BOSTON — Massachusetts begins its fifth week under a state of emergency continuing to prepare for the peak that, according to the Baker administration's modeling, could start any time between Friday and April 20.
Hospitals are working as quickly and as thoroughly as possible to manage already-heightened needs and position themselves for the forthcoming surge, opening new intensive care units for COVID-19 care or, in the case of Steward Health Care's Morton Hospital, designating an entire facility solely to treat patients who contract the illness.
Gov. Charlie Baker had predicted a week ago that about 1,000 ventilators from the national equipment stockpile, but on Sunday, he said only 100 had arrived. More of the 1,400 requested should arrive "over the next two weeks," he said.
Through Sunday afternoon, the Department of Public Health confirmed 12,500 COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, 231 deaths linked to the disease and 1,145 patients hospitalized.
Boston officials implemented new restrictions on Sunday, including an advisory for all residents to remain at home between 9 p.m and 6 a.m. and the suggestion that all residents wear masks outside their homes.
Lawmakers will return to work Monday with several coronavirus-related bills still needing action from one or both branches, and legislative leaders will hold a weekly teleconference with Baker to privately discuss priorities.
The governor and First Lady Lauren Baker will visit Eastern Bank's corporate headquarters Monday afternoon to "make an announcement relative to supporting vulnerable populations across the Commonwealth," an event rescheduled from Friday. - Chris Lisinski
Civil Rights Group Warns of Disproportionate Impacts: While some states do not publish race and ethnicity data about coronavirus patients, the information available so far indicates that African-Americans are "disproportionately impacted by the pandemic," the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said Monday. African-Americans in some parts of the country have less access to COVID-19 testing, the group said, which leads to delayed care, more community spread and higher mortality risks. The organization will host a national press call at 12 p.m. Monday to announce "new action being taken to address the crisis" of racial disparities amid the pandemic. - Chris Lisinski 10:18 AM
Tracking COVID Symptoms: Doctors and scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King's College London and Stanford University School of Medicine teamed up with a health science company called ZOE to develop a smartphone app to study the symptoms of COVID-19 and track the spread of the highly contagious virus. Through the app, participants can report their health status daily and give researchers a better idea of where coronavirus hotspots might be. "If enough Americans share daily how they feel, even if they're well, this app can provide the healthcare system with critically valuable information," lead MGH researcher Dr. Andrew Chan said. "This app-based study is a way to find out where the COVID hot spots are, new symptoms to look out for, and might be used as a planning tool to target quarantines, send ventilators and provide real-time data to plan for future outbreaks." -- Colin A. Young 10:16 AM
Biz Alliance Backs House MCAS Approach: A bill the House passed Thursday that would grant Education Commissioner Jeff Riley authority to modify or waive requirements around MCAS testing has the support of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. Ed Lambert, the alliance's executive director, described his group as a "leading supporter of MCAS" and said that, amid the public health crisis, school districts "should be primarily focused on delivering high-quality content, moving learning forward, and supporting students' social and emotional health." "Certainly, state education officials should have the flexibility to modify, if they deem appropriate, the application and use of MCAS for this school year," Lambert said in a statement. "Additionally, it is wise to limit its use for accountability purposes and to allow for flexibility with regard to the competency determination for current twelfth graders. We believe that these decisions are best made in real time by the state's Education Commissioner when the moment is right and more is known about immediate and future needs." The Massachusetts Teachers Association, meanwhile, has been calling for MCAS exams to be canceled this year. - Katie Lannan 10:15 AM
Steward Opening COVID-Specific ICUs: Citing a "dramatic escalation in cases," Steward Health Care announced plans Sunday night to open intensive care units solely for treatment of COVID-19 patients at most of its hospitals across the state. Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Morton Hospital in Taunton, Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton and St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton will set up new COVID-specific ICU beds. St. Elizabeth's, Good Samaritan and Holy Family Hospital in Methuen all have two ICU departments, and Steward Chief Medical Officer Joseph Weinstein said they would keep one COVID-free as long as possible to limit risk of transmission for patients with pre-existing conditions. St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River will also limit COVID contact as long a possible, Weinstein said. "Like other hospitals, the Steward family of hospitals has seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients seeking medical care," Weinstein said in a press release. "These patients often require minute to minute care with life sustaining machinery, medications and personnel who are at the bedside ready to react to any and all changes. Every critical care unit across the Commonwealth has been overwhelmed by the large numbers of sick patients as well as the acuity of these patients. This trend will accelerate in the coming days and weeks." - Chris Lisinski 10:09 AM
