DEC. 4: Closing out a week that saw two days of record-setting numbers of new daily coronavirus cases, the Department of Public Health added 5,192 more cases of COVID-19 to the state's total Friday.

The new cases came from 96,701 new tests and DPH said the state's seven-day average positive test rate is 5.44 percent, or 7.48 percent when leaving out tests from higher education institutions. DPH estimated that there are 51,371 people in Massachusetts with active cases of the highly-infectious coronavirus. That's roughly equal to the population of Peabody.

State officials also reported 37 recent COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll here to 10,674 people with confirmed cases of the disease or 10,910 people when counting those who died with probable cases of COVID-19. About 4.6 percent of all people who have been infected with COVID-19 in Massachusetts have died of it.

Hospitals were treating 1,394 COVID-19 patients as of 3 p.m. Thursday, an increase of 70 patients from the previous day. Two-hundred and seventy-eight patients are being cared for in an intensive care unit, including 134 people who require the help of a ventilator to breathe, DPH said. A month ago, there were 502 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Statewide, 80 percent of non-ICU hospital beds are full, though not all with COVID-19 patients. Available ICU capacity is at 38 percent, DPH said, but ranges from 0 percent availability in the northeast part of the state to 50 percent capacity in central, western and southeastern Massachusetts.

Since last Friday, Massachusetts has confirmed 25,708 new cases of COVID-19 and announced 275 COVID-19 deaths, the state's seven-day average positive test rate has climbed 66 percent from 3.28 percent to 5.44 percent, 408 more people are hospitalized, and statewide hospital capacity has dropped from 35 percent to 20 percent of non-ICU beds and from 53 percent to 38 percent of ICU beds. -- Colin A. Young

Governors Back Bipartisan COVID Relief Plan: The bipartisan blueprint for a $908 billion coronavirus relief package that revived talks in Washington won the endorsement of the leaders of the National Governors Association on Friday as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged Congress not to recess for the holidays without finalizing a deal. Cuomo and Hutchinson, the chair and vice chair of the NGA, described the proposed compromise as a "interim measure" that they support as record numbers of new COVID-19 cases are counted every day and hospitals are being stretch thin. "It is time for Washington to step up and deliver desperately needed relief for their constituents. Governors are heartened that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers are now talking with each other to find a way forward. We encourage leadership to stay at the bargaining table and work out a deal that delivers the critical relief to the American people," Cuomo and Hutchinson said. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker sits on the NGA's executive committee, and while he hasn't spoken specifically to the latest proposal from congressional moderates, he has repeatedly urged Congress to strike a deal that delivers relief for the states. The newest proposal includes $160 billion for state governments, $180 billion for unemployment insurance, $288 billion for small businesses, $82 billion for schools and $45 billion for transportation. "As an interim measure to address states' immediate and pressing needs, we support the bipartisan framework proposed by Senator Joe Manchin, Senator Bill Cassidy and a bipartisan group of their colleagues as a response that would bring meaningful relief to those who are struggling; situate states to quickly, effectively and equitably implement their vaccination plans; and prime the economy to allow for a faster rebound," Cuomo and Hutchinson said in a Friday statement. - Matt Murphy 5:29 PM Fri

Trial Court Extends In-Person Reduction Into January: The Massachusetts Trial Court system will keep in-court operations reduced for another month-plus due to the "major increase in COVID-19 infections in Massachusetts and experience with court staff testing and courthouse closures," officials announced Friday. Judicial leaders scaled back in-person court operations starting on Nov. 27, and on the day the plan was supposed to end, they extended it through at least Jan. 8, 2021. Any proceedings scheduled in that span will "to the extent possible" be held during virtual hearings, officials said, with the goal of limiting individuals who may be ill with COVID-19 but not yet showing symptoms from entering courthouses and infecting others. "Trial Court leaders have concluded that this plan is the best approach to balancing the need to provide access to courts and protecting the health and safety of court staff and court users," a spokesperson for the system said in a statement. - Chris Lisinski 4:52 PM Fri

