MAY 22: Gov. Charlie Baker had some advice Friday for people eager to get outside, perhaps see friends or family from at least six feet away, and enjoy Memorial Day weekend: wear a mask, keep your distance and respect the highly-contagious nature of the virus.
Shortly after he wrapped up his daily coronavirus update, the Department of Public Health reported 805 new COVID-19 cases and announced the recent deaths of 80 people from the virus.
There have been 90,889 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts since Feb. 1 and 6,228 people have lost their lives to the virus since March 20.
Since the beginning of April, there have only been two days in which the state reported fewer new cases than it did on Friday. The 805 new cases were confirmed from 10,158 tests processed during the 24-hour reporting period, meaning that 7.9 percent of tests came back positive, down from 9.66 percent on Thursday.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Massachusetts decreased by 73 patients from Thursday to Friday, leaving 2,323 people currently hospitalized. That's down from a high of about 4,000 a month ago. The number of people requiring intensive care unit treatment also dropped, from 647 on Thursday to 628 on Friday, DPH said.
The economic toll of the pandemic and the government's mandated business closures was quantified Friday when the Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced that the state's unemployment rate surged to 15.1 percent in April as the state lost 623,000 jobs. That's the highest monthly unemployment rate on record for Massachusetts.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, who joined Baker on Friday to make an announcement about testing in his city, reminded the public to be smart about taking advantage of the nice weather and the easing of some pandemic-related restrictions.
"And you can drink with a mask on. Just take a drink, put the mask back on. Trust me, I'm going to find my way to get my hands on a burger this weekend. Trust me, I will not be deterred. But I'm going to have a mask," the mayor said. -- Colin A. Young
Census To Restart Mass. Operations: U.S. Census Bureau area offices in Massachusetts will begin a phased restart of their field operations next week. The bureau put its field operations on pause in March as a protective measure for its employees, the public and workers going through the hiring process for temporary Census taker posts, and has since begun gradually re-starting them in some states. All area offices will also resume operations the week of May 25 in Connecticut, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, and the bureau plans partial restarts in California, Maryland, Michigan, Texas and Virginia. - Katie Lannan 4:28 PM Fri
Bridgewater State Freezes Tuition: Hoping to lessen financial burden on students and their families during a time of crisis, Bridgewater State University officials agreed on a plan to keep tuition and fees at existing levels during the upcoming academic year. The Board of Trustees signed onto a plan from President Frederick Clark to maintain tuition and fees at $10,732 per year for full-time, in-state undergraduate students, according to a Thursday press release. "The COVID-19 pandemic has created a serious financial strain for our students, as demand on our BSU Student Emergency Fund attests," Clark said in the release. "We are hopeful that this decision will help to relieve some of the economic pressure on our students and their families." The school also issued more than $9 million in credits or refunds in April for unused services and directed almost $740,000 from an emergency fund to help more than 1,000 students who have sustained income losses during the pandemic. - Chris Lisinski 3:59 PM Fri
Hotels Rallying Around "Safe Stay" Guidelines: As hotels start down the road toward trying to bring back customers, a nationwide industry group on Friday announced industry-wide cleaning guidelines endorsed by hospitality leaders in all 50 states and Canada, including the Massachusetts Lodging Association. "As we reopen hotel doors and welcome back the traveling public, it is critical that the hotel industry across North America unite under one common set of safety, cleanliness and health standards so that our employees and guests can be assured that hotels will be cleaner and safer than ever before," said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. "Along with North America's top hospitality leaders, we believe this industry-wide effort will ensure greater transparency and confidence throughout the entire hotel experience. Ensuring the safety of our guests and employees is a never-ending challenge, and in the face of the current public health crisis, safety is more paramount than ever." Hotels in Massachusetts are slotted into phase two of Gov. Baker's reopening plans, but are "currently open to provide services to essential workers and vulnerable populations," according to Gov. Baker's reopening website. According to the association, their guidelines "provide direction on employee and guest health, employee responsibilities, cleaning products and protocols and physical distancing and will be revised as needed based on the recommendations of public health authorities, in compliance with any federal, state and local laws." The U.S. lodging industry contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. gross domestic product, according to the association, and supports 8.3 million jobs, many of which have vanished during forced business shutdowns. - Michael P. Norton 3:42 PM Fri
Holyoke Plastics Company Joins PPE Effort: Another manufacturer in Massachusetts has altered its operations to join the COVID-19 fight. Sen. Eric Lesser on Friday joined Pia Kumar, co-owner of Universal Plastics Group in Holyoke, to highlight her company's transition to designing medical equipment such as face shields to protect first responders and frontline health workers. Gov. Charlie Baker in recent weeks has emphasized the importance of developing in-state personal protective equipment manufacturers to enable the state to avoid equipment shortages in the future. Universal typically makes produces aerospace, industrial, and medical products but has begun engineering, manufacturing, and donating face shields and intubation boxes to hospitals, elder care homes, and nursing homes. Since March, according to Lesser's office, Universal has produced 1,000 face shields a day from recycled in-house plastic. Lesser and Kumar talked on a livestream where they also talked about diversity and women in the manufacturing and engineering fields. - Michael P. Norton 2:52 PM Fri
Groups Want Sustainability in Reopening: As Massachusetts embarks on its economic reopening plan, the Sierra Club and MASSPIRG are calling for the state to also restart redemption of deposit cans and bottles, lift the order restricting reusable bags, and generally steer away from trash, litter, waste and disposable products. "A central question now, in the wake of Gov. Baker's announcement on Monday that the state is beginning a 'phased re-opening,' is this: Will we let special interests dictate what's best for our state?" MASSPIRG's Janet Domenitz and the Massachusetts Sierra Club's Deb Pasternak said in a joint statement. "Or will we move forward in our well-trod march toward a cleaner, more sustainable future?" The Department of Environmental Protection and Attorney General Maura Healey's office announced March 18 they would suspend enforcement of beverage container deposit requirements to ease a burden facing overwhelmed grocers and retailers, and a March 25 order from Gov. Charlie Baker prohibited the use of reusable checkout bags at grocery stores and pharmacies. - Katie Lannan 10:00 AM Fri