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Coronavirus Updates For Western New England: Mass. Has Deadliest Day Yet, As Tracing Plan Announced

Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.
State House News Service
Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts surpassed 10,000 as the state wrapped up its fourth week under a state of emergency. 

Testing has continued to expand to thousands per day, contributing to an accelerating increase in total cases. The past 24 hours have been the deadliest yet attributed to the virus, with 38 new fatalities reported bringing the death toll to 192.

On Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced new plans to deploy as many as 1,000 people trained by the Partners in Health group to trace contacts of all patients who contract COVID-19, describing it as a first-in-the-nation effort to understand the full risks of transmission.

As the weekend sets in, restaurants are now able to sell beer and wine with to-go and delivery food orders thanks to a bill Baker signed into law Friday. Some jumped at the opportunity and immediately began advertising alcohol sales online.

Health and economic impacts of the outbreak continue to spiral outward. Unemployment claims are at record levels, but state revenues in March surpassed benchmarks by $83 million ahead of what will likely be a steep drop-off in April's numbers.

Infections, deaths will rise at Holyoke Soldiers' Home

The number of veterans from the Holyoke Soldiers' Home who have died since late March now stands at 21, including at least 15 who died of COVID-19, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said Friday. In addition to the deceased, all veteran residents at the state-run facility have been tested.

Sudders said 59 veterans tested positive for COVID-19 and 160 tested negative for the highly-contagious virus.

The home had already been put under the control of an interim superintendent and clinical command team, and an investigation into how the situation got out of hand was launched. But Sudders said Friday that the home has now added an infection control nurse to its staff and has split into separate units for veterans who have tested positive and for those who tested negative.

Of the 21 dead, 15 are confirmed to have had COVID-19, the results for three more deceased veterans are pending, two tested negative and one test result came back unknown, Sudders said.

"Despite the clinical command structure establishing order and medical protocols, COVID-19 is a highly-contagious virus that has a much more severe impact on older adults and those with underlying conditions," Sudders said Thursday afternoon."The numbers of infected residents and deaths will, unfortunately, continue to increase over the next coming days."

Vietnam-era veterans were the largest population at Holyoke, with 111 Vietnam veterans being treated there as of the latest report from the state Department of Veterans' Affairs. The home also served 66 veterans of the Korean War and 66 World War II veterans, according to the report. All but seven of the home's veterans were at least 70 years old. 

Elsewhere in New England

Connecticut on Friday announced 19 additional deaths of patients testing positive for COVID-19, bringing its total to 131 so far. The state has recorded 4,914 positive tests, including 1,090 new laboratory-confirmed cases announced Friday. 

The number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont jumped Friday by 51, the largest single-day increase since the disease was first reported in the state last month. Friday’s spike in cases brought the total number of reported infections up to 389. There are also 17 deaths associated with the disease. The increase comes as the state ramped up testing over the last week and allowed people with mild and moderate symptoms to be tested.

Rhode Island officials announced two new deaths in their update Friday, bringing the state's total to 14, with 711 people testing positive.

Maine's death toll increased by two, to seven. The state has announced 432 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

And in New Hampshire, two additional deaths were announced, bringing the total to seven. To date, 540 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

Regulators keep Massachusetts casinos shuttered until May 4

It will be at least another month before casino gambling starts back up in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Friday morning voted unanimously to extend the closure of the state's three gaming facilities — Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor in Everett — until at least noon on May 4, in keeping with the latest extension of the governor's essential work order and stay-at-home advisory.

"Not only is it mandated under the current order from the governor, but it's the right thing to do," Commissioner Eileen O'Brien said Friday during a meeting held via conference call.

Mass. firearms owners consider lawsuit over gun shop 'non-essential' label

A group representing firearms owners in Massachusetts says it's considering its options — including a possible lawsuit — now that the state has deemed gun shops and shooting ranges "non-essential" amid the COVID-19 outbreak. They were forced to close after Governor Charlie Baker removed them from a list of businesses allowed to stay open. This reportedly came after House Speaker Robert DeLeo pushed Baker to close the stores.

"I can still get my favorite cheeseburger, pizza, latte — whatever else I want," said Jim Wallace, who leads the Gun Owners' Action League of Massachusetts. "But suddenly, shooting ranges and retailers are a threat to public safety? That makes absolutely no sense to me."

Baker's office said the decision was made to maintain "as stringent a list as possible to ensure people continue to avoid unnecessary activities."

Northampton mayor cleared of COVID-19 symptoms

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who had been working in "strict isolation" after an onset of COVID-19 symptoms and then a positive diagnosis, announced Friday morning that he is feeling better and has been cleared to leave isolation.

"Pleased to report that I am symptom-free of #COVID-19 for 72hrs, feeling healthy & strong, and cleared to leave isolation," the mayor tweeted. "Thanks again for the kind support. I urge everyone to remain home, physically distance, and keep washing those hands. Stay safe and healthy, #NorthamptonMA."

Vermont seeking COVID medical help, even veterinarians

Vermont officials say they need volunteers with medical experience to help with the state's COVID-19 response. They even said they'd be willing to get help from veterinarians who could help treat human cases. Acting Human Services Secretary Michael Smith said these are unprecedented times that require unprecedented solutions.

The state has already put out a call for volunteers with medical experience and other skills, but more are needed. Hundreds of emergency hospital beds are being prepared for use as needed when the COVID-19 peak hits, expected later this month or in early May. Smith says officials don't know how those sites will be staffed. He's urging volunteers to sign up at a state website.

Lawsuit seeks immediate release of at-risk prisoners in Connecticut

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has filed a lawsuit seeking an emergency order that would force the state to release prisoners deemed to be at the most risk of contracting the coronavirus. The lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of four inmates and the the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Among those who would be released under the proposed order are inmates with compromised immune systems and other health conditions; those being held pretrial on minor charges or low bonds; and those within six months of the end of their sentence.  

Carpenters ordered not to work in Massachusetts

The North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters directed all of its members on Thursday to stop working on construction sites in Massachusetts from April 6 "until it is safe to do so." Public construction has continued in Massachusetts while many other fields have shut down to allow workers to stay home and away from possible coronavirus exposures.

In a letter to construction industry partners, NASRCC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Thomas Flynn wrote that contractors have been "unable to effectively establish and maintain" social distancing at job sites.

"In recent days as the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths has dramatically increased, it has become apparent that working on construction sites in Massachusetts is abnormally dangerous, and that continuing to work on construction sites poses and immediate threat of harm to the health and safety of my members and the public," Flynn wrote.

Flynn said the order does not apply to construction of facilities being built to address the coronavirus pandemic. 

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

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