BOSTON (SHNS) – As the second surge of the virus rages on here, Massachusetts moved to the precipice of 300,000 coronavirus infections with the confirmation Thursday of 4,985 new cases of COVID-19.
The latest cases announced by the Department of Public Health bring the state’s total case count to 297,301 infections since Feb. 1. The 44 recent COVID-19 deaths that DPH announced Thursday hiked the death toll to 11,558 people with confirmed or likely cases of the virus.
Massachusetts also moved to the precipice Thursday of 10 million coronavirus tests. The 92,627 new molecular tests included in Thursday’s report raised the number of tests conducted since the virus was first discovered earlier this year to 9,901,732. In recent weeks, Massachusetts has processed well more than 100,000 tests some days. The seven-day average of the positive test rate remained at 6.02 percent in Thursday’s report.
Thursday’s report from DPH said there were 1,871 people with COVID-19 hospitalized as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, an increase of 20 from the day before and an increase of 680 patients since the beginning of December. There were 383 people being treated for COVID-19 in an intensive care unit, including 207 who needed a ventilator to help them continue to breathe.
About 1,398 of the 9,321 non-ICU beds that Massachusetts hospitals currently maintain remain open and could be staffed within 24 hours, representing about 15 percent available capacity. In ICUs, there are about 412 beds that could accept new patients within 24 hours — about 28 percent available capacity of 1,472 total ICU beds, DPH said.
DPH estimated Thursday that 76,215 people currently have active cases of COVID-19, a number that is almost equal to the population of Lawrence.
- Most Cities and Towns Now in the Red: More than half of the cities and towns across Massachusetts now face the highest risk level possible for COVID-19 as determined by the Department of Public Health’s metrics. In Thursday’s weekly report updating the color-coded spreadsheet, 187 of the state’s 351 municipalities were marked red, reflecting both high percent positivity rates and high figures of cases per 100,000 residents. That’s an increase from 158 communities in the red last week, and also is the first time that a majority of the state’s communities reached the most worrisome level outlined by DPH. The number also reflects a rapid deterioration in risk designation: on Nov. 6, when the Baker administration changed its metrics for determining city and town health outlooks, only 16 were in the red. Last week, the statewide two-week daily incidence rate was 50 cases per 100,000, and in Thursday’s report, the rate increased to 65.1 cases per 100,000.
- Schools Report More than 1,000 Cases: The number of new COVID-19 cases reported out of K-12 schools in Massachusetts grew again this week, topping 1,000 for the first time since the Department of Elementary and Secretary Education began publishing weekly tallies of the district-submitted data in October. Over the week from Dec. 10 through Dec. 16, school districts, education collaboratives and approved special education schools reported 591 cases among students participating in hybrid or in-person learning and 418 among staff with building access. The total 1,009 cases — in a pool of around 450,000 students and 75,000 staff in public school buildings — is up from 923 new cases last week and 527 the week before. New Bedford had the most student cases, with 33, more than double the next-highest number of 15 reported out of Marlborough. With 10 each, Quincy, Fall River, Brockton and Worcester topped the list for new staff cases. New Bedford also had nine staff cases, as did Leominster.
- At Least One Rep Is Vaccinated: Rep. Jon Santiago, who pulls double duty as an emergency department doctor at Boston Medical Center, got his COVID-19 vaccine Thursday and tweeted a video of the jab. “Ta-da!” he said after being given the first of two doses required to achieve full protection. Santiago’s vaccination capped off a whirlwind 24 hours for the Boston representative, who had spent the last several months in Kuwait on deployment with the U.S. Army Reserve. “Back in Boston! Wrapped up the deployment today, then voted to expand reproductive rights, took care of a medical emergency on the flight, and then surprised the wife,” Santiago tweeted Wednesday evening.
- Senator: National Health Outlook a “Dumpster Fire”: Elected officials and health experts have been urging the public for weeks to pare back their traditional holiday plans and avoid travel that could contribute to the spread of COVID-19. With Christmas Eve just one week away, Sen. Julian Cyr made a similar plea Thursday — just in more colorful terms. “If you’re traveling right now, unless it’s absolutely essential, you really should be reassessing your travel plans,” he said during a Cape Cod Reopening Task Force call with reporters. “If you think things are bad in Massachusetts, go look at the rest of the country. This is not a technical term, but I think the term ‘dumpster fire’ would be appropriate for what’s going on.” As of Thursday, the COVID Exit Strategy map run by public health and crisis experts labeled every state but Hawaii as having “uncontrolled spread” of the highly infectious virus, the worst of four risk levels assigned.
