Massachusetts launching new vaccine program for homebound residents

Coronavirus Local Impact

Massachusetts coronavirus. (Fusion Medical Animation/Unsplash/Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay)

BOSTON (AP) — Residents who can’t leave their homes to travel to a mass vaccination site or other vaccine distribution location can take part in a new statewide homebound vaccination program, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday.

“We’re working to ensure everyone has access to a vaccine once they become eligible, including those who can’t leave their homes due to medical conditions or other circumstances,” Baker said at a Statehouse news conference.

The state’s COVID-19 command center has been working to set up a program to vaccinate people at their homes. Baker said the efforts will take advantage of the experience of local boards of health and the Commonwealth Care Alliance.

The program — which will launch on Monday — allows local boards of health to vaccinate homebound folks on their own or to partner with the state. The program will use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one shot.

There are estimated 25,000 homebound people statewide who are unable to get to a vaccination site and are eligible for the program.

Baker also said the state is expecting to see an increase in vaccine supply from the federal government next week and is setting aside an additional $100 million for four hard-hit communities: Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph.

Massachusetts should receive about $7.9 billion from the federal pandemic aid package, with about $3.4 billion of that going to counties, cities, and towns. The $100 million in state aid is meant to make up for a shortfall in federal aid to those communities, Baker said.

In-classroom teaching

The public school systems in Massachusetts’ two largest cities have been granted more time by state education officials to ready their classrooms for the return of elementary school-age students to full-time, in-person lessons.

Boston and Worcester, both granted exemptions Wednesday, are among 64 districts statewide that Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley exempted from a mandatory April 5 reopening for pre-K through fifth grade.

Boston plans to bring students up to eighth grade back on April 26, while Worcester will bring them back on May 3, district officials said.

“This updated timeline ensures that we have adequate time to prepare facility and transportation modifications and allows us time to communicate information to families in a timely manner,” Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius wrote in a letter to parents.

“In addition, every day more and more BPS staff members are receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, which will help to make our school communities feel more safe and comfortable for students, staff and families.”

Riley encouraged Worcester to begin full-time in-person learning earlier than May 3 if possible.

Riley denied waiver requests from nine districts, including five that had requested to delay the return of all students until past April 26: Wareham, Easthampton, Gloucester, Malden, and Hill View Montessori Charter School.

The state has directed middle schools to fully reopen by April 28, while a return date for high schools has not been scheduled.

Parents retain the right to keep their children in full-time distance learning for the remainder of the school year.

Campus outbreak

A Massachusetts college issued a stay-in-place order for all students who live at an on-campus student apartment complex after confirming more than a dozen COVID-19 cases among residents.

Students who live at the Flagg Townhouse complex at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams can leave their residences only to pick up food from the dining program, get medical help or undergo COVID-19 testing, school Vice President Gina Puc said in a statement Wednesday, according to The Berkshire Eagle.

The school has confirmed 13 cases among the complex’s 242 residents.

Residents must attend classes remotely, she said. All other students can continue to attend in-person classes. Students who violate the stay-in-place order face discipline.

The cluster is being blamed on “close, social contact in settings where masking, social distance, and other CDC mitigation measures are not being followed consistently,” Puc said.

The school has also suspended all athletic activity.

The numbers

There were 2,274 new cases of the virus reported Thursday in Massachusetts, bringing the state total to more than 586,000. The state reported 39 new deaths, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 16,671.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were 631 people hospitalized with the virus Thursday. Of them, 137 were in intensive-care units.

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