JUNE 24 -- The widespread outbreak of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home and the circumstances that allowed the situation to deteriorate as it did were in the spotlight Wednesday as an investigation into the home was made public.
Gov. Charlie Baker said that he accepted the resignation of Francisco Urena, his veterans services secretary, and that he is "moving to end the employment" of Bennett Walsh, the home's superintendent, after reading the report. He also said he plans to file reform legislation, which he is expected to detail Thursday.
The daily update on the coronavirus from the Department of Public Health contained a mix of good news and bad news Wednesday, with some metrics heading in a positive direction and others heading in the wrong direction. DPH also released fresh numbers Wednesday showing that recoveries from COVID-19 continue to outpace new infections.
On Beacon Hill, the House passed a $1.1 billion spending bill to cover COVID-19 expenses and to put the state in a better position for obtaining federal reimbursement for costs related to the pandemic.
"Today we are taking one step closer and helping relieve the financial burden that COVID-19 has inflicted while also helping some prepare for the coming months, as the virus continues to inflict pain and with a vaccine still a ways away from being a reality," House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz said as he detailed the bill for representatives, many of whom participated remotely.
Also Wednesday, a new poll showed that Massachusetts residents continue to be unsure about returning to their normal pre-pandemic activities like eating in a restaurant dining room or taking the MBTA. -- Colin A. Young
Recoveries Outpacing New Infections: COVID-19 recoveries continue to outpace new infections in Massachusetts, data released Wednesday by the Department of Public Health show. The number of active and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts dropped by nearly a third in the last week, from 5,361 patients isolated with COVID-19 as of last Wednesday to 3,606 COVID-19 patients isolated as of this Wednesday. While the state added a total of 1,108 test-confirmed cases of the respiratory disease over the last week, 2,679 people recovered from their bouts with COVID-19 and were released from isolation over the same time span, DPH said. Of the 102,762 test-confirmed cases in Massachusetts, 91,404 people -- or 88.9 percent -- have recovered and 7,752 have died. The 3,606 patients currently isolated represent 3.5 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts since Feb. 1. -- Colin A. Young 4:43 PM Wed
Commerce Department Announces CARES Act Grants: The U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration announced Wednesday that it is awarding $400,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grants to the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District in Taunton and to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that the grants would provide the regions "with the necessary resources to make a swift and lasting economic comeback." Dana Gartzke of the Economic Development Administration said the money would "build the capacity of the Greater Boston region to respond to COVID-19 impacts through resilience planning and support of small business, workforce, and real estate development, municipalities, and economic development practitioners." In southeastern Massachusetts, Gartzke said the investment would expand "staff capacity to deliver needed assistance to twenty-seven municipalities and vital area businesses sectors, including fishing, agriculture, manufacturing, marine science, and technology." - Katie Lannan 4:06 PM Wed
Baker: Neighboring States Can't Mandate Visitors Quarantine: Governors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced a new joint policy Wednesday advising travelers from nine states with high COVID-19 infection rates to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, but Gov. Charlie Baker said such a restriction is impossible to guarantee. Baker said at a Wednesday news conference that he is aware of the developments, but that his peers "can't mandate it" because "it's not constitutional." Massachusetts pursued a similar policy in the form of a recommendation months ago. "We currently have a 14-day advisory in place to quarantine that's been in place now for several months, no matter where you come from, to Massachusetts," Baker said. Under the new proposal from the tri-state area governors, individuals and groups who travel from states where the seven-day rolling average test rate for COVID-19 is greater than 10 cases per 100,000 residents or higher than 10 percent of the total population would need to quarantine. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference the current list is Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas, according to video published by NBC New York. - Chris Lisinski 4:06 PM Wed
Good News, Bad News in Wednesday Update: The latest update from the Department of Public Health on the status of COVID-19 in Massachusetts was again a mixed bag. Wednesday's report added 172 new cases to the state's total, which was fewer than on Tuesday, but it also reported the recent COVID-19 deaths of 48 people, three times as many deaths as were announced Tuesday. The report showed the seven-day average of the positive test rate holding steady at 1.9 percent and the three-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths remaining at 23, but two other key metrics regressed in Wednesday's report. The three-day average number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized rose from 933 to 937, and the number of Massachusetts hospitals still relying on their COVID-19 surge capacity now stands at four. Ten days ago, only one hospital in the state was still using its extra capacity. As of Wednesday, the state's cumulative case count is 107,611 and the virus's death toll is 7,938. Wednesday's report was the first to show that now more than 5,000 residents of Massachusetts long-term care facilities have died of probable or confirmed COVID-19. Long-term care facility residents now account for 63 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts. -- Colin A. Young 4:00 PM Wed
Home Testing Available in Ipswich: Ipswich residents identified as close contacts of people with COVID-19 will now be able to get tested in their homes. The town on Wednesday announced a new partnership with Action Ambulance Service that aims to make testing accessible for people who can't get to a testing site. "When an Ipswich Public Health nurse interviews a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case in the community, they will coordinate home testing if the resident is interested in the service and unable to get to a site, including those without transportation, unable to drive, housebound and without childcare," the town said in a news release. "An Action Ambulance representative will then call to schedule the testing at the resident's home." Action Ambulance is also offering home testing in Wilmington and Winthrop. Ipswich officials said they have not identified a new COVID-19 case in the town since June 3. "The number of new cases appears to be slowly declining, but as restrictions begin to loosen with each of the state's re-opening phases, it is increasingly critical for us to be able to rapidly identify COVID-19 patients and their close contacts," Ipswich public health director Colleen Fermon said in a statement. - Katie Lannan 3:34 PM Wed
Feds Launch Tool to Explain Paid Leave Eligibility: American workers can use a new online portal to determine if they qualify for COVID-related paid leave outlined in part of a federal coronavirus relief law. The tool, launched Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Labor, asks participants a series of questions to determine if their employers must comply with Families First Coronavirus Response Act paid leave coverage and to make clear if employees should seek paid sick leave or extended family and medical leave. Workers can get a varying amount of paid time off at regular or reduced wages if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, quarantined, or caring for family members or children. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees will receive federal tax credits as reimbursement for the costs of paid leave. - Chris Lisinski 11:58 AM Wed
Pressley Pushes $50 Billion Annual Transit Investment: Led by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and other co-chairs of the Future of Transportation Caucus, more than 20 U.S. representatives urged House leadership to invest $50 billion per year in American public transit systems impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency funding, they said, could help agencies purchase more vehicles, personal protective equipment and sanitizing gear while increasing service to limit the risk of virus transmission. Congress directed $25 billion to public transportation in the CARES Act, and the House included another $15 billion in the HEROES Act that has not yet been taken up in the Senate, but Pressley and her colleagues called for continued additional investment. The group also called for the federal government to subsidize fares for vulnerable riders who rely on transit during the pandemic. "While overall ridership has markedly decreased, our most vulnerable workers who are deemed essential continue to rely on transit to commute to work," they wrote. "With ridership decreasing and tax revenues falling due to a lack of consumer discretionary spending because of high unemployment, transit agencies may not see revenue return to 2018 and 2019 levels for years." - Chris Lisinski 11:49 AM Wed