BOSTON (SHNS) – As Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday prepared to deliver a State of the Commonwealth address that will thank Massachusetts residents for the sacrifices they’ve made fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Public Health reported 2,215 new cases of the highly contagious virus and 41 recent deaths among people with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Counting the 13,930 fatalities in confirmed COVID-19 patients and another 290 among people with probable cases of the respiratory disease, a total of 14,220 people in Massachusetts — roughly equal to the population of Mashpee — have lost their lives to the pandemic. Another 85,395 are estimated to have active cases of COVID-19, according to the DPH.
The new cases reported Tuesday, from 49,701 new tests, bring the state’s total caseload to 481,617 since Feb. 1, 2020. When Baker delivered his last state of the state speech, on Jan. 21, 2020, the novel coronavirus had not yet been detected in Massachusetts. Seven weeks later, he would declare a state of emergency.
A Baker aide said the governor’s address this year will be “very different” from the ones he’s given in the past and will celebrate those who contributed to the state’s fight against COVID-19 across a year of difficult choices.
Some relatively positive trends in public health data prompted Baker to lift an overnight stay-home advisory and 9:30 p.m. business curfew on Monday, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Tuesday announced he, too, would be easing some restrictions.
Walsh announced that businesses and institutions like fitness centers, museums and movie theaters that had been closed since mid-December will be able to resume operations next week, progressing the city to Phase 3, Step 1 of the Baker administration’s reopening plan.
- Biden Administration Expanding Vaccine Distribution: The Biden administration plans to increase weekly vaccine distribution to states, triple the period of time that states receive vaccine supply forecasts, and purchase another 200 million doses by the summer as part of a multi-tiered plan to ramp up immunization efforts. For at least the next three weeks, the federal government will make a minimum of 10 million doses available to states, tribes and territories, about 16 percent higher than the current level, the White House said in a summary of the plan. The administration will also offer three weeks of “look-ahead” information about vaccine supplies that states receive rather than just one week. President Joe Biden announced his administration is also “working” to purchase another 100 million doses each of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, increasing the total order for the country by half, which he said could create enough supply to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer. Massachusetts officials have called in recent weeks for additional action by the federal government to help ramp up local vaccination efforts, and Gov. Charlie Baker in particular has pushed to receive a longer-term outlook for distribution.
- Boston Marathon Eyed for Oct. 11: Boston Marathon organizers are tentatively targeting Monday, Oct. 11 as the date for this year’s race if road races can take place under Massachusetts regulations by that point, the Boston Athletic Association announced Tuesday. The association had postponed and then canceled the 2020 marathon when the pandemic hit, and it already pushed the 2021 race back from its traditional springtime date as COVID-19 continues to pose threats. “We announce the 2021 Boston Marathon date with a cautious optimism, understanding full well that we will continue to be guided by science and our continued collaborative work with local, city, state, and public health officials,” BAA CEO Tom Grilk said in a statement. “If we are able to hold an in-person race in October, the safety of participants, volunteers, spectators, and community members will be paramount.” Road races are not included until Phase 4 of the Baker administration’s phased reopening plan, which is contingent upon availability of vaccines or COVID-19 treatments. In a statement published by the BAA, Gov. Charlie Baker said his team “remain(s) hopeful that the 125th Boston Marathon can take place this October.”
- Teachers Unions Unhappy With Vaccine Shift: Leaders of the two statewide teachers unions are speaking out against the Baker administration’s decision to move people between the ages of 65 and 75 up in the COVID-19 vaccine priority order ahead of teachers and other workers eligible for the shots because of the public-facing nature of their jobs. The Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts said in a statement that they expect the change could delay vaccination for educators “by several weeks or more.” “The governor keeps pushing schools to reopen for in-person learning more quickly, regardless of the risks to staff and students, yet he has just made it much harder to do that safely,” AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos said. MTA President Merrie Najimy said, “The Baker administration must do a better job of balancing the needs of people at risk because of age and other factors with recognizing that people working with students need to be vaccinated. We had not opposed the original prioritization list because it had a rational basis and promised to deliver vaccines to educators in February. Now, those hopes may be dashed.” The unions also want to see municipal librarians and higher education employees moved into Phase Two, along with K-12 and early educators.
- Lowell Schools Push Back In-Person Instruction: Lowell Public Schools will stay remote at least through the February vacation week and are eyeing dates in March and April to bring larger groups of students back into the classroom. Superintendent Joel Boyd said in a Monday message to students, families and staff that the city’s school committee voted to push back the targeted return date for students in substantially separate special education programs, who had previously been participating in an in-person learning model, from Feb. 1 to Feb. 22. Boyd said the decisions were made “after weighing all factors — including the latest trends in the local COVID-19 data and the associated health and safety risks for students, staff and the broader community.” The district is planning to bring back other students who had previously been learning in-person on March 1, and on April 1 to expand the in-person model to include more students who were not assigned to in-person learning when the school year began.