BOSTON (SHNS) – More than 13,000 people in Massachusetts have now died of confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to Wednesday’s report from the Department of Public Health, which added 5,278 new cases and 86 recent deaths to the state’s tallies.
Since March, 13,082 Bay Staters have died from the respiratory disease, and another 277 have died with likely COVID-19 cases. A total of 427,752 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, 2,200 of whom are currently hospitalized. The DPH considers 90,467 people to have active cases of COVID-19.
The seven-day average positive test rate stands at 7.11 percent, below the 8.58 percent of two weeks ago and well above the 3.39 percent positivity rate logged two months ago.
During the last two weeks, 14,178 cases have been recorded in people age 19 and younger, and 13,838 among people in their 20s. At the other end of the age spectrum, people in their 70s accounted for 3,871 of the last two weeks’ cases, and 2,910 were in people age 80 and older.
The next chapter of the state’s effort to inoculate its population will begin Monday, when vaccination starts for the roughly 94,000 people living and working in congregate care settings like group homes, shelters, residential treatment programs and correctional facilities. The residents and staff of low-income and affordable senior housing are now expected to get vaccinated sometime next month, Gov. Charlie Baker said.
Baker also announced he was re-filing an unemployment rate relief bill that stalled out at the end of the past legislative session earlier this month, urging lawmakers to send a completed bill back to him by March.
- Baker Admin Awards $78.5 Mil in Business Grants: Another $78.5 million in grant funds is headed to small businesses struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baker administration announced Wednesday. The latest round of grants will flow to 1,595 individual businesses in industries such as food service, retail and health care that have been hit the hardest by changing consumer behaviors and mandatory safety restrictions. With the new grants, the administration has now awarded nearly $195 million to 4,119 small businesses from the $668 million relief fund officials announced on Dec. 23. “Understanding how significant the need for financial assistance is, we’ve taken important steps to ensure these resources are directed toward the businesses that have historically been at a disadvantage even before the pandemic, or are located in communities, especially Gateway Cities, that have suffered disproportionately because of this virus,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a statement. Applications are due for the related Sector-Specific Small Business Relief Grant Program by 11:59 p.m. on Friday ahead of awards in February.
- Pressley’s Husband Tests Positive For COVID: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s husband, Conan Harris, tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday following a violent insurrection in Washington that saw thousands of people storm the Capitol Building and lawmakers shelter in close quarters. Harris has experienced mild symptoms and remains in isolation along with Pressley and staff in close contact, her office said. “As my colleagues and I sought shelter from the white supremacist mob that violently attacked our seat of government, we were greeted by a different threat — one posed by my callous Republican colleagues who, in this crowded and confined space, repeatedly refused to wear masks when offered,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement. Pressley also called for a strict mask mandate for individuals at the Capitol including fines and removal from the House floor for those who do not comply as the lower chamber carries out impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. “While Conan and I will remain in isolation in the coming days, I will continue to carry out my duties as the Representative for the people of the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District and look forward to holding this lawless president accountable for endangering our lives and our democracy,” she said.
- Vaccine Interest Varies By Race in Boston: Willingness to get vaccinated for COVID-19 differed significantly among ethnic groups in Boston, a newly published survey found, raising concerns among experts that neighborhoods with larger nonwhite populations may take longer to reach a safe level of immunity from the highly infectious virus. Based on a survey of 921 Boston residents conducted in September, researchers said Tuesday that roughly one out of every five Hub residents say they do not intend to get vaccinated once it becomes available to their population group. The rates of interest vary widely: among White respondents, only about 10 percent said they definitely or probably do not plan to get a vaccine, compared to 49 percent of Black respondents and 26 percent of Latinx respondents not planning to pursue immunization. That trend likely fits into national patterns “related to general mistrust in government and the health care system in particular,” authors wrote, creating a need for city officials to plan neighborhood-level vaccination strategies that can reach different populations. “We know that neighborhoods continue to be characterized by race and ethnicity,” they wrote. “If some groups are less likely to get vaccines and they tend to live in majority-minority neighborhoods, it may take longer to get vaccination levels to the percentage of people needed to mitigate spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.” The survey, a joint effort from the Boston Area Research Initiative, UMass Boston’s Center for Survey Research and the Boston Public Health Commission, found several other factors associated with greater reluctance to get a COVID vaccine, including presence of children in a household and lower formal education.
- Brookline Suspends School Sports: A recent order from Brookline’s Department of Public Health put a pause on all school athletics programs through at least Feb. 1, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases in the community and “contacts and exposures related to athletic competitions at schools.” The order applies to all public and private schools, and municipal officials plan to evaluate in late January whether the programs can resume. “While we do not want to see the cancellation of games and practices for our students’ athletics programs, but there have been cases of COVID-19 directly linked to sports, and we need to take all the steps we can to protect everyone in town, including youths who may be at risk when participating in sports,” Dr. Swannie Jett, the town’s public health commissioner, said in a statement. On Wednesday, Brookline officials announced they’d expanded the order to also pause non-school related recreational sports.
- Bloomberg Tracker Measures Vaccine Administration by State: At nearly 43 percent, Massachusetts on Tuesday ranked ahead of states like Alabama (23.1 percent) and Arkansas (29.4 percent) but behind states like West Virginia (66.6 percent) and Connecticut (60.4 percent) in COVID-19 vaccines administered, according to a Bloomberg tracker. Across the U.S., 3 doses have been administered for every 100 people, and 36 percent of shots distributed to states have been administered, Bloomberg reported, describing “uneven progress toward herd immunity.” For Massachusetts, the tracker estimated about 204,000 doses administered out of just over 476,000 doses received. The tracker also measures vaccine administration by country.
- Pediatricians: Vaccine Distribution “Fragmented, Uncoordinated”: Calling it an “urgent problem that must be addressed now,” the 67,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics said its members are still in the dark about vaccine distribution plans but eager to help. “Pediatricians across the country are frustrated at the uneven and haphazard distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” AAP President Lee Savio Beers said Tuesday. “Many AAP members and other physicians have no clear path to receiving the vaccine, especially those who do not work for a large medical center or hospital system. Those who have been immunized have limited information on next steps to share with their patients, practices and communities.” Calling for “clear and immediate action,” the group urged federal health officials to disburse vaccine funds allocated to the states in the late-December COVID-19 relief bill signed by President Trump. “While we look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration on this and other health challenges that impact children over the next four years, this urgent problem must be addressed now. Infection rates and deaths continue to climb. There is not a moment to waste, and we are ready to help,” Savio Beers said.
- CDC Order Will Require Negative Test For U.S. Air Arrivals: Effective Jan. 26, all air passengers entering the U.S. must have a negative COVID-19 test, the Centers for Disease Control announced Tuesday, citing the emergence of new variants of the virus and increased transmission. Under the order signed by CDC Director Robert Redfield, air passengers will be required to get a viral test within the three days before their flight to the U.S., and provide written documentation of their lab test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery, the agency said, and if a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding. “Before departure to the United States, a required test, combined with the CDC recommendations to get tested again 3-5 days after arrival and stay home for 7 days post-travel, will help slow the spread of COVID-19 within US communities from travel-related infections. Pre-departure testing with results known and acted upon before travel begins will help identify infected travelers before they board airplanes,” the CDC said. The U.S. is “already in surge status,” the CDC noted, predicting the new requirement would help slow the spread of the virus as more Americans are vaccinated. “Testing does not eliminate all risk,” said Redfield. “But when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”