Amherst Student Firefighters: As firefighters in Amherst prepare for busy weeks of responding to COVID-19 calls, the department is getting backup from a handful of University of Massachusetts Amherst students starting this week. Five student firefighters from the Student Force -- a longstanding partnership between the university and town -- have been promoted to full-time at the Amherst Fire Department, which the school said will bring the department back to full staffing through June. The five student firefighters -- Dan Averill, Briana Baker, Ethan Gorman, AnnMarie Marquis and John Miller -- spent last week learning aspects of the job that they don't typically deal with as student members and this week will be assigned to full-time shifts as firefighters and EMTs on the town's ambulance. "Filling all the open positions with temporary firefighters brings our crew strengths back up to full. This will help take some of the burden off the existing members, and give us a small buffer should the pandemic hit hard here, increasing our EMS traffic, or worse rendering a portion of our workforce unable to work due to illness," Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren said. "So far we have seen a decrease in overall call volume given the various shutdowns in the area including the colleges, but also a small increase in calls for 'flu like symptoms.'" -- Colin A. Young 9:51 AM
Taunton Senator "Outraged" By Hospital Plan: Sen. Marc Pacheco slammed Steward Health Care's plan to transition Morton Hospital in Taunton to a facility exclusively for treating COVID-19 patients, warning that it would "abandon its responsibility to provide inpatient care and cause great harm" to patients in the area. Pacheco, a Democrat, asked the Baker administration in a Sunday press release to intervene and stop Steward's plan to terminate essential non-coronavirus services at Morton, urged Attorney General Maura Healey to investigate the decision, and called for Taunton city officials to pursue legal action. "The residents of Morton’s primary service area depend on this regional facility for essential inpatient care," Pacheco said. "Steward simply cannot relinquish its responsibilities to the families, seniors, veterans, and hardworking individuals living within Morton’s primary service area – especially where other viable options for treating COVID-19 patients are readily available." A more equitable option, Pacheco said, would be for Steward to select a hospital from a different area with greater health care infrastructure to designate as coronavirus-exclusive. Steward began the transition at Morton on Saturday, mirroring similar changes it made last month at Carney Hospital in Dorchester. - Chris Lisinski 9:37 AM
Governor's Monday Schedule: As the fourth week of a state of a emergency draws to a close, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday afternoon is scheduled to teleconference with Beacon Hill legislative leaders and then join his wife to make an announcement that had been originally planned for last week. The governor and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will talk with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka at 2 p.m. for their semi-regular leadership meeting, according to the schedule his office released Monday morning. At 3:45 p.m., the governor will be at Eastern Bank's corporate headquarters with First Lady Lauren Baker to "make an announcement relative to supporting vulnerable populations across the Commonwealth." That announcement had been planned for last Friday afternoon, but was postponed. The event is expected to also include an update on the state's coronavirus efforts. The governor's office said a livestream will be available. -- Colin A. Young 9:31 AM
Advocates Back House Version of Housing Bill: More than 200 Massachusetts community groups, advocacy organizations and labor unions on Monday urged the Senate to adopt a House version of a housing security bill and for Gov. Charlie Baker to sign the final product by the end of the week. Although hearings are not proceeding during the state of emergency under a court order, the groups wrote that more than 480 eviction cases have been filed since March 16 and that some sheriffs have delivered foreclosure notices. Lawmakers need to pass a strong moratorium, the groups said, to "close loopholes" that leave tenants and homeowners exposed to certain removal actions or in fear that they need to move into shelters during the pandemic. "We’re hearing from vulnerable tenants and homeowners who are scared and confused," City Life / Vida Urbana Executive Director Lisa Owens said in a press release. "People are demanding protection, and a moratorium that covers both tenants and homeowners is past due. We need our elected officials to act now." Some groups previously expressed concern that a Senate version (S 2621) of housing security legislation is missing important components, then praised the House version (H 4615) that passed Thursday. - Chris Lisinski 9:20 AM
MBTA Walks Back Some Service Changes: Changes in MBTA bus service will not take effect Monday as originally planned. One day after outlining the latest update to bus schedules which included eliminating some lines and running regular weekday service on others, the T announced Friday that "no bus service revisions will take effect on Monday." Most routes will continue to run Saturday service, including the Routes 19 and 245 that had been targeted to start running on normal weekday schedules amid the coronavirus outbreak. Officials said they will deploy more frequent buses during peak travel times on routes where they have noticed high ridership. Several buses that the T planned to shutter due to low ridership will also remain operational on reduced schedules, including Routes 325, 326 and 501. The MBTA is grappling with the simultaneous challenges of ensuring enough service is in place for essential workers while also protecting drivers — more than a dozen of whom have contracted COVID-19 — and responding to depleted ridership. A full summary of bus schedules is available online. - Chris Lisinski 9:03 AM
AIM Sees Role as "Friend in Adversity": Associated Industries of Massachusetts reports that its membership "remains strong and is, in fact, expanding" as the business trade group provides services to employers during the pandemic. AIM's Beacon Street offices are closed, but AIM President John Regan, in a thank you note on Friday, wrote that staff have been working for the past four weeks to help the group's 3,500 members understand a "cascade of governmental orders and regulations" associated with the pandemic. "We have been on the phone with employers reduced to tears because they could no longer keep their employees working," Regan wrote. "We have helped manufacturing companies answer the call to re-orient their production to make much-needed medical equipment. We have worked with companies to determine whether they are essential enough to continue operating." - Michael P. Norton 7:58 AM