JUNE 10 -- The end of the state of emergency is around the corner, but a series of COVID-era policies including remote public meetings and to-go cocktails are a step closer to remaining in effect.
Five days before Gov. Charlie Baker plans to lift the state of emergency, the Senate on Thursday approved legislation keeping eviction protections, health care flexibilities and more in place for several months longer.
On the long-term side, the House approved a mid-year spending bill amendment permanently enshrining mail-in voting and an expansion of early voting, both of which played major roles during the pandemic.
While lawmakers work to determine which pandemic changes should stick around, the virus's impact continues to wane in Massachusetts.
The Department of Public Health reported 85 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, the third-lowest single-day total since June 2020. The department's estimate of active COVID-19 cases, which has continued to drop to new record lows since mid-May, fell again to 3,191, less than one-twentieth of the record high.
DPH counted 171 patients in Massachusetts hospitals with COVID-19, two fewer than a day earlier. Another seven confirmed deaths brought the cumulative toll to 17,929 when counting those with probable but not test-confirmed cases.
Massachusetts on Thursday surpassed the 3.9 million mark for residents fully vaccinated, inching closer to the Baker administration's goal of getting 4.1 million people immunized against the virus. - Chris Lisinski
School Case Numbers Drop Again: The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported 103 new cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts schools over the week from June 3-9, down from the previous week's 130 and 250 the week before that. Of the 85 student cases reported to DESE this week, the most were in Boston and Worcester, which reported six each, followed by five each in East Longmeadow and Springfield. Eighteen staff cases were reported across 10 districts and one education collaborative, with Boston (four) and Worcester (3) again topping the list. As the school year winds down, the department plans to publish its final weekly case numbers report next week, on June 17. - Katie Lannan 5:43 PM Thu
$4.6 Million for Employee Retraining: The Baker administration will deploy $4.6 million in grant funding aimed at helping workers who were impacted by COVID-19 gain skills for jobs in high demand. Officials announced the launch of the Rapid Reemployment Grant Program on Thursday with a first round of grants totaling $360,000, which will flow to six employer partner programs who together will train 105 people as certified nursing assistants, patient care technicians, pharmacy technicians, and computer network support administrators. Gov. Charlie Baker said the program has "potential to help thousands of people get access in high-demand spaces around the commonwealth" moving out of the pandemic. Massachusetts lost nearly 700,000 jobs in the early months of the pandemic, when the state's unemployment rate shot from 2.8 percent to 16.4 percent, and many Bay Staters still remain out of work even as some employers struggle to fill open positions. "In addition to falling unemployment, Massachusetts right now is experiencing historic demand for job postings," Baker said. "We have more jobs available now than were available prior to the pandemic and more employers willing to consider candidates that may require additional training, which is why programs like this are so important." The grants are funded using federal aid Massachusetts received from the CARES Act. - Chris Lisinski 4:38 PM Thu
Citing Virus Concerns, Warren Warns Against ICE Re-Detentions: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, along with six other Senate Democrats, are calling on the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to issue guidance for all ICE field offices and detention centers against re-detaining individuals previously released due to the COVID-19 pandemic who have complied with the conditions of their release and who pose no public safety concerns. ICE detention facilities "have served as hotspots for COVID-19 transmission," Warren's office said Thursday, and some ICE field offices have agreed not to re-detain anyone released by court order as a result of COVID-19, but others "have actively sought to reverse court orders granting releases." Warren's office said "this inconsistency in the approaches taken by ICE field offices is leading to unpredictability and uncertainty, subjecting formerly detained people to the prospect of re-detention and thus an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure." Citing information provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, which Warren's office said has over 800 previously detained clients who have been released, "many of these individuals are now living safely at home with their families, in compliance with the terms of their court-ordered releases and posing no danger to their community," Warren's office said. - Michael P. Norton 4:25 PM Thu
3.9M Fully Vaccinated: About 31,000 more COVID-19 shots were reported as administered on Thursday, the bulk of which were second Pfizer or Moderna doses. The Department of Public Health reported that 3,913,264 people are now fully vaccinated, an increase of 20,293 from Wednesday. That total includes 3,651,875 who received one of the two-shot vaccines and another 261,389 who had the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. About 87.4 percent of the total number of doses shipped here by the federal government have gone into people's arms, the DPH said. - Katie Lannan 4:10 PM Thu
@vaccinetime Over and Out: When the competition for the very limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses was at its height and the state's technology left residents frustrated and still unvaccinated, several private efforts stepped in to fill the void. One of them, the Twitter account @vaccinetime, sent notifications to its followers --including Cabinet secretaries and state lawmakers -- when vaccine appointments became available, helping people all over the state secure coveted doses. On Wednesday night, the account's creator announced that he was turning it off since vaccine appointments are now widely available. Hundreds of people responded to the tweet sharing their success stories. "A heartfelt thanks to you for creating this incredibly valuable resource! I was able to help numerous family members & friends obtain their vax appointments using this tool when the process was total utter chaos," one woman wrote. "You've literally made a difference in people's lives." Before signing off, @vaccinetime said anyone who still needs to get vaccinated should visit https://vaxfinder.mass.gov for help. -- Colin A. Young 10:39 AM Thu
Sudders Expecting 4M Full Vaccinations Next Week: Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders told members of the Health Connector board Thursday that she's expecting Massachusetts to hit the milestone of 4 million people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 sometime next week. As of Wednesday, the Department of Public Health counted 3,892,971, leaving a little more than 100,000 shots to go to reach 4 million. On May 3, Gov. Charlie Baker's office said the state was set to meet Baker's goal of fully vaccinating 4.1 million people "by the beginning of June." On May 28, Baker said that target was more likely to be met in the middle of the month. "Next week we will have 4 million people fully vaccinated in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and possibly 4.1 by the end of that week," Sudders said Thursday during a virtual Connector meeting, prompting reactions from other livestream participants. Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez clapped silently, while board member Nancy Turnbull offered a thumbs-up. - Katie Lannan 10:06 AM Thu