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Coronavirus Updates For Western New England: Region's Death Toll Rises To 31

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker at a March 24, 2020, press briefing.
Matt Stone
MediaNews Group / Boston Herald / Pool
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker at a March 24, 2020, press briefing.

Massachusetts public health officials are reporting two more deaths related to COVID-19, as the number of people testing positive in the state pushed to 1,159. 

Massachusetts now has seen 11 deaths from the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Cases in the western part of Massachusetts also continue to rise, as the state increases its testing capacity.

On Tuesday, Vermont and Connecticut each reported two new deaths. Connecticut is at 12 deaths, and increase of two, with 618 total cases. Vermont's death toll rose to seven, out of 95 patients testing positive.

Maine has 118 positive cases, as of Tuesday, and Rhode Island's cases climbed to 124. Neither state has reported any deaths from COVID-19.

New Hampshire, as of this posting, had not updated its numbers from Monday, which reported one death and 101 patients testing positive.

Those numbers include "presumptive positive cases" identified by state and private labs, as well as cases confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials have said the numbers will continue to rise as testing capacity in the region expands. They've also said the data are incomplete, as not all patients with symptoms associated with the disease are being tested.

Baker wants to let restaurants sell alcohol with takeout, give state flexibility on school testing

A new bill Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is filing on Tuesday would allow restaurants to sell wine and beer with takeout orders, grant the state's K-12 education commissioner the authority to modify or waive MCAS testing requirements, and allow electronic signatures on search warrants and criminal complaints.

Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito discussed the bill, which they said was intended to cut red tape for municipalities during the coronavirus pandemic, during a noontime update. An emergency order from Baker closing "non-essential" businesses also kicked in at noon on Tuesday.

The governor also criticized partisan fighting in Washington, D.C., over a stimulus package and announced a new alerts service where people can text COVIDMA to 888-777 to receive updates on the state's coronavirus response.

Baker urged Massachusetts residents to stay at home except for trips out for essential needs — like grocery runs, pharmacy visits and walks for fresh air — and to use phone calls and video chats instead of visiting friends and family in-person.

Baker said 10 additional labs, in addition to the state public health lab, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, are now testing for the virus, and that the Department of Public Health has made 89 deliveries of equipment from the strategic national stockpile as of Tuesday morning.

Pushback from marijuana retailers

The Massachusetts recreational marijuana industry is hoping Baker changes his mind and decides to allow them to resume sales.

As of noon Tuesday, the stores were ordered to stop selling to so-called "adult-use" customers, part of Baker's ban on non-essential businesses remaining open during the coronavirus pandemic. Medical marijuana patients will continue to be able to buy.

"The adult-use side makes up a large portion of our sales," said Steve Reilly, an owner of INSA, which operates dispensaries in Easthampton, Springfield and Salem. "So I think our immediate response is, 'What does this mean for our employees? And what does this mean for the business?' So we've been kind of doing triage in addressing those issues right now."

Marijuana industry groups told The Boston Globe that Baker's move will push customers to the illegal market, and make it hard for users without prescriptions to relieve anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak.

Vermont setting up overflow medical facilities

The Vermont National Guard is helping to set up three overflow medical facilities as the state prepares for an increase in patients due to the new coronavirus. The facilities will be at Gutterson Fieldhouse at the University of Vermont, the Barre Municipal Auditorium and Collins Perley Sports and Fitness Center in St. Albans. The sites will be for the least sick who can be moved out of hospitals safely. 

Massachusetts emergency order continues waste collection

A state emergency order announced Monday is intended to ensure that intrastate waste and recycling collection and disposal in Massachusetts will continue uninterrupted during the COVID-19 emergency, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The agency said the order "provides relief from state and federal requirements that govern the hours of service allowed for commercial vehicle operators involved in waste and recycling transportation and collection, while maintaining important safety protections and measures." The order will be in effect until at least April 12.

NEPR's Heather Brandon, Sam Hudzik and Jill Kaufman contributed to this report, which includes information from State House News Service and The Associated Press.

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