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Baker Warns: Thanksgiving celebrations carry huge COVID-19 risks

By Katie Lannan
State House News Service

Holidays will need to look different this year, state officials said as they recommended Thanksgiving celebrations be held virtually or limited to one household to minimize COVID-19 transmission risks.

“The science on this one’s pretty clear — gathering in groups indoors for an extended period of time with family and friends is likely the worst possible scenario for spreading the virus,” Gov. Charlie Baker said during an afternoon press conference.

Pointing to rising COVID-19 case numbers among Massachusetts residents under age 30, Baker again said people should stop hosting parties and other large social gatherings. He urged younger people, who may not experience severe symptoms of the respiratory disease, to think about the relatives they might infect, the health care workers gearing up for a second surge, and the children whose ability to attend in-person school hinges on the rate of virus spread.

Baker said his own Thanksgiving celebration this year will be “immediate family, and that’s it,” and said all families should “think long and hard about the well-being of your loved ones before you make your plans.”

For many, a household-only Thanksgiving would represent a smaller get-together than the state’s indoor gathering limit of 25 people or the 10 people allowed to be seated together at a restaurant.

If people do mark the holiday with friends and family outside their household, Baker said, they should limit guests as much as possible, keeping it “to your limited social network, those that you’ve seen on a pretty regular basis.”

Sudders said people should wear masks while together and as they prepare meals, plate each person’s food rather than serving family-style, spend time outside and open doors and windows for ventilation when indoors, and get tested for COVID-19. She said the state is working with testing sites to increase their hours before Thanksgiving.

“There’s just no way around it,” she said. “The holidays need to look and feel very different this year.”

The Department of Public Health suggests keeping visits short and dropping off meals made from traditional family recipes for relatives or neighbors. For those who do plan to celebrate with people they do not live with, the DPH says they should avoid hugging, shaking hands, singing, dancing, shouting or sharing food, and should not gather in-person with older adults, people with certain medical conditions or others at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The department’s holiday recommendations also include seating people with plenty of space instead of at one large table, minimizing contact with others and trips outside the home for 14 days before and after the celebration, and encouraging guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and their household only.

“If people let their guard down, and they don’t do their part, all that preparation and all that sacrifice that we’ve made to bring our numbers down won’t be sustained,” Baker said. “We can all do our part to stop the spread. It’s the simple things that we have to repeat over and over that are the best weapon we have to slow the spread of COVID. Wherever you are, whoever you’re with, you should wear a face covering, social distance, practice good hygiene. Stay home if you’re sick. Get a test if you think you’ve been exposed, and don’t host or attend gatherings with people who aren’t part of your core network.”

Baker, who reiterated his call for people to avoid indoor Halloween parties this weekend, said contact tracing indicates that more than half of new cases are attributed to social gatherings and household transmission.

“As we head into this holiday season, as we move indoors, as our cases, as we said almost three weeks ago, have continued to climb, use your head and think about how your actions will affect those around you,” he said.

More than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases were logged in Massachusetts each day from Saturday through Tuesday, numbers not previously seen here since May, when the virus trend was on a downward swing from a mid-April surge.

Baker said there has been a “significant increase” in the number of people under age 30 who are testing positive. In April, he said, the under 30 age range represented 15 percent of the COVID-19 caseload, with people over 60 accounting for 42 percent. Now, the under 30 group represents 27 percent of cases, and the over 60 group 18 percent.

“There is a little good news in there,” Baker said. “It means that our most vulnerable residents have seen a significant decrease in their share of new cases, which has much to do with many of the measures that we put in place over the spring and summer.”

Recent data shows about 300 people per day who are under age 30 testing positive, Baker said.

“We get the fact that for many young people, they have mild symptoms or in some cases no symptoms at all,” the governor said. “But their contact, especially close, informal contact indoors over an extended period of time, like watching a football game on a weekend with older people, or those who have other medical conditions, can create terrible circumstances for many of our most vulnerable.”




Fairhaven’s St. Joseph Catholic School retains full staff during pandemic

When Governor Charlie Baker closed all of the schools on Friday, March 13, 2020, all of the Catholic schools within the Diocese of Fall River were able to pivot to a robust remote learning platform on Monday, March 16, 2020. As the weeks turned into months and it became apparent that the end of the school year would end remotely, Catholic school leaders began to plan for the return to school for the 2020-21 academic year.

St. Joseph School in Fairhaven initiated their “Back to School” plans early in the summer amid many uncertainties brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite these uncertainties, the school leaders had a goal to retain all of the faculty and staff from the 2019-20 school year, as many local organizations experienced layoffs due to severe reductions in revenue brought on by the pandemic.


St. Joseph School photo.

Throughout the summer as revisions were made to the “Back to School” plan, St. Joseph’s realized that retaining their full staff was achievable as well as ideal under the new social distancing guidelines set forth by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Department of Health. Moreover, an initial concern about enrollment early in the summer turned into an uptick in inquiries and ultimately an increase in students from the prior year.

