including companies in China, who can't keep up with demand as shoppers stockpile groceries. The supermarkets noted that chains like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts have taken steps to stop customers from bringing in reusable containers. The Massachusetts Food Association represents over 500 food retail stores in the state. -- Matt Murphy, SHNS
Mass. Accountants Want Filing Deadline Extended: Praising the federal government's decision to extend the tax filing deadline by three months amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants called Friday for the state to take similar action. MSCPA CEO Amy Pitter said in a statement that the U.S. Treasury and IRS extension gives "much needed relief" to both taxpayers and practitioners amid an "unprecedented set of challenges," but the lack of a mirroring response from Massachusetts adds unnecessary stress. "Should Massachusetts not go forward in 'offering similar relief for taxpayers with Massachusetts tax filing obligations,' it would create an incredibly burdensome and unjust situation for tax practitioners across the Commonwealth, and it would do nothing to alleviate the pressure on an already extremely tight tax season and overwhelmed community," Pitter said. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
Regs Ban Price-Gouging: Emergency regulations that Attorney General Maura Healey filed Friday prohibit price-gouging on goods like hand sanitizer and face masks during the ongoing state of emergency. According to Healey's office, the existing regulation under the state's consumer protection law only addressed price-gouging of petroleum products like gasoline. Effective immediately, the new regulation prohibits price-gouging on goods and services that are necessary for public health and safety when a state or national emergency has been declared. "We've heard from hospitals and consumers about skyrocketing prices for things like hand sanitizer, face masks, and other essential gear needed to prevent the spread of this highly contagious virus and keep our front-line workers safe. That's unacceptable and illegal," Healey said in a statement. "We issued this emergency regulation because no one should be exploiting this crisis and putting the public at risk." - Katie Lannan, SHNS
(Updated, Fri., March 20, 10:30 a.m.)— State public health officials on Thursday announced the largest one-day increase in coronavirus cases since the outbreak began on Feb. 1, and hours later, Gov. Charlie Baker activated the Massachusetts National Guard to boost supply chain and logistical resources.
Baker has on multiple occasions stressed that he is not planning a mandatory shelter-in-place order, and he said his order to deploy up to 2,000 National Guard members will give state agencies and municipalities more support for equipment, logistics, and warehousing.
The total number of positive COVID-19 tests hit 328 on Thursday, 72 higher than the day before. Every county in Massachusetts except for Dukes and Nantucket now has at least one confirmed case.
Some of the increase is likely a result of ramped up testing. By early next week, the state aims to have capacity for 3,500 tests every day, and Baker praised one of the commercial laboratories contributing to that effort — despite uncertainty about its total number of tests in the past day — as one that "hums like a beehive."
The outbreak's toll is growing as much of public life remains shut down.
The governor announced Thursday that Massachusetts business owners will be able to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration, after the agency approved the state's request for a disaster declaration and assistance. - Chris Lisinski and Colin A. Young
Baker Friday Update: Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel will provide an on-camera update on coronavirus in Massachusetts on Friday afternoon. The 2 p.m. press conference at the State House will be Baker's first since he activated the Massachusetts National Guard and announced plans to call upon about 2,000 members of the Guard for "logistical support and other assistance" in the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. It will also be the first press conference for public health officials since Thursday's announcement of 72 new cases of COVID-19, the largest single-day increase yet. There are currently 328 confirmed cases in Massachusetts. -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
'Lost to the Feds': During a video-taped conference call between governors and President Donald Trump, Gov. Charlie Baker said some attempts by Massachusetts to secure more personal protective equipment have resulted in the state being outbid by federal officials. "I'm not quite sure what to do with this, so I'm just going to throw it out there for you -- we took very seriously the push that you made previously on one of these calls, that we should not just rely on the stockpile and that we should go out and buy stuff and put in orders and try to create pressure on manufacturers and distributors," Baker said, according to a CBS video of Trump's end of the call. "And I got to tell you that on three big orders we lost to the feds."
Baker asked Trump to issue guidance to suppliers asking them to "be responsive" as states do what the federal government has asked of them, saying "I've got a feeling that if somebody has a chance to sell to you or has a chance to sell to me, I'm going to lose every one of those." The president replied, "Well, we do like you going out and seeing what you can get, if you can get it faster, and price is always a component of that also, and maybe that's why you lost to the feds. I'll tell you, that's probably why." - Katie Lannan, SHNS
(Updated, Thurs., March 19, 3 p.m.)— Gov. Charlie Baker toured a private lab that has been conducting tests for COVID-19 and said the Quest Diagnostics facility in Marlborough "hums like a beehive at night" as lab techs work to turnaround the tests that come in from hospitals and clinicians each day.
Still, more than a week since he declared a state of emergency around the coronavirus pandemic, Baker said Massachusetts needs to even further boost its testing capacity. He and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Thursday they aim to run 3,500 COVID-19 tests each day in the state by next week.
"We believe that over the course of the next several days and weeks there will be an enormous increase in the amount of testing that takes place on a daily basis here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts," Baker said. "[It] can't happen fast enough."
As of Wednesday, there had been about 2,280 tests performed in Massachusetts over the last three weeks. On Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases in Massachusetts rose to a total of 256 about six weeks after the first case was reported in the state on Feb. 1.
The state's Medicaid program stands to pick up an extra $1.08 billion under a coronavirus relief package that Congress passed Wednesday, and state lawmakers Thursday wrapped up a week of coronavirus-related sessions with plans to return Monday to continue the legislative response.
The governor announced Thursday that Massachusetts business owners will be able to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration, after the agency approved the state's request for a disaster declaration and assistance.
Also Thursday, the state's largest nursing union told the governor that health care workers still do not have enough personal protective equipment, and called on him to shut down the MBTA to all riders except emergency personnel and to post the National Guard at all hospitals to enforce restrictions on visitors.
The Department of Public Health is due to issue the latest update on the number of coronavirus cases and the number of people test in Massachusetts by 4 p.m. Thursday.
Emergency Sick Leave: The Raise Up coalition, which helped to bring guaranteed earned sick time and paid family and medical leave laws to Massachusetts, is calling for an emergency sick time law to help people infected with coronavirus or caring for family members. The group said all workers should be given 15 days of leave in addition to their earned sick time, capped at $850 for a five-day week to be paid for by the state and not employers. The emergency reserve of sick days could be tapped, the group said, if someone is infected, in self-quarantine, caring for a sick family member or a child due to school closures. "In order to ensure that working people can stay home and avoid exposing others to the coronavirus, it is crucial that all workers have the ability to miss work without losing the pay they need to make ends meet. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and the massive economic disruption it is creating, Massachusetts must urgently act to protect our most vulnerable residents," said Deb Fastino, executive director of the the Coalition for Social Justice and a co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. -- Matt Murphy, SHNS
Boston Recoveries: Forty-nine people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Boston, but the city alerted residents through its text update system Thursday afternoon that "so far, 10 of these 49 residents have fully recovered." The state's first confirmed coronavirus patient was a UMass Boston student who had been isolating himself at his off-campus apartment since late January. It was not immediately clear Thursday afternoon whether that man is among the 10 patients who have recovered from the respiratory illness. The word of recoveries from COVID-19 comes as a welcome change from the daily updates on the number of people who have newly become infected or are fighting the infection. -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
TJX Closing All Stores and Websites: Framingham-based TJX Companies announced Thursday that it will close all of its stores, distribution centers and offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia for two weeks amid the rapidly-evolving coronavirus pandemic. The company had already closed some of its stores in the US, Canada and certain European countries. TJX's online businesses -- tjmaxx.com, marshalls.com and sierra.com -- will also be shut down, the company said."We know our Associates are very concerned for their health and financial well-being, and we plan to pay our store, distribution center and office Associates for two weeks during these closures," the company said in its announcement. -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
Nurses Want MBTA Shutdown: The state's largest nursing union told Gov. Charlie Baker in a letter that health care workers still do not have enough personal protective equipment, and called on the state to shut down the MBTA to everyone except emergency personnel and to post the National Guard at all hospitals. Massachusetts Nursing Association President Donna Kelly-Williams said in the letter sent Wednesday that tests for coronavirus are also not widely available, and potentially infected patients are showing up to hospitals that are not equipped to triage, test or treat them.
