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Coronavirus Updates For Western New England: Mass. Governor Expects Surge Of Cases In Next Few Weeks

A sign on Boston's Southeast Expressway on Saturday, March 28, urged travelers arriving in Massachusetts to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Michael P. Norton
State House News Service
A sign on Boston's Southeast Expressway on Saturday, March 28, urged travelers arriving in Massachusetts to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The surge in coronavirus cases long expected by public health officials could start to hit Massachusetts between April 7 and April 17, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday, stressing the importance of taking steps to prepare additional health care capacity. 

With the state's testing apparatus up to thousands of patients per day, confirmed COVID-19 cases have recently been increasing at a rapid pace. Massachusetts reported a total of 5,752 cases Monday afternoon and 56 deaths attributable to the disease.

That's an increase of nearly 800 cases and eight deaths since the state's report Sunday afternoon. The new deaths were all of patients residing in the eastern part of the state. It's unclear if deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home have already been included in the numbers.

During his daily press briefing Monday, Baker said the trend — according to at least some models — could hit its apex in the next eight to 18 days.

"This isn't an exact science, but generally speaking, most of the calculations that are out there with respect to Massachusetts, both some of the ones we've done and some of the ones other people have done, suggest that the surge here is probably going to start somewhere between (April) 7th and the 17th," Baker said.

State officials continue to prepare to manage and mitigate the peak. Baker identified four key areas of focus: protective gear, hospital bed capacity, ventilators and staffing.

Baker announced that the federal government — which he criticized last week as handcuffing states' efforts to acquire protective equipment — will send more than 1,000 ventilators to Massachusetts, which will make a "big difference" to the most critical patients. He said he expected the ventilators to arrive by week's end.

The state also received another shipment of personal protective equipment from the national strategic stockpile over the weekend, and local manufacturers have begun working with the administration to supplement supplies. Baker said New Balance will begin manufacturing face mask prototypes in its Lawrence factory and then ramp up production across New England.

Elsewhere in New England

Connecticut on Monday reported two additional deaths. Overall — 36 residents of the state have died as a result of COVID-19, with 2,571 people testing positive. That's an increase of 578 from Sunday's report.

Rhode Islandhas now reported four deaths associated with the virus. The state said Monday that 408 people have tested positive.

Vermont's death total held at 12. The state on Monday reported a total of 256 cases

Maine on Monday reported it now has 275 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19. The state has attributed three fatalities to the disease.

New Hampshire reported Monday a total of 314 laboratory-confirmed cases. It now has recorded three deaths attributed to COVID-19.

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

All these 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.

Sarno: 'Get it through your thick head'

Springfield city officials have a message for residents continuing to gather in groups during the coronavirus pandemic: Cut it out. During a weekly city hall media briefing Monday, the director of facilities management, Pat Sullivan, said he got word of 60 people golfing.

"All active recreation is closed in the city of Springfield," Sullivan said. "We will be placing logs now at the parking lots.

Mayor Dominic Sarno underscored the message that tennis and basketball courts are also off-limits.

"Please, please. Talk about being selfish. Don't do it. The cavalry will be out there. Police will be out there," he warned. "This is not only for your city, its for yourself and your family members and friends. Get it through your thick head: Don't do it."

Springfield's health commissioner noted that with at least 45 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city, residents should behave as if everyone is infected.

Northampton Survival Center director explains temporary shutdown

The director of the Northampton Survival Center said the food pantry's decision to close for the next two weeks was driven by a shortage of staff.

Four of the 7 full-timers are unable to work, according to director Heidi Nortonsmith. She said none of her employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but some are not well, others were advised to quarantine or are immunosuppressed in some way.

"When we were deemed an essential service, that was good news. We could stay open and help feed hungry members of our community," Nortonsmith said Saturday. "But this is an essential service that's run by people. We're human beings with immune systems. And right now many of those immune systems are not up to the challenge of being in the building together, in a close quarters."

Nortonsmith called the decision "devastating and heartbreaking" — knowing the impact it could have on the center's clients. She said she hopes to reopen April 13th, and for now is working to get the pantry's food distributed elsewhere by other organizations.

UMass research suggests sterilized face masks remain effective

Research at UMass Amherst has shown that the medical face masks hospitals and health care workers rely on as they fight the coronavirus remain effective and safe for use after being sterilized. The initial results of what UMass deemed "urgent research" indicates that "there is no real difference in filtration between a new mask and one that has been sterilized," UMass professor and researcher Richard Peltier said, meaning the current short supply of N95 masks might be able to last longer and help ease the critical shortage of personal protective equipment for health care providers.

"While these are ordinarily disposable protective devices for medical workers, these are not ordinary times," Peltier said. "And this science shows that sterilized face masks will protect our health care providers who are working under extraordinary conditions."

Vermont orders 14-day isolation for those arriving in state

The state of Vermont is ordering people who arrive in the state to quarantine themselves for 14 days to help reduce the risk of spreading the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The restrictions were contained in an order issued Monday by Governor Phil Scott. They apply to both Vermonters and out-of-staters arriving for anything other than "an essential purpose."

The governor took the additional action after federal guidance that advised residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days. As of Monday, Vermont reported 235 cases of COVID-19, up from 211 on Saturday. There have been 12 fatalities.   

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

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