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BOSTON (SHNS) – Public health officials confirmed another 3,477 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts on Monday and announced the recent COVID-19 deaths of 45 more people.

With Monday’s additions, Massachusetts has seen 479,402 confirmed cases of COVID-19, plus 24,286 unconfirmed but likely cases of the virus since the first patient tested positive here on Jan. 29, 2020. Since the state’s first COVID-19 death was announced in mid-March, the virus has killed 14,178 people with test-confirmed or likely cases of COVID-19.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rose slightly in Monday’s report from the Department of Public Health, from 1,946 patients as of Sunday’s report to 1,955 patients listed in Monday’s report. Of those patients, 418 are being treated in an intensive care unit, including 285 people who are on a ventilator to help them breathe.

Aside from the minor increase in hospitalizations, the rest of the state’s key COVID-19 metrics continued to trend in a positive direction, Monday’s report from DPH showed. The seven-day average positive test rate dipped again, from 4.85 percent to 4.82 percent (compared to 8.7 percent on Jan. 1). The seven-day average of confirmed new cases stands at 3,315.7, compared to 3,578.7 in Sunday’s update from DPH.

Though COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain at elevated levels, Gov. Charlie Baker said last week that the situation was improving enough to again begin easing restrictions on businesses and individuals. The state’s state-at-home advisory and 9:30 p.m. curfew for many businesses expired early Monday morning.

After a weekend in which Massachusetts’ COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts came under fire for being slow and confusing, Baker announced Monday afternoon that his administration will significantly ramp up COVID-19 vaccination infrastructure and move residents 65 years old or older higher up on the priority list. But getting a sufficient supply of the two approved vaccines from the federal government remains a challenge and could stymie the state’s best-laid plans, the governor said.

  • More Info Expected This Week on Teacher Vaccines: State education officials are expecting to receive additional written information about the vaccine rollout for K-12 educators by the end of this week from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Department of Public Health, and will share that information with local school districts “as soon as it becomes available,” Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley wrote in a Monday newsletter. School nurses are included in the ongoing first phase of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, along with other health care workers, while most K-12 school personnel fall into the second phase, after groups including people aged 65 and older and those with two or more health conditions that put them at high risk for COVID-19 complications. People age 75 and older will become eligible for vaccines next Monday, with other Phase Two groups expected to follow later in the month.

  • Hospital Workers Plan Standut at Faulkner: Health care workers plan a standout Tuesday at 11 a.m. outside Brigham & Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain to try and bring awareness to what 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers describes as “continued unmet needs since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The union said in an advisory on Monday that hospital management has not responded to the supports workers requested in a letter on Dec. 15. “Hospital management has refused hazard pay for workers while also refusing to appropriately staff the hospital,” the union said. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, workers have continued to provide critical, quality care to patients. They are overworked and not being listened to as they consistently demand the supports they need – and deserve – to recognize and respect their hard work and dedication.”

  • Hampden Delegation Wants Vaccine Update: State lawmakers from Hampden County are drawing Gov. Charlie Baker’s attention to what they see as a “significant disconnect between upcoming vaccine eligibility in future phases and the capacity for widespread vaccine distribution.” In a Friday letter to the governor, circulated by Sen. Eric Lesser and signed by 11 of his colleagues, the lawmakers ask for “increased coordination and preparation,” including an update for the delegation on the implementation and coordination of vaccine distribution for the vaccination plan’s upcoming second phase. “Though we appreciate the logistical challenges in boosting capacity and expanding vaccination sites, it seems a Herculean task for Hampden County to logistically handle vaccinations for the 75 and older population alone once Phase Two begins, according to your timeline, as early as next month,” they wrote. Calling for “fair and equitable access to vaccines” for regions that need it most, the letter says that Springfield was named the “Asthma Capital of the United States” in 2019 — it notes that asthma can lead to COVID-19 complications — and says that Hampden County is one of the state’s poorest, with the second-highest percentage of people of color.

  • Moderna Testing Booster to Combat New Variant: Cambridge-based Moderna will launch a clinical trial to study a potential COVID-19 booster shot after finding that its vaccine does not produce as significant a response to a new variant of the highly infectious virus first detected in South Africa, the company announced Monday. Moderna said the vaccine is still protective against two new, more infectious variants — B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom, and B.1.351, first identified in South Africa — but that it produces six times fewer neutralizing antibodies in cases of the South African variant. In response, Moderna plans to test a booster of its two-dose vaccine to increase immunization against new strains and start a clinical study of another booster aimed specifically at the B.1.351 strain. “As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves. We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost [antibodies] against this and potentially future variants.” Bancel did not offer a timeframe for the clinical trial. State public health officials announced last week that they have detected the UK-originated variant in Massachusetts, but it is not clear if the Department of Public Health has found any cases of the second new strain.

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