Regional News

News from the region from New England Public Radio, NPR, and other NPR stations.

MCAS Results Show Slide In Scores During Pandemic

4 hours ago
Massachusetts Education Secretary Jim Peyser talks to a fellow evacuee on Bowdoin Street after an emergency alarm interrupted the state Board of Education meeting in the McCormack State Office Building on September 21, 2021.
Sam Doran / State House News Service

The first MCAS tests administered in the COVID-19 era featured drops in scores "across the board," the Massachusetts education commissioner said Tuesday, saying the results show "everyone is going to have to step forward" to address kids' mental health and academic needs.

There’s been another delay in having an independent official oversee coronavirus mitigation efforts in state prisons.

Seth Peters, the first person appointed to the new position of ombudsman for the Department of Correction, was suddenly placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday after WBUR inquired about whether he is the same Seth Peters who was involved in a wrongful death lawsuit that UMass Memorial settled nine years ago.

Mayoral candidate supporters flash signs at cars outside of Joseph Metcalf School, a polling site for the 2021 preliminary election in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Nirvani Williams / NEPM

Michael Sullivan will face Joshua Garcia in November's general election for mayor in Holyoke, Massachusetts. They were the top two finishers in Tuesday’s preliminary.

Theta Chi, a fraternity at UMass, had extensive damage including broken building and car windows, after a September 19, 2021, protest over anonymous allegations of sexual assault at the fraternity.
Carol Lollis / Daily Hampshire Gazette /

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in front of a UMass Amherst fraternity house Monday for a second straight night following accusations of a sexual assault. The latest protest at Theta Chi was more peaceful than one on Sunday, which resulted in destruction of property at the frat, and two arrests, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Holyoke, Massachusetts, residents marked the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Maria on September 20, 2021.
Jill Kaufman / NEPM

Four years ago, Hurricane Maria led to the deaths of 3,000 people in Puerto Rico. In Holyoke, where about half the residents identify as Puerto Rican, a welcome mat was put out.

On Monday night, a small group gathered downtown to mark the somber day.

Courtesy of Springfield No One Leaves

The head of a Springfield, Massachusetts, nonprofit says a state program to limit evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic needs improvement.

A PVTA bus.
Mark M. Murray / The Republican / Masslive

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority has started new bus service between Amherst and Worcester in Massachusetts.

On a stone bench, between Salem Harbor and The House of the Seven Gables, two friends settled in to smoke a little weed.

“We do like this spot,” said Jeremiah MacKinnon, 26.

“Yes,” added his companion, Frank Shaw, who is 68.

The two make an unlikely pair. Shaw wears a baseball cap with a graphic of a cannabis leaf with EKG monitor waves. MacKinnon sports an old school newsboy cap. Shaw, with gray wispy hair, has the air of a jokester. MacKinnon, a younger millennial, carries the aura of someone generations older.

The map of Massachusetts counties from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention indicates the entire state is now in the"red" zone, or experiencing high levels of community transmission of the coronavirus.
Screen Capture /

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all on the upswing again in Massachusetts. The state continues to push vaccinations. In fact, in a recent radio interview, Gov. Charlie Baker seemed to leave the door open to the Commonwealth eventually using some sort of COVID-19 vaccination passport.

Job Gains In Massachusetts Slowed To A Trickle in August

Sep 20, 2021
Companies displaying their products at the 2021 Congress of the Association of Municipal Tool Professionals Conference in Canada.
Ville de Victoriaville / Creative Commons /

Massachusetts Job growth slowed substantially in August as employers added 2,600 jobs and the statewide unemployment rate ticked upward to an even 5 percent, labor officials announced Friday.

Third-generation lobsterman Nick Prior was in eighth grade when he started working as a sternman on Aquarius, the lobster boat his grandfather built. They still fish together out of Bremen in midcoast Maine. But now, Nick, who is in his last year of high school, is at the helm while Verge Prior, age 77, stuffs the bait bags and bands the claws of their catch. Between hauling traps, Verge quips that he plans to catch lobster until the end of his life. "Some days I feel it's going to be tomorrow, other days it seems longer."

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.
Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM / CDC

Calling the spike "alarming and scary," Mayor Domenic Sarno said there were more then 250 new cases of COVID-19 in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Tuesday and Wednesday combined.

The seven candidates for mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, meet for a debate on September 9, 2021.
Screen Shot / Holyoke Media

Holyoke, Massachusetts, will hold its preliminary election for mayor on Tuesday. Voters will have a crowded field of seven to choose from, with the top two finishers advancing to November’s general election.

Do You Need To Walk 10,000 Steps Per Day? 7,000 Is Perfectly Fine.

Sep 16, 2021
Lead author Amanda Paluch is an assistant professor of kinesiology at the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.
Submitted / UMass Amherst

Research from UMass Amherst bolsters claims that fitness can be tied to the number of steps you walk per day. 

