MAY 10 -- Massachusetts added 446 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths linked to the respiratory disease to its totals on Monday, bringing the state's cumulative case load since February 2020 to 653,636.
Monday's 446 new cases came from came from 23,693 new tests, representing a positivity rate of about 1.97 percent. The state's seven-day average positivity rate stands at 1.26 percent, up from the 1.24 percent reported Sunday. Department of Public Health data also showed 427 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across Massachusetts, down from the 438 hospitalizations in Sunday's report.
As of Monday, all seven of the state's mass vaccination sites are now offering vaccines on a walk-up basis with appointments available but not required. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said that the site at Gillette Stadium, which was not included in last week's initial announcement that six of the large-scale sites would accept walk-ins, needed a little bit more time to prepare for the change.
Massachusetts has administered 85.5 percent of the 7.94 million vaccine doses shipped here by the federal government, according to DPH figures. More than 2.96 million people are fully vaccinated.
Gov. Charlie Baker plans to join President Joe Biden and other governors in a virtual event Tuesday touting the state's vaccine progress. Massachusetts, Hawaii and Vermont became the first three states to administer at least one shot to more than 70 percent of adult residents.
Critics of Baker's emergency orders restricting business operations and social activity, who sued the governor unsuccessfully last year, are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case, a move they hope will also accelerate the state's timeline for a full reopening. - Katie Lannan
FDA Approves Pfizer Vaccine for Teens: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration late Monday announced it has expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include individuals between the ages of 12 through 15. The FDA said it had amended the EUA it originally issued on Dec. 11, 2020 for administration in individuals 16 years of age and older. "The FDA’s expansion of the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age is a significant step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. "Today's action allows for a younger population to be protected from COVID-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic. Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations." The decision opens up a major new segment of the school-age population to receive vaccinations before the 2022-2023 school year begins. - Michael P. Norton 5:23 PM Mon
Treasury Publishes Details on Relief Fund Uses: U.S. Treasury officials on Monday adopted an interim final rule outlining a non-exclusive list of ways that state and local governments can use American Rescue Plan Act funding to respond to negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Allowable uses, according to a Treasury fact sheet, include COVID-19 mitigation efforts like vaccination programs, PPE purchases and enhancement of public health data systems; assistance to households for food, rent and mortgage payments or utilities; replenishing unemployment trust funds to pre-pandemic levels; loans or grants to help small businesses and non-profits; behavioral health care services for needs exacerbated by the pandemic; water, broadband and sewer infrastructure investments; premium pay for essential workers, and more. Local governments will receive funds in two tranches, the Treasury said, with half provided starting this month and the balance about 12 months later. "States that have experienced a net increase in the unemployment rate of more than 2 percentage points from February 2020 to the latest available data as of the date of certification will receive their full allocation of funds in a single payment; other states will receive funds in two equal tranches," the Treasury said. "Today is a milestone in our country's recovery from the pandemic and its adjacent economic crisis. With this funding, communities hit hard by COVID-19 will able to return to a semblance of normalcy; they'll be able to rehire teachers, firefighters and other essential workers – and to help small businesses reopen safely," Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. - Katie Lannan 3:39 PM Mon
Markey Seeks Refunds, Credit Extensions for Air Travelers: More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Ed Markey and Connecticut Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal are calling for airlines to give cash refunds to travelers who have had to cancel flights because of the pandemic, or at least to make it so that the temporary flight credits they've already issued do not expire. As vaccines roll out and gradual reopening efforts progress across the country, previously scheduled travel plans remain on hold or disrupted for many. "We must first reiterate our belief that your airline should offer a cash refund for all tickets on flights canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, whether canceled by the airline or traveler," Markey and Blumenthal wrote in letters to 10 airlines. "Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing, and prescriptions during this emergency. It is unconscionable that airlines are largely refusing to return customers' money even as the industry sits on more than $10 billion in unused travel credits. However, even as we continue to push for these cash refunds, it is imperative that, at a minimum, your company does not subject pandemic-related flight credits to an expiration date." The senators sent their letters to Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines, according to Markey's office. - Katie Lannan 3:08 PM Mon
MBTA Ridership Creeping Upward: MBTA ridership saw "significant rising action" in March and April, though overall it remains at only a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, according to T General Manager Steve Poftak. During the week of April 30, 2021, the MBTA transported about 45 percent as many bus riders and 28 percent as many rapid transit riders as it did the week of Feb. 24, 2020, before COVID-19 hit. In January, bus ridership was around 35 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while transit ridership hovered at 22 percent. Demand is lower on the commuter rail system, which deployed a new schedule model in April offering more evenly spaced trips and less frequency at peak times, at 15 percent of pre-pandemic ridership. Ferry ridership stands at 10 percent of pre-COVID levels, though Poftak said that figure is "probably artificially a little bit lower than it would be" because it reflects an older schedule when service was still cut significantly. "There's no big inflection points," Poftak said. "It's more of a steady progression as individual companies or individuals make different choices about how much they're going to travel, how they're going to go to work." April 30 was the agency's "highest-ridership day" with more than 150,000 taps at rapid transit stations, Poftak said. - Chris Lisinski 3:04 PM Mon
Active MBTA Staff Cases Down to 18: Active COVID-19 cases among MBTA employees have declined significantly in recent weeks, likely reflecting an increasing pace of vaccinations, General Manager Steve Poftak told the agency's board on Monday. The T has 18 workers currently ill with the virus, Poftak said, a significantly lower level than the more than 100 at the start of the year and roughly half as many as in the week of April 17. "We moved around in that band between 35 and 50 active cases for much longer than I would like," Poftak said. "We are down to 18 active cases at this point and headed in the right direction. That is good news and consistent, obviously, with what we're seeing in the community." A similar trend is in place at Keolis, which operates the T's commuter rail: active cases are down over the past two weeks and a marked improvement from the winter, when the company had to slash service because of a COVID-inflicted worker shortage. Poftak repeated his call for all MBTA employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. - Chris Lisinski 2:49 PM Mon