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Coronavirus Updates For Western New England: States Opening Field Hospitals Ahead Of 'Surge'

Members of the Connecticut National Guard unload equipment on March 31 for a 250-bed field hospital at Southern Connecticut State University. A similarly-sized field hospital is being set up in Worcester.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
Members of the Connecticut National Guard unload equipment on March 31 for a 250-bed field hospital at Southern Connecticut State University. A similarly-sized field hospital is being set up in Worcester.

Visiting the Worcester arena that's being turned into the state's first COVID-19 field hospital, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday disclosed plans to set up a similar operation at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to bolster the capacity of the health care system as the state prepares for a surge in coronavirus infections in the coming days. 

Baker has projected a surge will arrive in Massachusetts between April 7 and April 17. He said during a Wednesday press conference at the DCU Center that testing for the virus is a "key part" of determining where resources will be needed.

In addition to the DCU Center and the BCEC, Baker said state officials are involved "basically in daily conversations" about other sites that could provide extra hospital beds and skilled nursing capacity. They're looking at capacity regionally, he said.

"There are going to be ultimately strategies for the Cape, for the South Coast, for Western Mass., for Merrimack Valley and for Boston, and each strategy is going to be based on the existing capacity that exists in each of those places, and what people's anticipated requirements in a surge are going to demand," Baker said.

Baker said the state will "do everything we can to make sure that we put in place the capacity that people believe they need" to treat both COVID-19 patients and those with other acute health needs.

As Baker spoke and uniformed National Guard members moved behind him setting up cots and other equipment between full-length curtains, the Department of Public Health published new data showing that the total number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations linked to the virus all continued to climb.

For the second day in a row, 33 new deaths were reported, bringing the state's total to 122. Eight of the new deaths were from western Massachusetts counties. Overall, 7,738 cases have been confirmed, out of the more than 50,000 people who have been tested. 

Connecticut's 'tragic milestone'

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont delivered some grim news at his daily coronavirus update Wednesday — a reminder that COVID-19 is not just deadly for seniors.

"We have a tragic milestone in Connecticut: Probably the youngest person ever to die of COVID has died here in Connecticut. That baby was less than 7 weeks old," Lamont said. "It just is a reminder that nobody is safe with this virus."

Lamont said the infant from the Hartford area was brought to an emergency room late last week and could not be revived. The governor said testing confirmed that the baby had COVID-19.

Lamont spoke in front of an athletic complex at Southern Connecticut State University that'll serve as a 200-bed makeshift hospital. Similar facilities will open soon at other state universities, in preparation for an expected surge in coronavirus cases.

Connecticut on Wednesday announced 16 additional deaths tied to COVID-19, bringing its total to 85 so far. The state also announced 429 new laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease. Overall, the state has recorded 3,557 positive tests.

Elsewhere in New England

Vermont reported three new deaths related to the virus. The state, so far, has disclosed 16 fatalities and 321 confirmed cases.

Rhode Island officials announced two new deaths in their update Wednesday, bringing the state's total to 10, with 566 positive tests.

Maine's death toll also increased by two, to seven overall. The state has announced 344 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

And in New Hampshire, an additional death was announced, bringing the total to four. To date, 415 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

Investigation of reported deaths at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

Responding to a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, Baker tapped an attorney Wednesday to independently investigate recent deaths there.

Mark J. Pearlstein, a former federal prosecutor in Boston, was appointed to lead the inquiry. He is a partner at a Boston law firm, focusing on several areas — including defense of white-collar crimes as well as facilitating internal investigations. When reached Wednesday for comment via email, Pearlstein said he didn't think it was appropriate for him to comment on a pending investigation.

The state on Wednesday updated its numbers from the Soldiers' Home, which now include 15 recent deaths — two more than were announced Tuesday. But one of those two residents tested negative for COVID-19, according to a state spokeswoman, and the other test is pending. Overall, six of the dead have tested positive, two negative, six pending and one listed as "unknown."

Also Wednesday, the Chelsea Soldiers' Home has reported its first death linked to the coronavirus. At least two residents and two employees there have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those residents, one has died. It’s unclear when the death occurred. One other resident and two employees are waiting on test results, state health officials confirmed Wednesday. A spokesperson said those who tested positive are being quarantined, and the facility is following state and federal guidelines for cleaning and infection control.

Census Day under a stay-at-home advisory

Wednesday marks Census Day across the country, a day that typically involves public events designed to encourage the submission of census forms. With residents in New England largely advised to stay at home, cities and towns are looking for ways to reach out.

Several communities in Massachusetts, including North Adams, Brockton and Westwood, plan to make reverse-911 calls to households, according to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. The calls will ask residents to go to the Census website and ensure they are counted.

"Every person who responds to their census now is helping to reduce the need for a census worker to go door-to-door later," Galvin said in a statement.

Census counts are used to determine how much federal aid states receive, and Galvin said the current situation around the coronavirus "reinforces the significance of making sure Massachusetts gets its fair share of federal resources for things like public health programs and hospitals."

Connecticut children's hospital delays surgeries, furloughs 400

Connecticut Children's Medical Center has furloughed 400 workers due to the coronavirus outbreak. Officials with the Hartford-based health care system say the outbreak has caused surgeries to be delayed and a decline in the number of patients. The 60-day furloughs affect about 14% of the health system's workforce.

The Hartford Courant reports that Connecticut Children’s has had about a dozen patients with COVID-19 symptoms, and is offering to accept children from other hospitals to free up more beds for adults infected with the virus.

Vermont prepares for coronavirus ‘surge’ capacity

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has activated the Vermont National Guard to boost health care capacity across the state. Scott said he’s worried about a hospital bed shortage in the state since that has been an issue in regions hardest hit by the virus.

Guard members have spent the last week creating “surge” capacity three Vermont locations. Plans include overflow capacity for hospitals at an auditorium in Barre, an athletic facility in St. Albans, and at Patrick Gym in Burlington.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to test COVID-19 treatment

A university hospital in New Hampshire is set to begin testing a potential treatment for COVID-19. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is one of nearly 100 sites involved in the clinical trials worldwide. Researchers are testing an intravenous anti-viral medication that was used during the West African Ebola outbreak several years ago. The drug has also shown promise in treating diseases caused by other coronaviruses, such as SARS. 

The medication will be tested in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Researchers will test 5- and 10-day courses of the medication in people with severe and moderate infections. Across the globe, about 1,000 patients are participating in the study.

Researchers said this kind of trial typically takes weeks to organize. Dartmouth-Hitchcock got ready for theirs in six days, including by fitting personal protective equipment for around two dozen nurses who will administer the drug to patients.

Limit on customers in Connecticut grocery stores

Grocery retailers in Connecticut say they have been recovering from recent panic-infused spikes in consumer demand. Now they say they’ll limit the number of customers allowed inside grocery stores.

The new guidelines from the Connecticut Food Association will cap crowds at no more than 50% of a store’s local fire code capacity — and will be enforced by store staff. Wayne Pesce, president of the association, said some of the member stores agreeing to the changes include Stop & Shop, Big Y, ShopRite, Price Rite, Adams Hometown Foods, Geissler’s, Highland Park Market and IGA.

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

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