The nurses are asking for temporary housing to be made available for medical professionals who cannot safely return home. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Wednesday that she is exploring the use of college dormitories that have been vacated with classes ended. Kelly-Williams also said the MNA was "encouraged" by the decision to halt the closure of the MetroWest Medical Center, and said the state should stop all other facility closures and staff reductions and consider reopening Union Hospital, Quincy Medical Center and North Adams Hospital to exclusively treat COVID-19 patients. Gov. Baker had not been willing so far to activate the National Guard, but the MNA suggested that guardsman should be posted at hospitals to enforce restricted visitation and take pressure off local police. -- Matt Murphy, SHNS
SBA Disaster Declaration: Massachusetts business owners will have until Dec. 18, 2020 to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration, after the agency approved Gov. Charlie Baker's request for a disaster declaration and assistance. SBA assistance will be available throughout the state and in contiguous counties of neighboring states, according to Baker's office. Small businesses, private nonprofits, small agricultural operations and small aquaculture enterprises that have taken a financial hit since Jan. 31 as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic may qualify for the loans of up to $2 million. The loans carry an interest rate of 3.75 percent for small businesses, and 2.75 percent for nonprofits. Separately, the state has launched a $10 million recovery loan fund for small businesses. - Katie Lannan, SHNS
Suffolk DA Moves to 'Decarceration': District Attorney Rachael Rollins is working to identify and release from Suffolk County prisons anyone who is vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their health, age, or other circumstances "but pose[s] no meaningful risk to public safety," she announced Thursday. Rollins said her office is working with the criminal defense bar to identify prisoners whose release "we deem urgent and necessary for public health reasons" and that her supervisors in each court are "actively reviewing" any request for release.
"While Americans across the country are being encouraged to self-isolate, members of our incarcerated population are, by definition, doing the exact opposite with no alternative options. We need to seriously consider pathways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for our incarcerated populations, the overwhelming majority of which will return to our communities at some point in the future," Rollins wrote. "With respect to any new offenses, our presumption remains that there is no bail requested. People charged prior to trial will continue to hold the presumption of release on personal recognizance. Now more than ever, if we are going to ask the Court to detain someone pre-trial on a cash bail, we will do so only after critically weighing any public health risk against our legitimate concerns for public safety." -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
Deposit Bottle Redemption: Citing grocers who are "overwhelmed with an unprecedented volume of customers" stocking up during the COVID-19 outbreak, state officials announced they are suspending enforcement of requirements around retailers accepting empty bottles that have a deposit. State regulations generally require retailers to accept for redemption all containers that carry the five-cent deposit and are the same size, type and brand that they sell, or face potential penalties. The Department of Environmental Protection and Attorney General Maura Healey's office announced the temporary suspension of enforcement on Monday, saying the move would "will allow individual retailers to assess their operations and, if necessary and appropriate, shift staffing to enable smoother operations." The agencies plan to notify retailers when the suspension ends and redemption services must resume. In the meantime, customers are encouraged to hold on to their redeemable bottles to turn in at a later date, or recycle them. - Katie Lannan, SHNS
T Adding Some Buses to Reduced Schedule: A day after reintroducing more service to the Blue and Green Lines amid a coronavirus-prompted reduced schedule, the MBTA will also add frequency on some bus routes. In a Wednesday night press release, the T announced "key bus routes" -- without identifying the routes -- that experienced crowding would see increased service starting Thursday. The MBTA will also implement new cleaning protocols on buses this week, focusing on disinfecting high-contact surfaces during mid-day layover periods. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
Markey Facebook Q&A at 5: Sen. Edward Markey plans a 5 p.m. live virtual session on Facebook Thursday to take coronavirus crisis questions and offer answers, including information about steps the U.S. Senate is taking. Livestream - Michael P. Norton, SHNS
(Updated Tues., March 17, 3 p.m.) — Cautioning of tough days ahead, state officials said Tuesday they are pursuing ways to ramp up capacity for coronavirus testing in Massachusetts and outlined other new initiatives to address ramifications of the pandemic.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced new emergency orders he said will "cut red tape so hospitals can staff up faster," adjust minimum standards for ambulance staffing to maintain EMS availability, and facilitate telehealth services across state lines to help keep people out of hospitals in non-emergency situations.
Also, the state is distributing $5 million in emergency funds to local boards of health, Baker said. Baker said he is also formally requesting that the Small Business Administration issue a declaration of economic injury for Massachusetts in order to make low-interest loans available to small business owners affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
That move follows the governor's announcement Monday of a new $10 million recovery loan fund for small businesses. At an afternoon press conference, Baker opened his remarks by reiterating that he is not planning to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order. He stressed the need to obtain information from reliable sources and urged grocery shoppers to "use common sense and moderation and avoid hoarding large quantities."
- Katie Lannan/SHNS
(Updated Tues., March 17, 11:30 a.m.)— With tested coronavirus cases continuing to rise, a leading credit rating agency on Tuesday forecast a recession, a hospital in Dorchester signaled plans to focus only on COVID-19 patients, and Nordstrom closed its doors to shoppers nationwide.
Gov. Charlie Baker plans a 1 p.m. update on the virus fight.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh plans to hold a 7:30 p.m. televised address Tuesday to provide updates on the city's response to the spread of COVID-19. Schools closed across Boston on Tuesday and all schools in Massachusetts are at the beginning of a three-week shutdown ordered by the governor over the weekend after evidence of community spread mounted. According to the mayor's office, he plans to "share a situation summary and planning updates to mitigate the spread of the virus."
The address will be live streamed at boston.gov, and will be broadcast live on WCVB.
On Monday, state public health officials reported that the number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts rose from 164 to 197, with 83 cases in Middlesex County.
Baker Updates Coming at 1: Gubernatorial updates have become a daily or almost-daily occurrence amid the coronavirus outbreak, and Gov. Charlie Baker will keep the streak going Tuesday with a 1 p.m. address. Baker will speak alongside Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who is leading a coronavirus command center in Massachusetts, about the latest updates in the state's fight to limit spread of an illness that has already infected 197 here. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
Rep Urges Media Moves: State Rep. Mike Connolly is calling on Boston TV stations to cancel their regular programming and "focus entirely on instructing the public on how to limit transmission of #COVID19." Posting on Twitter, Connolly recommended the networks start by "Having someone sit at a desk and read" a letter signed by 50 doctors who live in Brookline.
The letter cautions that the virus is 10 times more contagious than the flu or the cold, and that about 20 percent of people who catch it "will wind up with a serious pneumonia that will require hospitalization."
The doctors urged local families not to hold play dates or small gatherings; to avoid enclosed spaces like restaurants, gyms and movie theaters; cancel planned vacations for the next month; stay home as much as possible; wash hands thoroughly after spending time in public places; and avoid spreading misinformation. Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, has also been backing Somerville City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen's push for Gov. Charlie Baker to order the closure of all non-essential businesses. More than 18,000 people have signed Ewen-Campen's online petition. - Katie Lannan, SHNS
(Updated Mon., March 16, 1:15 p.m.)— Much of Massachusetts is hunkered down Monday as the state adjusts to a new normal and prepares for the next phase in the effort to combat the highly contagious coronavirus.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will discuss the latest status of the coronavirus outbreak in Boston during a press conference outside City Hall at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Walsh's availability comes as restaurants and bars are preparing to close by Tuesday, and as families around the city prepare for Boston Public Schools to be closed beginning Tuesday. The press conference will be streamed live at boston.gov.
