BOSTON (SHNS) – Another 789 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Massachusetts on Saturday, bringing the state’s total caseload to 96,301.

The Department of Public Health also reported 50 new deaths attributed to the respiratory disease. The average age of people who have died in Massachusetts from COVID-19 is 82, and the county with the highest rate of deaths is Hampden County, where a string of deaths and COVID-19 cases at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home are the subject of multiple investigations.

A total of 6,768 people have died from COVID-19 in Massachusetts since March 20, when state officials reported the first death linked to the novel coronavirus. Sixty-two percent of those deaths occurred in long-term care facilities. Saturday’s report showed 1,904 people hospitalized for coronavirus, with 453 people battling the disease in intensive care units.

Gov. Charlie Baker has one week remaining to act on a bill passed Thursday that spells out COVID-19 data reporting requirements for the state and calls for elder care facilities — including nursing homes, the soldiers’ homes in Chelsea and Holyoke, and assisted living facilities — to make daily COVID-19 reports to their local health departments. The bill (H 4672) would also create a task force to address health disparities that underserved communities face in the pandemic.

“I think it’s a really strong statement, particularly now, that we value our populations and our communities of color, our disability community, our elders. In a time of what’s going on in Minneapolis, it’s a statement that we all need to focus on accountability and racial justice,” Senate President Karen Spilka said of the bill, referencing George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota who died after he was pinned down by a police officer with a knee on his neck.

Asked about the bill during his Friday afternoon press conference, Baker indicated he was still reviewing it.

“Obviously we care a lot about reporting,” the governor said. “We’ve done a lot of work to enhance our reporting here in the commonwealth. We think it’s important.”

Kennedy Proposes Nursing Home Reforms:

Responding to the COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities both in Massachusetts and nationally, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III has put forward a slate of reform proposals. Kennedy’s plan calls for additional oversight at soldiers’ homes and would require all such facilities to have an infectious disease specialist on site, with funding provided by the VA. Soldiers’ homes would also need to annually prepare and submit to the VA a plan for responding to public health emergencies and other disasters. At nursing homes, Kennedy is proposing increased Medicaid reimbursements, measures to incentivize workforce growth, enhanced infection control, and national data reporting requirements. More than 60 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts have been in long-term care facilities, and Gov. Charlie Baker is reviewing a bill passed this week that calls for additional data reporting from elder care facilities. “Tens of thousands of seniors and veterans have died in this country in recent weeks because our nation failed to keep them safe in the midst of a pandemic,” Kennedy said in a statement. “People who built this country into what it is today were helpless as an infectious disease swept through overwhelmed, underfunded homes. These proposed reforms must be enacted to save lives today as we recover from COVID-19 and tomorrow as we rebuild in its wake.”

White House Touts Mass. PPE Shipments:

Federal shipments of personal protective equipment to Massachusetts nursing homes began arriving on May 14, with more shipments scheduled to arrive at more homes through May and early June, according to Vice President Mike Pence’s office. As the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Pence on April 30 directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate shipments of personal protective equipment to more than 15,000 nursing homes across the country, with each shipment providing a 14-day supply of PPE to staff working in the homes. According to Pence’s office, FEMA planned to send the first shipments with a seven-day supply starting in May, and a second wave in early June, and the gear includes eye protection, masks, gowns, and gloves. Full List of Mass. Nursing Home Shipments

Voting Rights Group Concerned With Committee Bill:

COVID-19 is driving the push to expand early voting and mail-in voting options in Massachusetts but one advocacy group has concerns about the proposal that the Election Laws Committee is polling out this weekend, with a possible floor vote in the House this week. Every registered voter in Massachusetts would receive an application by mid-July to request a ballot to vote by mail in the 2020 elections under the committee bill, which is intended to create more options for voters to safely participate in the electoral process during the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal for expanded voting-by-mail would be coupled with in-person early voting before the Sept. 1 primary and the Nov. 3 general election, and traditional Election Day voting at polling stations. While grateful for the proposal, the non-profit voting rights group MassVote prefers that voters be mailed ballots, rather than applications. “Though an application is certainly better than nothing, voters must still return that application, receive a ballot, and return that too,” the group said in a statement. “They must also pay for postage in returning both the application and ballot. This continuous mailing will place more work on voters and local election officials, taking up more time and costs than would come with simply mailing everyone a ballot automatically.” The group’s second concern is over administrative burdens on local election officials. MassVote estimates that 3 to 5 percent over voters vote absentee in Massachusetts, but the average was 30 percent in special Senate elections this month, with as many as 60 percent in some municipalities. “Local election officials struggled to count all of the absentee ballots in these elections in a timely manner, and many were not counted because of delays in the mailing process,” MassVote said. “Instead of asking local election officials to process dozens or hundreds of absentee ballots, we are asking them to process thousands, if not tens of thousands. This is unfair. It also makes us worry that we will emulate the April 7 Wisconsin Presidential Primary, where thousands of absentee ballots went uncounted.”

Cape Task Force Launches Website:

The Cape Cod Reopening Task Force announced the launch of a new website, ReopeningCapeCod.Org, that will host health data, industry-specific reopening guidance from the state, and information from 19 local industry-specific working groups, along with expectations for Cape visitors and seasonal residents. The task force is also posting its twice-weekly public situational reports, with updates on its activities and objectives, on the site. “The public deserves to have access to the Task Force’s work and confidence that the process of crafting regional reopening guidance has been as collaborative and inclusive as possible,” Provincetown Rep. Sarah Peake said in a statement. There is also a portal for submitting public comments on the website; the panel said it has so far received more than 400 public comments from seasonal and year-round residents.