MAY 18 – As bills to create a paid COVID-19 emergency sick leave program and give businesses relief from unexpectedly higher costs related to unemployment insurance advanced on Tuesday, the Department of Public Health reported 359 new cases of COVID-19 and six new deaths associated with the respiratory disease.

As part of a broader bill to shore up the state's unemployment trust fund and ease unemployment insurance rate hikes facing employers, lawmakers earlier this year agreed to create a leave program that would provide paid time off for workers needing to get a COVID-19 test, get their vaccinations, quarantine or isolate. The House unanimously rejected a Gov. Charlie Baker amendment carving out municipal workers from that program, and then went on to take another unanimous vote passing a bill addressing the solvency assessment spikes that meant many businesses were still hit with high unemployment tax bills even after the first round of UI rate relief legislation.

The House's votes come four weeks before Baker's COVID-19 state of emergency is set to end.

Four hundred and seventy-two days after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Massachusetts, the state's caseload now stands at 657,478, about 27,000 less than the population of Boston. A total of 17,419 people have lost their lives to confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and there have been 360 fatalities among people with probable cases of COVID-19.

The state's seven-day positive test rate rose from 1.02 percent on Monday to 1.06 percent on Tuesday, and the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped by 10, to 326. - Katie Lannan

NKOTB Returning to Fenway in August: A New Kids on the Block show at Fenway Park, originally planned for 2020 and delayed due to the pandemic, has now been rescheduled to Aug. 6, the band announced Tuesday. They'll be joined for the event by fellow Boston natives Bell Biv Devoe, and all previous tickets will be honored. A limited number of additional tickets will also be made available, on sale to the public Friday at 10 a.m. after a series of presales earlier in the week. "It's been a challenging year for so many. We can't think of a better way to get back to doing what we love most -- than being with our fans, and hitting the stage, in the most sacred of venues. It will be an emotional night and we plan to give our fans a celebration unlike anything our city has seen," New Kids on the Block member Donnie Wahlberg said in a statement. Fenway Park plans to return to 100 percent capacity on May 29, when the state and city of Boston will lift business restrictions. - Katie Lannan 4:50 PM Tue

Monday Shots Well Below Average: Massachusetts providers reported giving 41,124 doses of COVID-19 vaccine Monday, more than 20 percent less than the seven-day average of more than 53,000 doses administered each day. The Department of Public Health said 15,260 of the doses reported as administered Monday were first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, 24,762 were second and final doses of the two dual-shot vaccines, and 1,102 were of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In total, Massachusetts has administered 7,209,523 doses of the three vaccines and 3,243,160 people here have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. -- Colin A. Young 3:56 PM Tue

Rep Plans Presser on Rapid Testing Bill: Pitching it as a way to safely reopen the state's economy, Rep. Tami Gouveia plans to hold a Wednesday morning press conference on a bill she filed in February (HD 3452) that would establish a statewide rapid testing program for COVID-19. The Acton Democrat's bill would establish a Rapid Antigen Testing Advisory Board to research existing community-based antigen testing models and entrance screening policies across the globe and make recommendations to state officials. The bill calls for the board to convene within 30 days of the bill's effective date and file its report, including "recommendations on a comprehensive, voluntary and locally-run, community-based antigen testing program, including options for providing test kits and training residents and employees at locally trusted institutions, organizations, businesses and faith-based organizations" within 60 days of that meeting. The Department of Public Health would then be tasked with developing guidelines for implementing the testing program, which would make rapid test kits available to individuals free of charge at locations like pharmacies, prisons, vaccination sites, local government offices, homeless shelters, faith organizations, doctor's offices, schools, housing authorities and transit stations. Wednesday's event is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Chelsea Collaborative Food Pantry, and speakers include Chelsea Collaborative executive director Gladys Vega; Dr. Michael Misialek of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, E25Bio founder Irene Bosch, Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy, Kari Kuelzer of Grendel's Den Restaurant and Bar, and Michael Hugo of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, according to Gouviea's office. - Katie Lannan 3:53 PM Tue

Admin Detailing Reopening for Lawmakers: Two of Gov. Charlie Baker's top lieutenants huddled privately with lawmakers Tuesday to answer questions about the accelerated reopening plan that the governor unveiled Monday. Rep. Bill Driscoll, who co-chairs the Legislature's COVID-19 Oversight Committee, said he and co-chair Sen. Jo Comerford had convened a call between lawmakers and two Cabinet secretaries: COVID-19 Command Center head Marylou Sudders and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. "At this hour I'm leading a call w/ Sen. @Jo_Comerford for legislators to hear from & ask questions RE: the next phase of the Commonwealth's reopening plan w/ #COVID19MA Command Ctr's Secretary Sudders & @MassEOHED Secretary Kennealy," Driscoll tweeted around 2:15 p.m. Late Monday, after Baker announced that he will lift the state of emergency that he declared more than a year ago on June 15, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka said that they are seeking a "full list" of pandemic-era policies that could expire or change as a result of the change. -- Colin A. Young 2:18 PM Tue

Restaurant Foot Traffic on the Rise: Foot traffic to food and beverage establishments in the Greater Boston region is up more than 42.5 percent since the beginning of the year and analysts say they see plenty more growth on the horizon. The rise of foot traffic in the Boston area noted by Zenreach slightly outpaces the national average of 41 percent. The San Diego region has seen a 136.11 percent rise in foot traffic to food and beverage establishments, leading the nation. In the Northeast, Philadephia (68.2 percent rise), Baltimore (62.45 percent rise), and New York/New Jersey (61.36 percent increase) outpace Boston. "Retailers should leverage these cues to start planning their ramp-up strategies: whether it’s expanding business hours, re-hiring, or picking up marketing efforts. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, we anticipate that these trends will continue to gain momentum moving forward," Megan Wintersteen, vice president of marketing at Zenreach, said. In Massachusetts, businesses will be free of state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions by May 29. -- Colin A. Young 2:05 PM Tue

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