Riley Seeks Info from Boston, Worcester and Springfield: Elementary and Secondary Elementary Commissioner Jeff Riley sent letters last month to officials in the state's three largest school districts, asking them to provide more information on their plans to provide in-person learning to students with disabilities and advising them that their responses "may initiate an audit to assess overall efforts to provide in-person instruction and to ensure your remote learning program is consistent with state and federal laws and regulations." Riley's Nov. 24 letter to Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty said students with disabilities are not receiving in-person instruction in the city's public schools and asked for more information about their participation in remote-learning. He also asked if it was possible to accelerate the district's January timeline for in-person school for those students. On Nov. 30, similar letters went out to Boston School Committee Chair Alexandra Oliver-Davila and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. Riley said students with disabilities are not learning in-person in Springfield and that, in Boston, "very few students with disabilities are receiving in-person instruction in your district." Riley gave each of the three districts 10 calendar days to respond to his request for information. - Katie Lannan 4:42 PM Fri

Lowell Launching Free Testing Site: A day after Gov. Charlie Baker said Lowell would be the next city to host a field hospital amid a COVID-19 surge, city leaders announced plans to launch a new free drive-up testing site for Lowell residents starting Monday. The city and Cataldo Ambulance will partner to offer free testing between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. seven days a week through the end of the month behind the Showcase Cinema building. On the first day, hours will be limited to 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Only Lowell residents will be able to access the tests, and they must register in advance for a specific time online. The city-funded site is equipped to test as many as 500 people per day, officials said. "This site will significantly increase the availability of COVID-19 testing for residents over the coming weeks, and will contribute to our ability to contain transmission of the virus as we continue to confront a surge in cases here in Lowell," said City Manager Eileen Donoghue. The site will be closed on Dec. 24, Dec. 25 and Dec. 31. - Chris Lisinski 3:50 PM Fri

DPH Deems Most Clusters "Household": Public health officials continue to label households as the largest source by far of COVID-19 clusters in Massachusetts, while long-term care facilities host the second-highest number of clusters and linked cases. The latest weekly report from the Department of Public Health counted 9,393 clusters in Massachusetts households between Nov. 1 and Nov. 28 -- defined as two or more residents at the same address testing positive for the virus within 28 days -- with 23,756 confirmed cases in that span. Among the two dozen other categories for possible exposure settings, long-term care facilities reported more clusters and more cases than any other. In the same four-week span of November, DPH counted 132 different clusters in long-term care facilities, where two or more cases had a common exposure, leading to 1,027 confirmed cases. About 63 percent of the more than 10,000 COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts have occurred in long-term care settings, according to DPH. - Chris Lisinski 1:47 PM Fri

Nantucket Hospital Exec Sees Potential Danger in Case Surge: After Nantucket Cottage Hospital recorded its highest single-day total for positive COVID-19 tests at its drive-through site -- 28 on Wednesday -- the island hospital's president and CEO is asking residents to "please take this situation extremely seriously" and to wear masks, stay physically distant, wash their hands and avoid gatherings with others from outside their household. In a Friday statement, hospital head Gary Shaw said 105 new cases have been identified over the past week and that Nantucket's positivity rate now stands at 7.5 percent. "COVID-19 cases have reached record highs in Massachusetts and across the country, and Nantucket is experiencing a similar surge that urgently demands our vigilance," Shaw said. "We are grateful, and lucky, that none of these recent active cases of COVID-19 have required hospitalization yet, but the sheer number of people we have diagnosed through testing over the past week creates a potentially dangerous situation for the island." Nantucket's cumulative case count, through Dec. 1, was 319, according to the Department of Public Health. - Katie Lannan 1:43 PM Fri

At-Home Testing on the North Shore: Starting Monday, residents of eight North Shore communities will be able to schedule appointments for COVID-19 tests in their homes through a new partnership with Beauport Ambulance Services and the Broad Institute. The PCR tests will cost $175, by credit or debit card, in Rockport, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Essex, Rowley, Ipswich, Hamilton and Wenham. "The purpose of this is to allow people to stay home, not expose themselves to sick individuals and give them an additional testing choice," John Morris, the president and owner of Beauport Ambulance, said. "This program will also help to support efforts to reduce long wait times and lines at other testing sites in the area." While the home tests, administered by Beauport Ambulance staff, are available to all residents of the company's service area, Morris said he envisions their use by students returning home, immuno-compromised individuals, those unable to find childcare or reliable transportation, and people who need to get tested for travel or work. - Katie Lannan 10:15 AM Fri

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