With new evidence showing COVID-19 community transmission now occurring in seven counties, Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday ordered bars to close, mandated that restaurants offer only takeout or delivery, and declared that public and private K-12 schools in Massachusetts will be shut down for three weeks, mostly beginning Tuesday.
Baker on Monday filed bills dealing with unemployment insurance for workers, businesses affected by the outbreak and municipal governance challenges like delayed town meetings and budget cycles.
Starting Tuesday, the MBTA will scale back service across the system as it copes with declining ridership caused by school closures, a transition to working from home and other precautions.
Massachusetts businesses have been affected in varying ways by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly now that restaurants cannot host dine-in patrons and that customers are less enthusiastic for some retail shopping. The Massachusetts Restaurant Association described recent days as "some of the most stressful and anxiety-ridden days our industry has faced," as food establishments across the state use Monday to prepare takeout and delivery operations for the start of a ban against on-premises consumption that takes effect Tuesday.
Baker will meet Monday afternoon at the State House with leaders from the Legislature, with whom he's already had discussions about legislation that would assist the state's response to the coronavirus. Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka typically meet with the press after their private meeting, which is slated for 2 p.m.
The week starts with only emergency personnel in the executive branch reporting to work, or those designated by managers as essential to COVID-19 response, under yet another order announced by the governor. Across the state, workers who can do their jobs remotely are adjusting to home offices and parents are scrambling to ensure they have child care when they need it.
January employment numbers in Massachusetts were strong, with the unemployment rate remaining at 2.8 percent for the sixth straight month. However, those figures cover a time period before Massachusetts had any identified cases of COVID-19 and before the global economy began sustaining repeated hits from the virus's spread. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
Boston COVID-19 Hearings Postponed: Two Boston City Council hearings aimed at producing more information about the COVID-19 outbreak and response are postponed. The council had planned to strictly restrict attendance at the hearings, which were planned for Monday and Tuesday, but on Monday opted to postpone the hearings altogether. - Michael P. Norton, SHNS
MassDems Closes Boston HQ, Suspends Caucuses: The Massachusetts Democratic Party has closed its Beacon Street headquarters and temporarily suspended all scheduled convention caucuses. In a Monday morning email, Party Chair Gus Bickford said he hopes to reschedule the remaining caucuses for late April. The party's 2020 convention, where delegates plan to recommend a U.S. Senate candidate, is currently scheduled for May 30 at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. "Should this suspension continue for an extended period of time, weâ€™re working around the clock to develop an alternative to ensure all delegates are elected to this yearâ€™s convention," Bickford wrote. "Our Senate District Conferences to elect Caucus members to our State Committee will be held virtually over the next few weeks. We're compiling a list of tools Democratic Town and Ward Committee Chairs can use to take their meetings online." He added, "At a time when everything seems so uncertain, itâ€™s crucial that we all take responsibility for keeping our friends and family safe during this public health crisis." - Michael P. Norton, SHNS
NU Student Tests Positive: Northeastern University informed its students Sunday night that a student living off campus tested positive for COVID-19. The university said the student had returned to campus from spring break on March 9 and has been in isolation since Thursday, March 12, the student-run Huntington News reported. Northeastern said Boston public health officials are working to trace the student's movements since returning to campus. Over the weekend, Northeastern reversed itself and told students they must leave campus for the rest of the academic year by Tuesday afternoon. -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
(Updated Sun., March 15, 12:25p.m.)— Gov. Charlie Baker shot down rumors Sunday morning that he is planning to order Massachusetts residents to shelter in place for two weeks, saying he had heard those rumors himself as the pandemic spread of coronavirus continues in Massachusetts and around the world.
"We have no plans to do that," Baker told WCVB's Janet Wu during a live interview Sunday morning. When Wu asked if the rumor was "wild speculation," the governor said, "yes."
Meanwhile, Cambridge and Somerville are at least having conversations about taking more aggressive steps to force social distancing at the local level, according to a state rep who serves both cities.
Baker did say, however, that his administration will be asking the Legislature to give him more authority to address the pandemic, including a plan to file legislation Monday related to unemployment insurance for workers and businesses affected by the outbreak.
The governor said he thinks Boston Mayor Martin Walsh "did the right thing" by closing bars in South Boston early Saturday night and for all of Sunday after people crowded into establishments and congregated in long lines outside despite public health experts urging people to distance themselves from others.
Baker said he hopes Walsh shuts bars down on Tuesday, too, which is St. Patrick's Day.
The number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts stands at 138 on Sunday morning. Baker said Sunday to expect that number to grow in coming days as the state ramps up its testing capacity.
"I think you're going to see tons more tested and with tons more testing, yeah, you'll probably see a significant increase in the number of people" who test positive, he said on "On The Record."
Walsh is going to address the public and press outside City Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday, and the state Department of Public Health is due to release the latest tally of positive cases by 4 p.m.
(Updated, Sat., March 14, 4:06 p.m.) — Total Cases Reaches 138: Massachusetts has 138 identified COVID-19 cases as of Saturday, an increase of 15 over Friday, the Department of Public Health Announced in its daily update on figures. Nineteen of the cases are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, while 119 are presumptive positive.
For the first time, both Barnstable County and Bristol County have cases, each with one resident testing positive. A majority of overall cases continue to stem from a late February meeting Biogen meeting in Boston: 104 positive tests are Biogen employees themselves or their contacts.
Five are travel-related, eight are part of what is now described as a "Western MA cluster," and 21 are under investigation. Only 11 of the 138 patients have been hospitalized so far. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
(Updated Sat., March 14, 2:15 p.m.)- Mayor Walsh announced plans for a multi-week closure of the Boston public schools and the U.S. House overnight approved a sweeping coronavirus bill as the fight against the spread of the virus continued.
The Boston City Council late Friday also announced it is closing its City Hall offices to the public until further notice and there's increasing pressure on Gov. Charlie Baker and education officials to shut down all public schools.
On Friday, Gov. Baker imposed a ban on many gatherings of 250 people or more, but said his administration is not recommending that local school systems cancel classes and close schools unless there is a threat of exposure.
Baker said Friday that banning most concerts, social events and public gatherings will help the state slow the spread of the coronavirus in order to give the health care system a fighting chance at meeting demand. He said the ban does not apply to most workplaces, airports, bus stations, grocery stores, shopping malls and restaurants.
(Updated Friday, March 13, 4:00 p.m.)-- The Boston City Council has suspended all public hearings except for two that were scheduled to address coronavirus. Those hearings, which are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Monday and 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, will focus on the city’s response and be viewable via livestream. The public is encouraged to submit questions to councillors ahead of time, but are not permitted to attend the hearings in person.
The following is a statement from Council President Kim Janey's office:
“Our first priority continues to be the health and well being of the general public, as well as our dedicated staff that work with us in the Boston City Council. As such, please be advised that the Boston City Council will be closed to the public beginning on Monday, March 16th, this includes all City Council facilities, meetings, hearings, and working sessions.”
(Updated Friday, March 13, 1:20 p.m.)-- Governor Charlie Baker announced in a press conference today that public gatherings of more than 250 people are prohibited starting immediately as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19.