Connecticut is likely to have digital credentials for COVID-19 vaccines available by the end of the month. Officials said it would make it easy to scan and verify vaccination status.

Connecticut Losing Ground On Building Emissions Despite Efficiency Programs

Sep 16, 2021

Greenhouse gas emissions from heating and cooling buildings continue to rise in Connecticut despite the state’s efforts to improve energy efficiency.

An annual greenhouse gas inventory released last week for 2018 — the latest available data — showed vehicle exhaust remains the state’s largest problem, but the sharpest year-over-year increase came in the residential sector. Commercial building emissions were also higher.

In the big scheme of things, the Bobryk forest is pretty small potatoes. It’s about 300 acres of birch, hemlock and other hardwood trees, sandwiched between two larger state forests in western Massachusetts.

“It feels weird to say this forest isn’t special because that’s not what I mean,” says Laura Marx, a forest ecologist at The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. Rather, says Marx, Bobryk forest is “a really cool example” of things gone right, and an illustration of exactly how preserving forests might help slow climate change.

An Afghanistan evacuee deplanes in Italy on August 22, 2021, assisted by U.S. military.
Sgt. William Chockey / U.S. Marine Corps

Refugee resettlement agencies are preparing for hundreds of evacuees from Afghanistan coming to western Massachusetts.

South Hadley High School in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
Courtesy / South Hadley Schools

Students at South Hadley High School begin the semester Thursday — online and two weeks late.

National Guard troops are used to being activated during times of natural disaster or civil unrest — but in Massachusetts, they're being called out to drive students to school.

The office of Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that as many as 250 Guard members would be made available "to address staffing shortages in certain districts," according to a news release. It said that 90 would be training immediately for service in Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn.

Signs in Lee, Massachusetts, call for no PCB dumps in the area.
Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPM

A legal challenge against an agreement to dispose toxic waste in Lee, Massachusetts, has been dismissed. That's the ruling of Berkshire Superior Court judge Michael K. Callan.

At 9:30 in the morning on one of the hottest days in August, it was still cool at Maple Hill Cemetery in the town of Dorset. That is the time of day when Caitlin Abrams likes to come here. She wore rubber boots in the dewy grass that soon, a man would start to mow. She walked over to a marble stone, whiter than the rest.

It reads, “Joseph Porter Baldwin, son of Silas and Sarah Baldwin, who died April 26 1811, in the sixth year of his age. His death was occasioned by accidentally falling under the pitman of a sawmill, which instantly terminated his existence.”

Connecticut expects to welcome hundreds of Afghan refugees in the next couple of months as resettlement agencies and groups across the state are assigned families already on military bases.

But as advocates ramp up efforts to receive as many families as possible, they’re also calling on the U.S. State Department to focus on those who haven’t been able to leave the Taliban-controlled country despite their ties to the U.S.

Advocates say dozens of Afghan Americans from Connecticut are still stuck in Kabul with no way out.

Health leaders across Connecticut are warning state legislators about the dangers of dirty air. But the head of the state Senate said Monday the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) will not be on the agenda during a special session expected to occur within the next two weeks.

Massachusetts Bill Aims To Stomp Out Biomass Power Subsidies

Sep 14, 2021
Waste wood from a logging operation that's been chopped into "chips" for a biomass facility.
Annie Ropeik / NHPR

With regulations ready to take effect that effectively close about 90% of the state's land area to new wood-burning power generation facilities, Springfield-area lawmakers on Monday pushed for legislation that would more permanently eliminate state clean energy program subsidies for biomass anywhere in Massachusetts.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Kevin Gutting / Daily Hampshire Gazette /

Two western Massachusetts hospitals said they are experiencing staffing issues. This comes as they've seen a rise in COVID-19 cases in recent months.

Springfield, Massachusetts, Mayor Domenic Sarno with city and health officials.
Don Treeger / The Republican /

After canceling a statewide mask rule last spring, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has said he wants these decisions made locally. One such local mandate took effect Monday in Springfield. 

They shook hands with business owners in Roxbury, danced with a neighborhood group in Dorchester, and held get-out-the-vote rallies from Grove Hall to Chinatown.

It’s down to the final hours of campaigning for the five major candidates running for mayor of Boston, and over the weekend, acting Mayor Kim Janey, city councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George, as well as the city’s former economic development chief John Barros, criss-crossed the city to try to win over undecided voters.

Unionized staff and supporters picket outside the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Chicopee, Massachusetts, on June 23, 2021.
Dusty Christensen / Daily Hamsphire Gazette

The Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations will hold a hearing early this week about a complaint lodged by employees of the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Chicopee.

In 2019, the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts, attracted more than a million visitors.
Courtesy of the Big E

The board of health in West Springfield, Massachusetts, is set to vote on an indoor mask mandate this week. The head of the Big E fair, which takes place in the city and starts Friday, said he's in favor of it.