APRIL 7 -- Massachusetts crossed another grim mile-marker in the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday as the number of deaths among people with test-confirmed cases of the respiratory disease surpassed 17,000.

The latest report from the Department of Public Health counts 17,014 fatalities, a figure that rises to 17,358 when adding in the deaths of people who died with probable but not confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Confirmation of 2,292 new infections, from 118,123 tests, brought the state's cumulative caseload since February 2020 to 611,825, or almost 9 percent of the state's population. At 2.46 percent, the seven-day average positive test rate is down from the 2.5 percent in Tuesday's report, while hospitalizations are up -- Wednesday's report tracked 755 people hospitalized as of Tuesday, up 30 from the previous day.

More than 2.5 million people, or roughly 36 percent of the state's population, have now had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As the phased vaccine rollout continues, health metrics show significant drops in cases and hospitalizations among older Massachusetts residents, and younger adults are now making up a higher percentage of new cases and hospitalizations.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a 64-year-old who is now among the 2.5 million people to have gotten a shot, said the state is expanding its vaccine appointment pre-registration system to also cover regional collaboratives in Amherst-Northampton and Marshfield. Baker has said he used that system himself to make his Tuesday appointment at the Hynes Convention Center mass vaccination site.

Reporting no major side effects from his first Pfizer dose, Baker said more than 1.5 million residents have signed up to get in line for a shot when they become eligible, and more than 800,000 of that group have been contacted with the chance to schedule an appointment. - Katie Lannan

Emerson Shutting Down Student Activities: Emerson College will prohibit in-person student activities for at least the next week amid a spike in COVID-19 cases on campus, school officials announced Wednesday. The new policy bans all in-person gatherings including athletics through at least the end of the day on April 14, closes the Fitness Center for the next week, and requires all meals at the Dining Center to be grab-and-go options. Students should only leave their residences to attend classes, study in the library in a socially distanced manner, pick up food, exercise outdoors, seek medical care or COVID testing, or to get to and from work, Emerson officials said. "We also request that students not attend social events or gatherings in the community and not host any guests in their residential rooms or apartments," Emerson Assistant Vice President for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp wrote in a letter to the community. "Visiting other residential rooms or lounges other than where you reside is not permitted." From March 29 to April 4, 26 members of Emerson's community tested positive, according to the school's online dashboard. - Chris Lisinski 5:08 PM Wed

2.5M+ People Have at Least One Vaccine Dose: More than 10,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were administered between Tuesday's Department of Public Health vaccination report and Wednesday's, more than the number of J&J shots given in Massachusetts in the previous four days combined. The state this week received a one-time shipment of 108,000 J&J vaccines, a significant boost compared to its supply of that vaccine so far. More than 2.5 million people have now received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. In total, the state says Massachusetts providers have administered more than 4.11 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and 1,571,073 people have received either both Pfizer or Moderna doses or the single-shot J&J vaccine to become fully vaccinated. Of 4.9 million doses shipped to Massachusetts so far, 83.8 percent have been administered. - Katie Lannan 4:40 PM Wed

Funeral Reimbursement Info Available: The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to begin accepting applications this month for financial assistance for funeral costs for people who died of COVID-19 after Jan. 20, 2020. FEMA plans to accept applications starting April 12 through a dedicated call center (844-684-6333), and says that assistance for eligible individuals will be capped at a maximum of $9,000 per funeral and $35,500 per application. Secretary of State William Galvin's website links to a FEMA page with more information on eligibility and how to apply. "So many people have lost loved ones to this pandemic and coping with the loss of a family member is hard enough without needing to worry about the costs of laying that person to rest," Galvin said in a statement Wednesday. He said help may be available "even if the funeral has already been paid for." - Katie Lannan 4:14 PM Wed

Walensky: UK Variant Now "Most Common Lineage" in US: The B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, first identified in the US in December 2020 and initially detected in the UK, is now the most common lineage of the virus in the United States, Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday. The CDC says variants seems to spread more quickly, but "so far" studies suggest antibodies generated through currently authorized vaccines recognize the variants. "This is being closely investigated and more studies are underway," the agency says. Walensky's declaration Wednesday was based on the most recent estimates from CDC surveillance. "These trends are pointing to two clear truths," she said. "One, the virus still has hold on us -- infecting people and putting them in harm's way -- and we need to remain vigilant. And, two, we need to continue to accelerate our vaccination efforts and to take the individual responsibility to get vaccinated when we can." She added, "We have to recognize the high risk of infection in areas of high community transmission. I encourage communities to consider adjustments to meet their unique needs and circumstances. For example, in areas of substantial or high community transmission, CDC guidance specifically suggests refraining from youth sports that are not outside and cannot be conducted at least six feet apart. Similarly, large events should also be deferred." - Michael P. Norton 1:06 PM Wed

"How Much Death, Disease and Misery Are We Going to See?": White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt on Wednesday ticked through positive developments on vaccine eligibility, doses administered, school openings, and an expansion of the federal government's community health center vaccine program before returning to a common refrain. "Wear a mask. Socially distance. Get vaccinated when it's your turn," Slavitt said. Despite the progress, he pointed out that the vaccination effort is "still not even halfway there" and "the progress we have made can be reversed if we let our guard down." Slavitt then offered more perspective. "Better days are on the horizon. We do believe a more normal Fourth of July holiday is within reach. But that's nearly three months away," he said. "And as the President said, 'The real question is: How much death, disease, and misery are we going to see between now and then?'" In his update Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker pointed to 1,566 new COVID-19 cases reported on Tuesday and noted that 169 of the 725 people in Massachusetts hospitalized for COVID-19 are in intensive care units. With 12 new deaths reported Tuesday, the state is on the verge of surpassing the 17,000 mark for confirmed virus deaths during the pandemic. - Michael P. Norton 12:42 PM Wed

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