Baker added that public schools in Boston will not be closed at this time. Decisions on whether individual schools will close should be made on a case to case basis--Massachusetts Department of Public Health has sent guidelines and recommendations to schools in the event of a parent or student contracting the virus.
However, the city's Archdiocese announced that all Catholic elementary and high schools in the city will be closed for a two week period from March 16 through March 27.
"On an ongoing basis, the Catholic Schools Office will consider whether this period needs to be extended further," said Superintendent of Schools Thomas W. Carroll in a statement.
The list of Catholic schools to be closed includes three campuses of St. John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester.
Schools are "making arrangements to have bagged lunches for those students who are on our free and reduced lunch program," said SJPIICA president Catherine Brandley.
Runners cross the starting line at the 2019 Boston Marathon. (Stew Milne/AP)
(Updated Friday, March 13, 10:45 a.m.)-- Friday morning brought another wave of closures and cancellations across the city as the threat of COVID-19 continued to grow.
Mayor Martin Walsh announced in a press conference this morning that the 2020 Boston Marathon will be postponed until Monday, September 14.
The development marks the first time in the 124-year history of the marathon that the race has been delayed.
A statement on the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) says registered participants and volunteers will receive further details "in the coming days."
In Dorchester, Project DEEP has announced a two-week closure. The Fields Corner-based nonprofit educational program posted the following statement to its social media this morning:
"The safety and health of our students, staff, and community are of utmost importance to us, so as of Monday March 16, Project DEEP will close for two weeks amid the COVID-19 outbreak. There will be no tutoring or Latin classes at this time. Students will still be granted points toward their sessions and volunteers will still earn hours for their service. We will assess the situation during this time and circle back with families about future sessions and programming going forward."
Elsewhere, First Parish Dorchester announced it is suspending worship services beginning this Sunday, March 15, in favor of a shortened virtual service that will be broadcast on Facebook live beginning at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday.
Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub reported Monday morning that Codman Academy, a charter school in Dorchester, has told parents it will close at noon today and stay closed through at least March 27--but will be doing some online learning with students. Boston Collegiate Charter School released a similar announcement to parents telling them the school will be closed from March 16 through March 27. Meanwhile, Mayor Walsh told press this morning that "there will be school Monday and there will be school next week."
More information about the state and city's plans regarding schools is expected at Governor Baker's press conference scheduled for noon today.
(Updated Friday, March 13, 9:30 a.m.)— The number of positive coronavirus cases in Massachusetts stands at 108 Friday morning and the outbreak's disruption of daily life is becoming more and more evident as a crush of communities are announcing school closures and event cancellations.
Around the state, some public school students (and their parents) are facing down anywhere from a few days to more than a month without classes, and Gov. Charlie Baker suggested Thursday afternoon that he will have more to say on the topic of school closures today.
"There's been an ongoing conversation between the Department of Public Health, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and many of the school superintendents, and mayors and other city council, city managers, sort of local officials generally. And I expect we'll have a lot more guidance available for people on that [Friday]," Baker said in Pittsfield.
Long check-out lines and bare shelves became the norm at many grocery stores towards the end of this week and the state's Operational Services Division reported Thursday afternoon that its statewide contract vendors "are reporting significant shortages or no inventory for certain products" like hand sanitizer and certain face masks.
Baker said Thursday that Massachusetts recently got enough testing supplies to test an additional 5,000 people but still needs to significantly up its testing. Testing has emerged as a key aspect of the national and state-level response to the outbreak. Guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control generally determine who should be tested, but anecdotal evidence suggests that not all people who have been exposed to the virus qualify to be tested at this point. -- Colin A. Young, SHNS
Noon Update from Baker Administration: Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders are planning a 12 p.m. Friday press conference at the State House to provide the latest update on the state's coronavirus preparedness, planning and response. A press advisory did not include details, but Baker hinted Thursday that he would have more to say about school closures today. - Chris Lisinski, SHNS
Marathon Announcement: Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and officials from the Boston Athletic Association are expected to announce the postponement of the 2020 Boston Marathon until the fall Friday at a 10:15 a.m. City Hall press conference. Moving the marathon would be the most significant Boston-area domino yet to fall as the global coronavirus pandemic has canceled countless events and schools days. On Thursday, the Boston Globe reported that race organizers and elected officials are eyeing the possibility of creating a state holiday on a Monday in September on which the marathon could be run. Baker and Walsh are expected to be joined Friday morning by Thomas Grilk, CEO of the Boston Athletic Association, and Marianne Harrison, president and CEO of race sponsor John Hancock. - Colin A. Young, SHNS
(Updated Thurs., March 12, 4:40 p.m.) —The number of cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts reached triple digits on Thursday, with the Department of Public Health reporting a total of 108 cases, including six confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control. That's 13 more cases than reported on Wednesday.
As the state works to manage the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker issued his most forceful call yet for the federal government to allow private labs and hospital facilities to test for the virus as the number of cases statewide climbed to 108.
After meeting with local officials in Pittsfield, where it appears the coronavirus has spread among the community without a known link to an infected person or high-risk region of the world, Baker said Massachusetts recently got enough testing supplies to test an additional 5,000 people, but still needs to significantly up its testing.
"We certainly believe we have what I would describe as an adequate supply today, but as I said in my remarks, we need the federal government -- the CDC and FDA in particular -- to give hospitals and testing facilities here in Massachusetts that have the capacity to test the material and then the approval they need to actually begin to test themselves," Baker said.
"The fact that the state lab is the single source of testing at this time is not adequate," he said.
Baker would not say exactly how many people have already been tested in Massachusetts, but said the state now has the ability to test 5,000 people in addition to the "several thousand" it had the ability to test before getting the latest supply. On Tuesday, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said the state had tested roughly 400 people, and had received an approval from the federal government that would allow it to increase its testing capacity to 200 per day.
Baker said his administration has been in touch with the state's Congressional delegation and the Trump administration about securing approvals for additional testing sites, including hospitals and private labs.
"We have hospitals in eastern Massachusetts, central Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts, we have labs not related to hospitals, independent privately operated labs, all of which have the capacity to do this if they can get several requirements and authorizations from the feds," Baker said.
Worcester County was the only county with known exposure to COVID-19 to not see an uptick in cases, while there still have been no reported cases Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin, Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties.
Berkshire County, where Baker was in the afternoon, now has a total of nine cases. Public health officials also added a new category to its tracking to report that eight cases are associated with Berkshire Medical Center. -- Colin A. Young and Matt Murphy, State House News Service
(Updated Thurs., March 12, 1:15 p.m.) — After several days of rapid growth, the total number of identified coronavirus cases increased from 92 to 95 by Wednesday afternoon, according to the latest numbers released by the state. Six cases have now been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, and 89 cases are being called "presumptive positive" after testing done by the state.
The supplemental budget bill (H 4561) that Speaker Robert DeLeo and President Karen Spilka agreed to pass this week creates a "reserve to support the commonwealth's monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts against the 2019 novel coronavirus by the department of public health, regional and local boards of health and other public instrumentalities."
The bill doesn't offer direct instructions as to how the money is to be used, but Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that he anticipates a large portion of the money will be directed into communities to fund first responders and local boards of health.
"My guess is it will probably be some combination of things that support and assist DPH, but it will probably also be things that support local communities and especially emergency responders and folks like that, local boards of health," Baker said Tuesday. "I mean, there's a lot of people who are working very hard on this at this time, and I'm sure we'll be able to find appropriate uses for it. We really appreciate the Legislature's willingness to do that."
The House and Senate passed the bill, released by the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday evening, back and forth during informal sessions Thursday. Though lawmakers usually take recorded votes on spending bills, the non-controversial nature of the coronavirus bill allowed it to sail through the legislative process on voice votes and without any apparent snags Thursday.
