AUG. 10: Massachusetts started the first week after Gov. Charlie Baker indefinitely paused the reopening process with a combination of status quo and minor improvements in the public health metrics reflecting the state's progress through the pandemic.
The three-day average number of patients actively hospitalized for the virus has hovered between 375 and 396 since last week. Meanwhile, the positive test rate for COVID-19 dropped back below 2 percent, holding at 1.8 percent or 1.9 percent from Thursday through Sunday in the most recent data available, after climbing slowly to 2.2 percent in late July.
That increase was one of the factors Baker cited last week, when he announced that Massachusetts will not move into the second stage of the gradual reopening plan's third phase for the foreseeable future and when he slashed the allowable outdoor gathering limit from 100 to 50.
Those new restrictions take effect Tuesday, when the governor also said he plans to release more information on communities that are most at risk for the highly infectious virus.
Monday was originally supposed to serve as a deadline for K-12 school districts to submit their plans for returning to instruction this fall, but the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education gave districts until Friday to complete that step.
State leaders are still closely watching the nation's capital for any indication on what -- if anything -- they can expect from federal aid to help close massive budget gaps and support residents in need. While a congressional solution still has not arrived, President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders whose potential impact the Baker administration is still reviewing. - Chris Lisinski
UMass Lowell Scaling Back Campus Life: UMass Lowell will shift to a mostly online model for the fall semester, officials announced Monday, following the system's flagship Amherst campus in scaling back plans as COVID-19 infections surge around the country. Leaders at school had already outlined intentions to bring back many students, albeit with caps on class sizes and residence halls, but on Monday they reversed course and said that most classes will now switch to a fully virtual model except for labs and studios that require an in-person component. UML Chancellor Jacquie Moloney wrote in a public letter that officials reached the "difficult decision" based on several factors, including Gov. Charlie Baker's decision last week to pause the statewide reopening and concerns that faculty and students had raised. "As recently as late last week, we remained optimistic we could keep moving toward a larger on-campus experience and I know this change is a disappointment for many of you," Moloney said. "However, the health and safety of our university community members are our top priorities and must always tip the balance we sought between normalcy and risk mitigation." With the announcement, Lowell becomes the second UMass campus in the past four days to alter plans for the impending fall semester. On Thursday, UMass Amherst officials told the student body that they would now only allow those taking "essential face-to-face classes" to access dormitories and other campus facilities. - Chris Lisinski 4:41 PM Mon
Monday DPH Update: Another 214 cases of COVID-19 and five new deaths linked to the respiratory disease were reported Monday. The Department of Public Health's Monday report showed a seven-day average positive test rate at 1.8 percent, making this the fourth day that number has held below 2 percent after climbing up to 2.2 percent at the end of July. A total of 112,637 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 via a molecular test, and more than 1.3 million individuals have been tested, representing about 19 percent of the state's population. There have been 8,519 deaths, or 8,741 when deaths among probable COVID-19 cases are added in. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients grew by five to 380, with 60 in intensive care and 25 intubated. No hospitals reported using their surge capacity. - Katie Lannan 4:15 PM Mon
TSA Alarmed by Rate of Guns at Checkpoints: There are a lot fewer people flying, but the Transportation Security Administration says it's noticing a "particularly alarming" development - its officers detected firearms in carry-on bags at a rate three times higher in July compared to the same month in 2019. Officers detected 15.3 guns per million people last month compared to 5.1 guns per million people screened during July 2019, the TSA said on Monday, estimating it screened about 75 percent fewer passengers in July 2020, compared to July 2019. "TSA is diligently working to ensure our employees and passengers are safe and secure while traveling during a pandemic, and yet we are noticing a significant increase in loaded firearms coming into checkpoints," said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. "Travelers must understand that firearms are prohibited items at airports and in the passenger cabins of aircraft. As hard as we are working to mitigate other risks at this time, no one should be introducing new ones." Pekoske said 80 percent of the firearms coming into the checkpoints are loaded. The recommended federal civil penalty for an unloaded firearm starts at $2,050 and $4,100 for a loaded gun. The penalty can go up to the statutory maximum of more than $10,250 per violation. "Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage, if they are properly packaged and declared at check-in with the airline. Firearms must be unloaded, packed in a hard-sided case, locked, and packed separately from ammunition," according to the TSA. - Michael P. Norton 12:49 PM Mon
Everett Mask Order Carries $300 Fine: People who do not wear masks or face-coverings in indoor and outdoor public places in Everett can now face a $300 fine under an executive order that takes effect Monday. The order from Mayor Carlo DeMaria is stricter than the statewide mask requirement, under which people must cover their nose and mouth when they cannot adequately practice social distancing. A revised order Gov. Charlie Baker issued Friday to tighten gathering restrictions, which takes effect Tuesday, also requires that face-coverings be worn at gatherings of more than 10 people among members of different households. In a statement, DeMaria said the intent of his order "is not to give out fines," but to ensure that people "gathering in large groups" wear masks or other face-coverings. "While the mask order will not be in effect forever, we have seen a recent uptick in our cases that have been traced back to large gatherings of people in outdoor spaces," DeMaria said. "I'm hopeful that the implementation of this order will drive our numbers back down to where they were a month ago. We can only be successful in this endeavor if we work as a community and all make the effort." Everett reported 82 positive COVID-19 tests in the most recent 14-day period covered by DPH statistics, and a positive test rate of 4.82 percent. - Katie Lannan 12:44 PM Mon
Holy Cross Latest College to Rethink Fall Plans: Worcester's College of the Holy Cross is the latest Massachusetts college to back off on-campus plans for the fall and opt for a fully remote model instead. In a Monday message to students and families, Holy Cross President Philip Boroughs wrote that school officials arrived at the decision with "great sadness and deep disappointment." A "very limited" number of students will be allowed to live on campus. Boroughs outlined several recent changes and developments that informed the decision, including the Baker administration travel order requiring most people arriving from other states to quarantine, tightened state gathering restrictions, "more restrictive guidelines" recommended by local officials for on-campus dining, and expected delays in testing results in the initial weeks of the semester. "The restrictions and modifications that we would have to put in place to comply with the guidelines and to mitigate the spread of the virus on campus and in our local community would leave students with an extremely limited campus experience," he wrote. - Katie Lannan 12:05 PM Mon