JUNE 3 -- For the first time since it was introduced last August, the Department of Public Health's color-coded COVID-19 risk assessment map includes zero communities in the red, high-risk category.
Last week, Tisbury was the lone town to remain in the red category that signifies the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission. At one point in January, almost two-thirds of the state's 351 cities and towns were "in the red."
The risk assessment map that DPH published Thursday does not include a whole lot of color -- most cities and towns are grey, meaning they've had 10 or fewer cases for towns with up to 50,000 residents or 15 or fewer cases for larger municipalities. Seven communities -- Lawrence, Brockton, West Bridgewater, Fall River, Tisbuy, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown -- are in DPH's yellow or moderate risk category, and about 70 communities are in the green or lower risk category.
DPH on Thursday also confirmed 241 new cases of COVID-19, an increase of 141 cases compared to Wednesday and well above the state's seven-day average of 111.1 daily new cases. Public health authorities also announced seven recent deaths associated with the coronavirus.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased by 13 patients from Wednesday's report and now stands at 203 patients, DPH said. The state's seven-day average positive test rate dropped from 0.69 percent as of Wednesday to a new recorded low of 0.62 percent in Thursday's update.
Since the first cases of COVID-19 was identified in Massachusetts on Feb. 1, 2020, at least 661,635 people here have become infected with the coronavirus. Since the first death was announced March 20, 2020, the virus has taken the lives of 17,893 people when counting the roughly 360 people who died with likely, but not test-confirmed, cases of COVID-19. -- Colin A. Young
130 New Cases in Mass. Schools: Massachusetts schools reported 130 new cases of COVID-19 among students over the past week, down 120 from the 229 new student cases and 21 among staff logged the previous week. From May 27 through June 2, school districts and approved special education schools reported to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education a total of 117 cases among students and 13 among staff members. Of the state's 400 districts, only 28 reported more than one student case, with the highest numbers reported in Lawrence (seven), Boston and Brockton (six each), and Fall River, Framingham, Hingham and Natick (five each). No district recorded more than two staff cases -- Boston, Brockton and Leominster reported two each, with six other districts and one special education school each reporting a single new case among staff members. - Katie Lannan 5:16 PM Thu
State Launches Early Ed Pooled Testing: Massachusetts education officials will partner with a nonprofit to launch a statewide pooled testing program for early educators, children and their families, officials announced Thursday. Boston-based Neighborhood Villages has been running a pooled testing pilot program since December at early education and after-school programs, and in a new venture with the state Department of Early Education and Care, officials will bring the effort across the state. Providers who enroll will be able to test all staff, educators and children 2 years old and above once per week at no cost to themselves. Individual samples will be bundled together and tested as a pool, and if any pool tests positive, everyone in that group will be re-tested individually. "Pooled testing has proved to be a critical mitigation strategy in detecting positive cases among asymptomatic individuals that might have otherwise been undetected," Early Education and Care Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy said in a statement. "Bringing this testing strategy to child care programs and after school programs will be another important step in our fight against COVID-19, and we are very pleased to partner with Neighborhood Villages to make it possible across the Commonwealth." Massachusetts has offered pooled testing to K-12 schools across the state since February, and the new program will make it available for the early education sector. Officials said testing will begin by mid-June, and early education and care providers can register online at maearlyedtesting.com. - Chris Lisinski 4:06 PM Thu
22K+ More Full Vaccinations: The number of people in Massachusetts fully vaccinated against COVID-19 crossed 3.7 million in Thursday's report from the Department of Public Health, up by 22,731 from Wednesday and still shy of the 4.1 million goal Gov. Charlie Baker had set for early June, a milestone he said last week would more likely arrive in the middle of the month. In all, more than 4.46 million Bay Staters have at least started the vaccination process, including 4,209,713 who received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines and another 253,748 who got the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The DPH reported that 3,462,962 people have received their second Pfizer or Moderna doses, and the state has so far administered about 85.7 percent of the 9,245,140 vaccine doses shipped here by the federal government. - Katie Lannan 3:56 PM Thu
Pioneer: Keep Health Care Flexibility Post-Pandemic: New flexibilities in the health care system, particularly around telehealth and how and where different types of providers can practice, should remain permanent features post-pandemic, according to a new report from the Pioneer Institute. The report makes the case for permanently knocking down barriers to telehealth for all providers and recommends building on a temporary Department of Public Health order that allowed Massachusetts residents to access telehealth services from out-of-state providers. Study author Josh Archambault points to a Minnesota law -- which has providers register with a state board and provide basic information about their licensing, along with a $75 fee -- as a model. The report recommends against mandates that require insurers to cover and bill for telehealth at the same rate as in-person services, and suggests that the state "consider removing our staffing ratios and ensuring full scope of practice for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians." It also recommends that physician assistants be allowed "to have more control of their career and not be 100 percent dependent on one supervising physician," and that the state create a "streamlined licensing pathway" to vet the credentials of international medical graduates so that those foreign-trained professionals could receive a full state licenses after passing required state exams and paying fees. - Katie Lannan 1:30 PM Thu
Fed Winding Down Corporate Credit Initiative: The Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday announced plans to start winding down a temporary emergency lending facility it established in connection with the CARES Act. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York manages the operations of the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF) and plans to announce additional details soon and before sales begin, the central bank said. The credit facility was established on March 23, 2020 "to support credit to employers by providing liquidity to the market for outstanding corporate bonds" and it ceased purchasing eligible assets on Dec. 31, 2020. In a report to Congress last month, the Federal Reserve said the Federal Reserve Bank of New York loans extended under the program totaled $13.8 billion. "The SMCCF proved vital in restoring market functioning last year, supporting the availability of credit for large employers, and bolstering employment through the COVID-19 pandemic," the Fed said. "SMCCF portfolio sales will be gradual and orderly, and will aim to minimize the potential for any adverse impact on market functioning by taking into account daily liquidity and trading conditions for exchange traded funds and corporate bonds." - Michael P. Norton 8:25 AM Thu