(Updated Thurs., March 12, 1:00 p.m.)-- The Dorchester Chili Cook-Off, scheduled for March 29, has been postponed until the fall. Statement taken from the Chili Cook-Off's social media: "In light of the government’s Corona virus advisories, we regret to inform you that the Dorchester Chili Cook-Off has been postponed until the fall of 2020. The exact date will be determined later. Thank you for your understanding."
(Updated Thurs., March 12, 12:20 p.m.)-- A new statement from the JFK Library and Museum released today offers some new details about the facility's closure due to COVID-19. According to the statement, the two library employees currently under self-quarantine contracted the virus after attending a conference at Row Hotel in Somerville on March 4 where other attendees were confirmed to have cases.
The library recommends that any patrons who visited the facility between March 2 and March 11 monitor their health for symptoms of coronavirus, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you experience symptoms, please seek medical care.
"A tent has been set up in the Shapiro driveway to prepare for potential scenarios related to #COVID19 as the situation rapidly evolves," Boston Medical Center posted Wednesday morning on Twitter. "While the tent is currently only being used for drills, it could be used as a testing location or additional ED space should we need it." Boston Medical Center/Twitter/SHNS
(Updated, Thurs., March 12, 11:35 a.m.)- After several days of rapid growth, the total number of identified coronavirus cases increased from 92 to 95 by Wednesday afternoon, according to the latest numbers released by the state. Six cases have now been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, and 89 cases are being called "presumptive positive" after testing done by the state.
September marathon holiday?: The Boston Marathon, an annual sign of spring in New England, could be postponed until the fall, the Boston Globe reported Thursday morning. The paper reported that local officials are "are closing in on a plan to reschedule" the marathon and that "officials are currently exploring the idea of creating a Monday holiday in the state in September," which would require the approval of the state Legislature. The marathon has an economic impact of about $200 million on the region, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said this week. After canceling this weekend's St. Patrick's Day festivities, he said he would prefer to see the marathon rescheduled rather than canceled. - Colin A. Young, State House News Service
School Closures Mount: Schools in communities around the state touched by the coronavirus are beginning to close, at least temporarily, in an effort to control the spread. The city of Boston closed all three campuses of the Eliot K-8 School in the city's North End after an adult who had been on campus tested positive for COVID-19. The city and the Boston Public Schools said the Eliot would reopen on March 19. Meanwhile in Somerville, Mayor Joseph Curtatone has closed all schools, libraries and parks through Sunday after that city counted its third case of coronavirus, all believed to be linked to the late February Biogen leadership meeting in Boston. -- Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Healey warns of scams: Attorney General Maura Healey wants Massachusetts residents to protect themselves against the spreading coronavirus, but also against financial scams and exploitation. On WGBH on Thursday morning, Healey said her office has received reports of people trying to sell things like coronavirus test kits or vaccines, and warned people to make sure they know exactly where their money is going if they donate to a cause purporting to help with the outbreak. "Just be really wary of the scam. So first order of business, take care of your health. But please be aware that there are these scams out there," she said. The AG also said her office will be on the lookout for businesses or people who jack up prices on essential goods during the outbreak. "We don't want anybody to profit illegally off of this. So let us know if you see or are aware of instances of price gouging, jacked-up sales of sanitizers, toilet paper, and the like," Healey said. "And also, I'd say feel free to call my office too if you have questions about refunds. We've got a lot of parents out there and a lot of students out there, school trips that have been canceled, other travel that's been canceled. Let us, let my office know about that." -- Colin A. Young, State House News Service
European Travel Ban: Citing heightened risks associated with extensive travel back and forth between Europe and the United States, President Trump on Wednesday night restricted travel to the U.S. from foreign nationals who have recently been in 26 European countries. In a televised address, Trump said large clusters of coronavirus in the U.S. "were seeded by travelers from Europe" so he's suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days under new rules that will go into effect Friday at midnight. The restrictions are included in a proclamation Trump is issuing under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that only applies to the movement of human beings, not goods or cargo. American citizens are exempt from the restrictions but will be directed to a limited number of airports where screening can take place. - Michael P. Norton, State House News Service
NBA ripples: The Wednesday night news that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 sent concerns arcing through Boston. The Jazz faced off against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Friday, five days before Gobert reportedly tested positive. According to an ESPN report, players on teams that faced the Jazz within the past 10 days -- including the Celtics -- have been told to self-quarantine. While the Jazz was in town last week, it also practiced last Thursday in Emerson College's Brown and Plofker Gym. The Berkeley Beacon reported that Boston public health officials told the school "no immediate action is required at this time." NBA officials announced Wednesday night that league play is suspended indefinitely as a precaution against further spread of the virus and that they would use the hiatus to figure out next steps. - Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
Baker in Pittsfield: Gov. Charlie Baker plans to meet privately with Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and Pittsfield Public Health Director Gina Armstrong to discuss coronavirus preparedness and response. The group will speak with reporters following their 2 p.m. meeting Thursday in Pittsfield. Berkshire County has seven confirmed cases of the illness as of Wednesday afternoon, and state officials have warned that some of those cannot be traced back to a chain of transmission. - Chris Lisinski, State House News Service
(Updated Thurs., March 12, 8:50 a.m.) — The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Dorchester announced overnight that it will be closed to the public "effective Thursday, March 12, in order to protect the public and mitigate community spread of COVID-19. The Kennedy Institute will continually monitor and assess the public health situation and will make a further determination regarding closure on Monday, April 6.... [the] Institute’s facility will undergo a deep cleaning and will be monitored by security and maintenance teams during the closure period. The Institute has implemented a work-from-home policy for all but essential staff."
(Updated Wed., March 11, 3:35 p.m.)— More than 1,000 Massachusetts residents have been or currently are subjected to quarantine since the coronavirus outbreak began, the Department of Public Health announced Wednesday. According to the latest figures, 638 people had completed monitoring and are no longer in quarantine, while 445 are currently under monitoring or quarantine.
The latest case numbers are scheduled for release later Wednesday, the first batch of new data since Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency Tuesday.
Federal aid on its way: The White House said Wednesday that Massachusetts would receive almost $11.65 million from the Centers for Disease Control in the latest round of aid from an $8.3 billion package approved by Congress last week to aid in the response to coronavirus. The total headed to Massachusetts from the more than $560 million awarded by the CDC is consistent with what Congresswoman Katherine Clark said she expected at an event in Boston on Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The state House and Senate are expected to pass an additional $15 million state aid package next week that Gov. Charlie Baker said he expects he will use to support local virus mediation efforts. - State House News Service
(Updated Wed., March 11, 2:50 p.m.)— BC High in Dorchester will close for two days (March 12-13) for a "deep clean" after parents of a student tested positive for COVID-19. The student tested negative for the virus, but will remain in quarantine for "as long as recommended," according to an email sent to the school community this afternoon. "We plan to open for a normal school day on Monday, March 16," the school's president and principal said in a letter. They added: "At this point it is important to be clear that we are confident as we can be, that we do not have COVID-19 at BC High. There have been no reported cases amongst our students or staff."
(Wed., March 11, 2 p.m.)— The Boston City Council will hold hearings on the city’s coronavirus response on Mon., March 16 at 5:30 p.m. and Tues., March 17. at 2 p.m.. At Wednesday's council meeting at City Hall, Councillor Matt O’Malley encouraged people to send questions to their councillors prior to the hearing, and urged them to watch the meetings remotely through the city’s live streaming services rather than attending in person. -Katie Trojano, Reporter Staff
(Updated Wed. March 11, 1:40 p.m.)-- In light of growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), UMass President Marty Meehan informed the Board of Trustees today that the five UMass campuses will shift to a virtual mode of instruction beginning March 16. UMass classes will be taught remotely through April 3 using web, video, and teleconferencing tools. As the time period coincides with the university’s scheduled Spring Break (March 13 through March 22), most of the university’s 75,000 will remain off-campus during that time.