- Five Reps Appeal to Baker to Tighten Restrictions: Five House Democrats called on Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday to shut down indoor dining, casinos, and other nonessential indoor activities as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state. Reps. Mike Connolly of Cambridge, Tami Gouveia of Acton, Jack Lewis of Framingham, Michelle DuBois of Brockton, and Denise Provost of Somerville sent the letter to the governor more than a week after he rolled the state back into Phase 3, Step 1 of the state reopening plan. That decision reduced capacity at a series of businesses from 50 to 40 percent and set additional restrictions on restaurants. “While we appreciate the announcement you made last week — implementing a modest rollback of the reopening by moving those communities that were in Phase III, Step 2 back to Phase III, Step 1 — unfortunately, we believe a lot more has to be done to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” the legislators wrote in their letter. In announcing the reopening rollback, the Baker administration said it was responding to an increase in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations since the Thanksgiving holiday. “The days of most people doing most of the right things are probably not enough, but we’re asking everyone to join us and step up their vigilance every day, in every setting — work, home, school, everywhere,” Baker said at the time. Noting that further restrictions would “cause even more economic harm to some of our most vulnerable residents and small businesses,” the lawmakers said they would support a state-level relief package. The group called for new taxes on wealthy households and large corporations, use of remaining CARES Act funds, and to further tap into the state’s “rainy day” fund.
- Encore Restaurant Closes After Gathering Issue: The Mystique restaurant at the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett has closed at least through the end of the calendar year after an incident there on Dec. 6 caught the attention of the Mass. Gaming Commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau. On Sunday, Dec. 6, the restaurant operated by Big Night Entertainment had more guests than usual due to an “industry night” for people who work in the hospitality industry, Interim Director of the IEB Loretta Lillios said. The restaurant was not over capacity, but guests seated at the bar and those seated at a long, narrow high-top table near the bar ended up mingling and making COVID-19 safety restrictions unhelpful. Lillios said that the area “looked less like a typical dining sit-down restaurant setting and more like an informal gathering. Some guests did not remain seated at their dining spot and rather they walked around the area socializing.” She said restaurant management “recognized that this was not an ideal situation and they closed the restaurant early.” After closing early for the night, Big Night Entertainment made the decision to shut Mystique down until some time in 2021. Lillios said the decision was made entirely by management and was not the result of any conversations with the Gaming Commission’s IEB. When the restaurant reopens next year, it will be subject to a review by the IEB, she said.
- Brookline Launches Winter Outdoor Dining Pilot: A new pilot program launching in Brookline will allow eligible restaurants to extend their outdoor dining options through the winter. The town also plans a “pop up tent pilot program,” in which requests for sidewalk pop-up canopies or tents to shelter customer waiting areas will be approved on a case-by-case basis, and is extending until March 31, 2021 a temporary program allowing retailers to display goods on public sidewalks. The winter outdoor dining pilot will run through the same date. Municipal officials will provide temporary barriers for restaurants whose outdoor areas use street space. Brookline restaurants that use public sidewalks for outdoor seating will be able to keep doing so, “with the stipulation that all outdoor dining furniture and materials must be temporarily removed from the sidewalk and other parts of the public way in the event of inclement weather,” according to a letter the Select Board sent to business owners.
- 80 Total Casino Worker Cases: Since late June when the state’s slots parlor and two casinos were first required to report any positive cases of COVID-19 among their employees to the Mass. Gaming Commission, the three facilities have reported a total of 80 coronavirus cases. Loretta Lillios, interim director of the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, said Thursday morning that the cumulative number of workers employed at the three gaming facilities ranged from 4,400 to 6,300 during the timeframe that those 80 cases were discovered and that employees who have tested positive largely indicated that they believed they contracted the virus from a member of their household. Lillios said the Gaming Commission has not identified any “concerning trends” or concentration of cases among employees. She told commissioners Thursday that the slots parlor, casinos and gamblers have been complying with COVID-19 safety restrictions, and that the casinos have remained below their already-limited capacity allowances.