JUNE 4 – Gov. Charlie Baker did not have a press briefing on Thursday, skipping a turn in front of the cameras for the second time this week as he prepares to make a major announcement Saturday about the state's readiness to move to Phase Two of reopening.
All systems appear to point toward go. The key indicators that Baker has been watching - positive test rates and hospitalizations, among them -- continued to trend downward with the Department of Public Health reporting that the seven day average for positive tests was 5.7 percent.
DPH reported 50 new fatalities from COVID-19 on Thursday, and another 412 confirmed cases and 59 probable cases.
However, a coalition of public health and community groups representing underserved populations said they don't think Massachusetts is ready for Phase Two, and won't be until the state strengthens protections for workers and does more testing and data collection.
The Massachusetts Public Health Association and other groups released a list of demands they said should be met before Baker triggers the state's move into Phase Two.
New claims for unemployment benefits slowed last week to 27,034, about 10,000 fewer than a week earlier and roughly one-seventh as many as the highest weekly level observed in late March.
Without Baker to share the spotlight with, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh held a press conference Thursday during which he said that despite the violence and vandalism of Sunday night's protests it was a "good week" for Boston, and he urged white residents to "just listen" to their Black neighbors and coworkers.
Walsh also said that in the city of Boston recoveries from COVID-19 are outpacing confirmed new infections, and he expects restaurants to be given the go ahead to open for outdoor dining service on Monday. -- Matt Murphy
Thursday DPH Update: State public health officials reported another 50 confirmed fatalities linked to COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the death toll in Massachusetts since the outbreak began in March to 7,201. The Department of Public Health reported another 412 confirmed cases and 59 probable cases Thursday, pushing the cumulative total to 102,063. Four key statistics the Baker administration is tracking -- the number of hospitals using surge capacity as well as rolling averages of positive molecular test rates, patients hospitalized, and deaths -- continued the steady downward trends they have been on since early May. Officials did not change the status of the six indicators crucial to progress in the reopening plan, deeming the positive test rate and testing capacity as on positive trends and total deaths, hospitalizations, health care system readiness and contact tracing capabilities as "in progress." - Chris Lisinski 4:49 PM Thu
Boston, Milton Launch Support Fund: Community leaders in Milton and several Boston neighborhoods will launch a fund to help vulnerable families cover the costs of rent, food, utilities and other important needs. Working with United Way, the town of Milton and communities of Mattapan, Hyde Park and Dorchester announced the Neponset Neighbors Together Fund on Wednesday. The program will be funded by tax-deductible donations, and aid will be distributed through nonprofits already working in the communities to families in their network. "Our families have been deeply impacted by this public health crisis, with a high incidence of infection, serious illness and casualties, and when we work together, we can ensure that the most vulnerable among us have the resources they need to weather this crisis," the fund said on its website. Those interested can donate online or by mailing checks to United Way of Massachusetts Bay, PO Box 51381, Boston, MA 02205-1381 with checks made out to United Way of Massachusetts Bay listing Neponset Neighbors Together Fund in the memo. - Chris Lisinski 4:32 PM Thu
Delegation Seeks Two-Month Extension of Meals Waiver: Ninety-five school districts and community organizations in Massachusetts will need to close sites providing free meals to children during the COVID-19 pandemic unless the U.S. Department of Agriculture extends a waiver set to expire on June 30, according to members of the state's Congressional delegation. "We urge you to swiftly extend the area eligibility program waivers for Massachusetts and other states through August 31, 2020, to ensure continuity of meals throughout the summer," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the federal agency. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received a USDA waiver in March to allow more school districts and community groups to provide free meals to children, with facilitators able to be fully reimbursed for meals in areas where fewer than 50 percent of children received free or reduced price lunches. The expansion helped make meals possible for children in need of help due to their parents being laid off or facing other financial challenges. In seeking the waiver extension, delegation members described a continuing "widespread and urgent" need for child nutrition as Massachusetts continued to deal with COVID-19 and its impacts. "National hunger relief organization Feeding America recently estimated that one in five children in Massachusetts will experience food insecurity in 2020, up from one in ten children before the pandemic," Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other delegation members wrote in their letter to USDA Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps. - Michael P. Norton 3:43 PM Thu
Local Relief Deadline Extended: The Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services on Thursday announced that cities and towns will have an extra week to submit their applications for fiscal year 2020 coronavirus relief funds. The applications were initially due Friday, but instead DLS said it will accept the applications until next Friday, June 12. The distribution of federal relief funding is meant to cover specific COVID-19 response costs that fit the parameters established by the federal CARES Act. A memo from Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan laid out the state's approach to distributing the federal dollars to municipalities. "The distribution announced today, adjusted for funds paid directly by the federal government to Boston and Plymouth County, represents 25% of the state's allocation from the Coronavirus Relief Fund," he wrote. "We anticipate that in most cases, these funds will be sufficient to address incurred or expected eligible COVID-related expenses, while maintaining necessary flexibility to allocate additional funds if unanticipated needs arise, or if federal rules change." -- Colin A. Young 1:25 PM Thu
DOC Completes Universal Testing in Prisons: The Department of Correction announced Thursday that it met its goal on Monday of conducting universal COVID-19 testing, with 7,679 tests performed as of Wednesday and many inmates having been tested more than once. So far, according to the DOC, 390 inmates have tested positive, for a positivity rate of 5.07 percent. Of those cases, 339 inmates have recovered and about 50 have an active diagnosis. There have been three or fewer positive cases at 11 of the 16 facilities that DOC oversees, with no positive cases at seven facilities. The testing was conducted by mobile teams consisting of DOC employees and workers at Wellpath, which provides medical services to the department. The Department of Fire Services and Brewster Ambulance Service also helped with testing. Mobile testing will continue within all facilities on a "strategic basic" and "any inmate who meets criteria for testing is tested, and any inmate requiring a hospital level of care is hospitalized." The department confirmed eight COVID-19 deaths to date. - Michael P. Norton 1:14 PM Thu
No Cases at Chicopee Women's Facility: Testing of the women incarcerated at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center in Chicopee revealed no cases of COVID-19 there, Hampden Sheriff Nick Cocchi announced Thursday. At the sheriff's department's main institution in Ludlow, 614 men were tested for COVID-19 and 12 of those tests came back positive. After those results came back, restrictions put in place during a temporary medical lockdown were lifted, Cocchi's office said, and "almost every housing unit has returned to the same level of privileges which were in place before the temporary medical lockdown." The department next plans to test everyone receiving treatment at the Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center in Springfield. - Katie Lannan 11:24 AM Thu
Six Harvard Grad Schools Online for Fall: Six Harvard University graduate schools plan to hold their courses entirely online in the fall, amid continued uncertainty about what the public health landscape will look like in a few months. The T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Law School, Kennedy School, Graduate Scoool of Education, Graduate School of Design and Harvard Divinity School all made the announcements Wednesday. Harvard officials annuncedin May that their entering classes of medical and dental students would begin their studies remotely in the fall 2020 semester. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which includes Harvard College, has not yet announced fall plans, nor has the Harvard Business School or Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Kennedy School's Douglas Elmendorf said in a message to students that the two factors that "loomed largest" in making the decision were a "substantial risk" of a COVID-19 flare-up on campus and the degree of distancing expected to be required in the fall. "We would need to severely limit students access to campus, teach a substantial share of class sessions remotely, and significantly constrain in-person gatherings, including in spaces such as the Forum and the dining area—which is not the campus life we value and seek to offer," Elmendorf wrote. The state's reopening plan calls for colleges and universities to all develop their own restart strategies after shifting to remote learning this spring. - Katie Lannan 9:26 AM Thu