The decision comes after Meehan consulted with Governor Baker, Senate President Spilka, and House Speaker DeLeo this morning about virus-prevention action and the university’s role in containing the spread of COVID-19, which was characterized by the World Health Organization today as a pandemic.
“The sudden arrival and spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 has had a profound impact on life in Massachusetts and around the world,” said Meehan in a statement. “Given the uncertainties and risks of the moment and in keeping with our steadfast commitment to the health and safety of the members of the UMass community, the Chancellors and I are implementing a remote teaching and learning plan that will protect the students, faculty and staff on our otherwise densely populated campuses. We regret the disruption that this will cause, but are confident that all parties will agree that the well-being of those who live, work and learn on our campuses must come first.”
In the statement, Meehan also acknowledged that UMass will be adopting Governor Baker’s recommendations to restrict work-related foreign and domestic travel, either conferences and seminars or hold them virtually, and discourage sick employees from coming to work.
For more updated information about the UMass system’s response to the virus threat, visit Massachusetts.edu/COVID19.
(Wed. March 11, 1:35 p.m.)-- The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum announced Wednesday afternoon that it is closing immediately and until further notice after learning that two employees attended a conference last week where other attendees were confirmed to have come down with the coronavirus. According to a statement, the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” as neither of the employees have shown symptoms and both are in self-quarantine. The library recommends that any patrons who visited the facility between March 2 and March 11 monitor their health for symptoms of coronavirus, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
“Our concern for the safety of our employees, visitors, and surrounding community are paramount,” said Library Director Alan Price in a press release. “We believe it is important for us to shut down operations during this time to allow for the cleaning of all staff and visitor areas. I understand this action will be disruptive to many who have planned events scheduled here at the Library. We also understand this will be disruptive to our dedicated vendors who depend on the business of hosting events here at the Library and elsewhere. However, we must consider public health and safety priority number one.”
The library and museum will be closed to visitors during this time. All forums and other public and private events held at the space will not occur, and some events may be rescheduled to a later date if possible. School visits and other education programs scheduled during the closure will be cancelled.
(Updated Tues., March 10, 6:00 p.m.) The Cedar Grove Civic Association announced it has cancelled its March meeting, which had been scheduled for this evening, having made the decision "with no pressing business and in light of the Coronavirus Emergency." The group will put off the agenda until its April meeting, which is scheduled for the third Tuesday of the month. -Reporter Staff
Gov. Charlie Baker exited his press conference room with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (left) and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel (right) after declaring a state of emergency on Tuesday amid a rising number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts. Sam Doran/SHNS photo
(Tues., March 10, 5:30 p.m.)— Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency Tuesday after the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts more than doubled to 92 overnight, joining about a dozen other states with a formal emergency declaration as the coronavirus-caused illness continues to spread in the United States.
Baker was originally scheduled to remain on family vacation in Utah until Thursday, but he cut his trip short and returned for a Tuesday press conference where he announced the new numbers, implemented the emergency status, and instructed tens of thousands of executive branch employees to discontinue all work-related travel and work remotely when possible.
Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said Massachusetts is at "a critical point in this outbreak," noting that community spread â€” in which multiple people in an area are infected, some of whom are unable to trace it back to a source â€” has begun in western Massachusetts.
All but one of the cases are presumptive positive and have not yet been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Seven are in Berkshire County, one is in Essex County, 41 are in Middlesex County, 22 are in Norfolk County, 20 are in Suffolk County and one is in Worcester County.
New cases as Baker returns: When Baker departed for a family vacation in Utah on Friday, eight people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Massachusetts. By Monday, when Baker decided to return, that figure hit 41, and on Tuesday afternoon, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the latest number is 92 cases, 70 of which are linked to a Biogen employee meeting in Boston in late February.
Boston Chamber goes virtual: After Gov. Baker on Tuesday afternoon encouraged employers and organizations to limit large meetings and gatherings, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce announced all its in-person programs and events "will be rescheduled, include a virtual option, or be only virtual." Ticket prices will be reduced for programs that are moved to a virtual option, and Chamber staff will reach out to people who are already registered for upcoming events.
State coronavirus fund: Lawmakers will vote next week on a $15 million spending bill creating a fund to assist with COVID-19 response efforts, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced in a joint statement. The additional funding will not be targeted at specific areas, but instead will be flexible for the administration and Department of Public Health to use as they see fit to mitigate, contain and combat the illness's spread.
Other states of emergency: Baker was one of at least four governors Tuesday to newly declare a state of emergency, alongside Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Gov. Gina Raimondo did so on Monday and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did so on Saturday.
Pot conference canceled: New England Cannabis Network announced that its conference scheduled for March 20-22 in Boston has been postponed "due to the increasing concern and public health crisis due to the COVID-19 outbreak." Organizers said they are "working with our venue partners and city officials to select a new date in 2020" to hold the cannabis get-together.
Tech council going virtual: Massachusetts High Technology Council President Chris Anderson announced the council would be postponing all events expected to attract 25 or more attendees through April, including its March 26 Women in Leadership Initiative Roundtable. The action was taken based on the input members gave the council over the past several days about steps they were taking to protect the health and safety of employees. Anderson said the council will use digital communication methods to conduct meetings and engage with member companies.
Dem caucuses suspended: The Massachusetts Democratic Party "temporarily" suspended all caucuses following the Baker administration's recommendations on large events Tuesday, MassDems Chair Gus Bickford announced. Bickford said the party informed U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and his primary challenger, Congressman Joe Kennedy, and that a "replacement" would be developed if the temporary suspension lasts for an extended period of time.
Task force convened: The Massachusetts Public Health Association convened an emergency task force on Tuesday to develop policy recommendations on how to respond to COVID-19 and its economic repercussions with particular focus on inequities across demographic groups. The task force will release its recommendations on Friday, March 20.
Potential spread in federal prisons: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are among several senators who wrote to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and three private-prison operators to ask about their plans to prepare for and manage potential coronavirus spread in federal prisons. Nothing the "vulnerability of the prison population" and the "unique challenges in ensuring that incarcerated individuals receive appropriate monitoring and care," the senators asked for a response by March 16.
Arc cancels major fundraiser: The Arc of Massachusetts has called off its 65th anniversary celebration slated to be held at the Boston Marriott Newton on March 26 amid mounting concern over the spread of the coronavirus. "While we are deeply disappointed, the Board of Directors and staff leadership felt we needed to take this proactive step out of an abundance of caution and concern for the health and well-being of our guests, many of whom are caregivers to family members who have disabilities or are elderly or are professional caregivers providing critical assistance to people with disabilities," Executive Director Leo Sarkissian wrote. The Arc said its annual event is the biggest single source of revenue for the organization and that the cancellation "undoubtedly will have a serious negative impact on the funding that sustains our advocacy, outreach, and education."
(Tues., March 10, 4:25 p.m.)— Baker Declares Coronavirus State of Emergency
Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency around the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts on Tuesday and outlined new protocols for state employees. For executive branch workers, all work-related travel is to be discontinued effective Wednesday and Baker's office is encouraging executive branch employees to cancel personal international travel, among other new restrictions.
"The number of reported cases has seen a significant uptick in the United States and in Massachusetts and our state health officials are closely monitoring and tracing presumptive cases here," Baker said.
