BOSOTN (SHNS) – Massachusetts has done well at limiting the spread of COVID-19 during the three-plus months of its reopening process, but the next few weeks could be pivotal as students return to school, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.
In his first public appearance since Thursday, Baker said he wanted to get a clearer sense how the start of the K-12 academic year and the fall semester at colleges and universities goes before deciding whether to take another step toward allowing more public activity.
Baker also touted the state’s positive test rate, which has hovered at a low 0.9 percent for a week.That rate dropped to 0.8 percent, a new record low, in Wednesday’s daily data report.
With the start of the school year around the corner for most districts, a state labor board ruled Wednesday that Andover teachers engaged in an illegal strike when they refused to enter school buildings for training.
Congress remains at an impasse over another relief package, and Baker warned that the action President Donald Trump took to keep some additional unemployment benefits flowing is not sustainable and hinted that state officials might need to make budget decisions without any federal aid.
Labor organizations asked state officials to strengthen workplace protections aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, and Baker said that 92 inspections in five high-risk communities last week uncovered 47 COVID-19 violations. – Chris Lisinski
Wednesday DPH Case Update:
State public health officials reported 182 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four more confirmed deaths linked to the virus Wednesday as the positive test rate reached a new record low. The seven-day average positive test rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point to 0.8 percent in Wednesday’s report, the lowest since Massachusetts agencies began tracking that rate. The number of currently hospitalized patients climbed from 328 on Tuesday to 338 on Wednesday, while the number of those in the ICU grew from 47 to 49. Including both confirmed and probable fatalities, the cumulative death toll in Massachusetts now stands at 9,146 as of Wednesday, while the Department of Public Health has confirmed 121,396 cases of the highly infectious coronavirus since the outbreak began.
Kennedy Institute Reopening With Group Reservations:
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate plans to open to group reservations on Wednesdays at the beginning of October. The institute on Columbia Point in Dorchester announced its plans Wednesday, saying it will reopen in accordance with federal, state and city rules and through the use of mobile ticketing, contactless entry, touch-free exhibits, one-way walk paths, hand sanitizing stations, and an increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas. “The health and safety of our visitors is priority number one,” said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, board president and co-founder of the institute. “Our team has worked diligently these last few weeks to follow state and local guidelines to plan for a safe and enjoyable experience for our guests, and we are excited to be able to welcome them back.” The institute also announced new virtual and online public and educational programs dealing with voting and social justice. “Institute programming this fall will be complemented by new virtual field trips, conversations, and tours with Institute staff made available to students, teachers, and groups on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Educational experiences at the Institute, such as Today’s Vote and The Citizen’s Senate, along with its exhibits, will use digital devices, immersive role playing, and simulation to teach civics and inspire the next generation of leaders.”
Baker: Focus is On School Reopenings This Month:
Massachusetts is entering a crucial stretch in its journey through a global pandemic: the return of K-12 education and in-person college activities. Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that those are “both really big and really important deals in Massachusetts,” citing the impending transition to students coming together as something his administration wants to “get through” before considering whether to loosen some of the remaining restrictions on public activity. “They’re hugely important for kids and families and educators, and the college return is particularly important as well for many people who work at colleges and universities,” Baker said at a press conference when asked what he would need to see to take another reopening step. “For the next couple of weeks, our focus really ought to be there, and we’ll talk about other stuff when we get past that.” School districts and higher education institutes are taking varying approaches to their fall semesters, with about 70 percent of K-12 districts opting for either a full or partly in-person model, according to the administration. Massachusetts has been on a gradual path toward reopening since mid-May, and Baker paused the progression in early August during a span of slightly elevated infection rates. Offering a message to those frustrated with the pace, Baker said Wednesday that “the vast majority of our economy is open” and cited the state’s ability to avoid backtracking. “I’m as frustrated as anybody about the fact that there are still elements of our economy that, for one reason or another, aren’t open, but anybody who watched what happened in the South and in the Midwest with respect to bars and nightclubs should understand why, as much as those organizations are distressed and suffering under this current period of time, it was pretty clear they played a significant role in significant outbreaks in many states where they were permitted to reopen,” Baker said. Baker said he supported Northeastern University’s decision to dismiss 11 first-year students caught violating social distancing rules. “I think this sends a pretty powerful message about that, despite the fact that it’s obviously a really terrible blow for the kids and the families that are involved,” he said.
Guv Sees “Excellent Progress” in Many Communities:
Communities across Massachusetts have made “excellent progress” slowing the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday, and the administration will continue efforts to increase testing and enforcement in cities and towns where infection rates remain high. Baker told reporters at a press conference that 190 communities — or 54 percent of those in the state — have recorded five or fewer COVID-19 cases since mid-August, a clear sign of progress. Another 46 have fewer than four cases per 100,000 residents, Baker said, while 47 more have controlled the virus enough to push themselves down a risk category in the administration’s color-coded assessment. State officials ramped up on-the-ground support in Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lynn and Revere over the weekend, targeting those five communities because of “dangerously high levels of transmission there,” Baker said. “We launched a new set of tools through the COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Team to increase enforcement, education and public health resources and awareness in these communities, and this included multilingual education campaigns,” Baker said. “We all have the same goal, which is to keep COVID out of these communities and do everything we can to help keep people safe.” Last week, the Division of Professional Licensure made 92 inspections of businesses in those five communities and found 47 violations of COVID-19 risk mitigation practices, Baker said.
School Health Office Guidance:
The Department of Public Health on Thursday issued a new round of guidance for school health offices, which includes information on the use of personal protective equipment for staff, hand sanitizer protocols, procedures for working with students with special health care needs, and communication with local boards of health. The document also spells out expectations for isolating students who develop or present COVID-19 symptoms while at school. Such students should be assessed by a school nurse, then “referred to the designated medical waiting room for pickup by a caregiver,” the guidance said. Staff supervising students in the medical waiting room must wear PPE, and the type of protective equipment depends on how closely they’ll come in contact with symptomatic students. Students in the medical waiting room must wear a mask, and the mask should be of the disposable surgical variety. If the student had been wearing a cloth face mask, the school staff should provide a disposable mask and, while wearing gloves, place the cloth mask in a plastic bag to return home with the child, then dispose of the gloves and wash their hands. The guidance said there may be situations where multiple students experience COVID-19 symptoms at the same time. Those students should be kept in separate isolation spaces if possible but “identifying multiple isolation rooms in a given school building is likely very difficult,” the guidance said. If multiple students are sharing the waiting room, they must remain masked and six feet apart, and partitions can be used to create an additional barrier.