The governor said the "enhanced" measures he announced were being put in place to get ahead of the spread of the coronavirus and that the current number of people infected or isolated is within the health care system's capabilities. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said there were 51 new presumptive positives cases to report Tuesday, bringing the total number of presumptive or confirmed cases in Massachusetts to 92.
Baker encouraged employers, where possible, to limit or eliminate non-essential travel and larger meetings and encourage telecommuting.
- Colin A. Young/SHNS
(March 10, 11:10 a.m.)— Hours after the state released a new batch of numbers Monday showing that COVID-19 cases surged while he was away, Gov. Charlie Baker cut short his family vacation in Utah and flew back to Massachusetts to prepare for a Tuesday press conference.
Global Numbers: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been tracking the outbreak and on Tuesday reported more than 116,000 confirmed cases globally, resulting in nearly 4,100 deaths, with nearly 64,400 people with COVID-19 reported as having recovered from the illness.
Baker returns: Baker departed for a family vacation in Utah on Friday, when there were eight people who had tested positive for the coronavirus-caused illness in Massachusetts. By Monday, that figure hit 41, with 32 directly related to a Biogen employee meeting in Boston in late February, four deemed travel-related and five still under investigation. Baker, who had planned to stay away until Thursday, decided to return early. After he participated in a private call with public health officials at 6 p.m. Monday, Baker aides announced he would be at the State House to hold a 2 p.m. press conference Tuesday to discuss response to the coronavirus-caused illness. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Health Commissioner Monica Bharel and other state officials will join him.
Colleges going remote: Both Amherst College and Harvard University will no longer hold classes on campus starting March 23. Students were effectively asked not to return after spring break and will transition to online learning once the week of vacation concludes. At Amherst, Thursday and Friday classes this week are canceled, and all students except those who successfully petition to stay on campus were told to leave by Monday, March 16. Staff and faculty will remain on campus with regular work schedules. Meanwhile, UMass Amherst's campus operations "are ongoing without interruption," guided by campus emergency operations professionals in consultation with UMass President Marty Meehan's office and state and federal health officials, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote in an email to students and faculty. "Campus decisions related to this rapidly evolving situation are made in this context and may differ in some cases from those of other institutions, including Amherst College, which announced today that it will move to remote learning after spring break," Subbaswamy wrote.
Impact on Asian-American community: To speak out against fearmongering and racism against people of Asian descent during the global spread of COVID-19, the Asian American Commission plans to host a press conference on the State House steps Thursday with members of the Asian-American State House Caucus. "The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Asian American Commission will not tolerate racism, xenophobia, and bigotry towards the Asian American community due to fear-mongering and misinformation about the coronavirus," the commission wrote in a statement. "Local Asian establishments have taken a huge hit economically, and there has been a surge in verbal insults and violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country. While we understand that it is human nature to fear the unknown, targeting and discriminating against a specific group only fuel the biggest epidemic of all -- racism." The press conference is planned for 10 a.m. Thursday on the State House front steps.
St. Patrick's cancellations: The South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade and St. Patrick's Day Breakfast were both canceled Monday evening. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh cited "an abundance of caution" in the decision to shut down the annual parade. Sen. Nick Collins, who was scheduled to host the breakfast, said on Twitter that the threat remains low but that "public health and safety must be our top priority" in a rapidly changing situation. On Tuesday morning, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera announced that his city was canceling its St. Patrick's Day parade planned for Saturday "out of an abundance of caution."
Walsh on large events: Boston Mayor Martin Walsh went on WEEI's Greg Hill Show on Tuesday morning to talk about his decision to cancel the parade and the factors he would consider if the Boston Marathon is thrown into question.
Guidance to lawmakers and staff: Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo wrote to their members and staff Monday night, advising them to stay home if sick and practice proper hygiene. "We want you to know that our top priority as legislative leaders is the safety of the employees and members of the Senate and House," they wrote in an email. "We acknowledge that people may have concerns about the spread of coronavirus, particularly in a public building. The Department of Public Health has assured us that anyone who has been deemed to have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 will be contacted directly by the local board of health."
In a joint statement to the News Service, DeLeo spokeswoman Catherine Williams and Spilka spokeswoman Sarah Blodgett said, "The Legislature is in constant communication with the Department of Public Health and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. We are following all guidelines and advice from public health experts." The State House is open to the public and does regularly host advocacy events, though some groups have canceled them in light of virus concerns. Both branches of the Legislature have scheduled informal sessions for Thursday, and Senate Democrats planned to caucus Wednesday.
Norwood manager tests positive: Norwood officials announced Monday night that Tony Mazzucco, the town's general manager, tested positive for COVID-19 and that his close contacts have been notified by public health officials of the need to self-quarantine. He began exhibiting symptoms on March 5. The town had earlier reported that Mazzucco was among 11 municipal officials and employees who attended a party with someone who had tested positive for the virus. A professional cleaning crew was hired to disinfect Norwood Town Hall over the weekend.
States of emergency: Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency Monday amid concerns over COVID-19. Two Massachusetts border states have now formally declared emergencies after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did so on Saturday, with both officials saying the status will help unlock additional resources to limit spread of the virus.
Trump stimulus plan: President Donald Trump on Monday night said he would pursue a stimulus package with a "big number" to offer small business loans and to support tourism industries stunted by business slowdowns amid the virus, POLITICO reported. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier Monday during an appearance in Boston that she was interested in legislation aimed at assisting workplaces and employees affected.
Bedford VA screening: The Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford announced Tuesday it will "implement a 100 percent screening process for COVID19 symptoms for all staff, patients and visitors of the Bedford Healthcare System, including its Community Based Outpatient Clinics." Screenings will take place upon entry at each outpatient clinic and before boarding any VA shuttle. Personnel will be asked if they have a fever, a new or worsening cough or shortness of breath, or flu-like symptoms. Of those who answer "yes," patients will be sent to urgent care, employees to occupational health, and visitors asked to leave the facility and check in with their physician.
MBTA meetings shuttered: Three MBTA public events scheduled for Tuesday night were canceled "out of an abundance of caution," spokeswoman Lisa Battiston announced. The 5:30 p.m. Better Bus Project presentation in Roxbury, the 6 p.m. Green Line Extension meeting in Cambridge and the 6 p.m. public engagement discussion in Framingham were all called off Tuesday morning.
(Tuesday, March 10, 8:30 a.m.) — St. Patrick's Day Parade Cancelled In Boston Amid Virus Spread
Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade has been canceled "out of an abundance of caution to ensure that we are doing what is needed to keep the residents of Boston safe and healthy" during the ongoing global outbreak of a coronavirus, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced late Monday afternoon. There are 41 coronavirus cases in Massachusetts, including at least nine in Boston, the state said Monday.
Walsh's office said the decision to cancel the parade, which was scheduled to step off Sunday at 1 p.m. and wend its way through South Boston, was made in consultation with other elected officials and parade organizers.
"While the risk in Boston remains low, this situation is changing very quickly and we are closely monitoring any local cases," Walsh said in a statement. "Our top priority is preventing any new cases, to the best of our ability, and we are paying close attention to guidance from public health officials."
The mayor's announcement came about three hours after the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council said that the parade "is still currently on" and that organizers "will rely on the determination of public health officials as to whether outdoor public gatherings in the City of Boston should be curtailed."
Sen. Nick Collins later announced that he had also decided to cancel the traditional pre-parade breakfast and political roast.
- Colin A. Young/SHNS
(Mon., March 9, 5:05 p.m.)-- The number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts hit 41 on Monday, according to new Department of Public Health figures that also show four of those people have been hospitalized for their symptoms.
Thirty-two of the COVID-19 cases are related to the Biogen employee conference held in Boston in late February, four others are travel-related and the remaining five are under investigation, the DPH said.
By county, 15 of the cases are in Middlesex County, 10 each in Suffolk and Norfolk counties, five are in Berkshire County, and one is in Worcester County.
Of the 41 one cases, still only one has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the rest are considered "presumptive positive" after being tested by the state laboratory.
The department's numbers did not indicate which four patients were hospitalized. Eighteen of the people who have tested positive for the illness are female and 23 are male.
Frontline Workers: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey last week sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence urging him and the White House Coronavirus Task Force he leads to take the needs and concerns of frontline health care workers into account when charting the federal government's response to the ongoing viral outbreak. "Because their jobs entail daily face-to-face interaction with large numbers of people, frontline workers such as nurses and other health care workers, flight attendants, and educators may be the most highly exposed individuals, and many of them will be a key part of the nation's response to this crisis," the senators, joined by colleagues from Ohio and Connecticut, wrote. The senators asked that Pence add a representative from the Department of Labor to the task force so that the concerns of workers will be part of the conversation. Warren and Markey asked the vice president to report on how the administration is ensuring health care workers will have access to personal protective equipment, and asked for a response by March. 19.
Chamber Programs Still On: The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce said Monday afternoon that its events and programs will continue "as scheduled" but encouraged anyone who is not feeling well or is concerned about attending in person to participate through a livestream on the chamber's Facebook page or Comcast link, with more information available through @bostonchamber on social media. "We are in regular communication with doctors and public health officials and are proceeding based on those discussions," the chamber said.
Warning Letters: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania applauded the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for sending warning letters to companies marketing fraudulent coronavirus "cures" to the public. "We're glad the FTC and FDA have responded and issued much-needed warnings to companies actively trying to deceive a nervous public by marketing unapproved and scientifically-unsupported coronavirus 'cures,'" the lawmakers said. The agencies sent letters to the following companies: Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., N-ergetics, GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, The Jim Bakker Show. "These warning letters are just the first step," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said. "We're prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam."
CCC Ribbon-Cutting Canceled: Mass. Cannabis Control Commission decided to cancel the ribbon-cutting event it had scheduled for Thursday at its new headquarters in Worcester. The CCC made the decision "out of an abundance of caution ... amid health warnings related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Massachusetts," the agency announced Monday afternoon.
Guidance for Schools: The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has published guidance for schools, including information on school closures related to COVID-19. If a school closes for reasons relating to the virus, administrators are asked to contact their local board of health, the Department of Public Health's 24/7 epidemiology line, and Associate Commissioner Helene Bettencourt. The Clarksburg School, Natick High School and Arlington's Stratton Elementary School were closed Monday after presumptive positive cases were identified in those towns.
Virtual Lobbying: EndHepCMA & Project ABLE canceled their planned budget season lobbying event, which had been set for Tuesday. "As the response to the coronavirus evolves, we want to make sure we do everything we can to protect our community, staff, clients, and patients," the groups said. "Rather than an in-person lobby day, we are encouraging you to participate in a virtual advocacy day! You can still register your support for funding for vital HIV & Hep C programs and services, and lawmakers still need to hear from you. In the next few days we will send you a link to use for an action alert, so stay tuned!"
Planners Postpone Meeting: The Metropolitan Area Planning Council at 1:25 p.m. Monday announced it was postponing its winter meeting planned for Tuesday in Framingham. "Over the next few days, we will assess the situation and decide how to reschedule the Council Meeting and Legislative Panel on Housing, Transportation, and Climate," executive director Marc Draisen wrote. "We will consider rescheduling as a virtual event, which will provide Council members and allies the opportunity to learn the latest about what is going on at the State House, without having to participate in a crowded event that might make some people uncomfortable."
Baker Conference Call: Gov. Charlie Baker, who is vacationing in Utah, announced Monday morning that he plans to receive an update from senior staff and administration officials at 6 p.m. in a daily briefing call on the state's coronavirus response.
Lamont Restricts Travel: In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday announced a ban on out-of-state travel for state employees and asked that his administration change meetings with out-of-state contractors to be conducted by teleconference or online, CT News Junkie reported. One Connecticut resident has tested positive for COVID-19 and two employees from a Connecticut hospital who live in New York have also tested positive.
Trump Briefing: At 5:30 p.m., President Donald Trump is expected to participate in an on-camera briefing with members of the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House. Vice President Mike Pence is "leading a whole-of-government approach" at the federal level to deal with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. "We've taken historic actions to try to prevent the -- to slow the spread of the disease into the United States through restrictions on travel and travel advisories. We've been making historic advances on therapeutic development as well as vaccine development," U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Monday, according to a White House transcript. He added, "We've now got over 2 million tests that have been -- that have been manufactured. And over a million of those, as of Saturday, have shipped out to public health labs as well as to hospitals, as well as other labs, with availability."
Budget Implications: Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues had multiple meetings on Monday to discuss coronavirus preparedness and its potential impact on the state budget. He said the market turmoil caused by the virus "could have a long-term effect on our revenues."
(Mon., March 9, 11:15 a.m.)— The spread of coronavirus intensified over the weekend with the number of confirmed and presumptive cases climbing from the eight announced Friday by Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to 28, as of Monday morning.
Fifteen new cases, all with direct connections to the Biogen employee conference at the Long Wharf Marriott over a week ago, were announced Sunday by the Department of Public Health, bringing the total number of cases linked to Biogen employees to 23. A number of Norwood town officials, including the town manager and school superintendent, said they were self-quarantining after attending the same party at a private residence with an infected Biogen employee.
Nine of the 28 cases are in Boston, while the other cases are spread through Middlesex and Norfolk Counties, with one known case in Berkshire County. All of the cases that tested positive at the Massachusetts state laboratory are isolating at home.
Another update from the state is expected by 4 p.m. Monday.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who is vacationing in Utah, plans to receive an update from senior staff and administration officials at 6 p.m. in a daily briefing call on the state's coronavirus response.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark said Monday at least $11.65 million of the $8.3 billion emergency aid package signed by President Trump Friday to assist with response to the virus will go directly to Massachusetts communities on the "front lines" of addressing the virus. During an appearance in Boston on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she plans to seek additional legislation that would offer financial aid to workplaces whose supply chains or employees were impacted by COVID-19's spread.
On Friday, the Division of Insurance issued a bulletin telling health insurers that because of the risk associated with coronavirus, the state expects them to forego cost-sharing, such as copays and deductibles, for medically-necessary COVID-19 testing, counseling and vaccination, if it becomes available, and to waive copayments for coronavirus treatment. The division also told insurers to establish dedicated hotlines to answer questions about coronavirus and communicate covered services to subscribers, and to promote tele-health options.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced Friday it will cover the full cost of diagnostic tests for COVID-19 for all fully insured members who meet CDC guidelines for testing. The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans also issued the following statement: "The provisions outlined in the DOI bulletin are consistent with a series of steps that MAHP member health plans were voluntarily working to implement to ensure their members have access to the care they need as it relates to the coronavirus."
The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association launched a new website to consolidate information for the public and health care providers about the latest figures and preparations being made in Massachusetts to respond to COVID-19.
South Shore Hospital instituted restrictions on visitors, effective on Friday. Until further notice, patients are limited to one primary caregiver designated by the patient and that caregiver must be over the age of 18 and from of symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, sneezing, vomiting, and diarrhea for at least 48 hours before visiting. The primary caregiver must also wear a mask or other protective equipment if asked to do so, wash hands frequently, and "go directly home after leaving the patient and not to the dining room or other public areas."
At 5:30 p.m., President Donald Trump is expected to participate in an on-camera briefing with members of the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House.
- Matt Murphy and SHNS Staff/SHNS