“We are so blessed to have a dedicated and passionate faculty and staff,” says Faith Piazza, principal of St. Joseph School. “There were so many changes and unknowns early in the summer that made our goal very challenging. That said, our staff is committed to St. Joseph’s so we wanted to demonstrate our commitment to them for all of the hard work and time they gave to the remote learning program. There is no better feeling than being able to retain everyone on your team when there are economic challenges all around us.”

Daniel S. Roy, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Fall River adds, “The past six months have been like no other time in recent history for all of our schools. How our enrollment and subsequent staffing needs for each school would end up was a top priority throughout the summer. St. Joseph School exemplifies commitment, teamwork, and faith that is so well-known in our Catholic schools.”

“Because I was a pre-school aide last school year, I was initially concerned for my job,” according to Jennifer Sherman, second grade teacher at St. Joseph School. “When I was offered a promotion to be the second grade teacher, I was so excited to continue my teaching career at St. Joseph School. My classroom is full this year so it is wonderful to teach all of these students – mostly in-person, but a few remotely – and bring a bit of ‘normalcy’ back into our lives.”

For more information about St. Joseph’s School, please go to www.saintjosephschool.org.

For more information about the Catholic Schools Alliance, please go to https://www.catholicschoolsalliance.org/we-have-a-place-for-you/.

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About the Catholic Schools Alliance

The Catholic Schools Alliance comprises administrators, teachers, staff, parents and clergy joined in partnership to educate the children of the Diocese of Fall River in Catholic faith and values. Our schools have a demanding educational culture that helps students from across the academic spectrum reach their God-given potential. With an emphasis on service and respect for the dignity of every person, we prepare students to meet the challenges of today’s diverse world and become meaningful contributors to society.




77 Massachusetts towns now in ‘Highest Risk’ for COVID-19 category

Colin A. Young
State House News Service

Almost one quarter of the cities or towns in Massachusetts are now designated by the state as being at the highest-risk for COVID-19 transmission.

In its weekly update on municipality-specific coronavirus activity, the Department of Public Health said 22 new towns — Ashland, Avon, Boxford, Chicopee, Clinton, Gloucester, Lynnfield, Mattapoisett, Middleborough, Millville, Monson, Norwood, Raynham, Rochester, Scituate, Seekonk, Somerset, Swampscott, West Bridgewater, Westfield, Westport, and Wrentham — have been color-coded red this week, signifying that the average daily incidence rate is more than eight cases per 100,000 residents there, while nine communities — Amherst, Auburn, Dartmouth, East Bridgewater, Holbrook, Littleton, Nantucket, Southborough, and Sunderland — upgraded from the highest-risk category into the moderate risk category.

The 77 communities that are color-coded red and where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is highest are: Abington, Acushnet, Ashland, Attleboro, Avon, Berkley, Boston, Boxford, Brockton, Buckland, Canton, Chelmsford, Chelsea, Chicopee, Clinton, East Longmeadow, Everett, Fairhaven, Fall River, Framingham, Gloucester, Hanover, Hanson, Haverhill, Hingham, Holliston, Holyoke, Hudson, Kingston, Lawrence, Leicester, Lowell, Lynn, Lynnfield, Malden, Marlborough, Marshfield, Mattapoisett, Methuen, Middleborough, Middleton, Milford, Millville, Milton, Monson, New Bedford, North Andover, Norwood, Oxford, Pembroke, Plymouth, Randolph, Raynham, Revere, Rochester, Rockland, Saugus, Scituate, Seekonk, Shrewsbury, Somerset, Somerville, Springfield, Swampscott, Tyngsborough, Wakefield, Waltham, Webster, West Bridgewater, West Newbury, Westfield, Westport, Weymouth, Winthrop, Woburn, Worcester, and Wrentham.

The statewide average daily case rate over the past 14 days climbed to 9.2 cases per 100,000 residents in the weekly update published Thursday, up from an average of 8.7 cases per 100,000 residents a week ago.




Massachusetts sees nearly 1,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday

State House News Service

The Department of Public Health reported more new COVID-19 cases Thursday than it has in months — 986 new cases of the highly-contagious virus that has been spreading largely uncontrolled for months. DPH also reported the recent COVID-19 deaths of 30 people.

Since the virus was first confirmed in Massachusetts on Feb. 1, 143,927 people have been infected and 9,810 people have died. All four of the main metrics that the Baker administration says it watches to make public health decisions are trending in the wrong direction. The seven-day average of the positive test rate ticked up to 1.4 percent, up more than 75 percent in the last month. The three-day average number of people with COVID-19 in Massachusetts hospitals stands at 519, up more than 40 percent in the last month.

Four hospitals are using surge capacity, up from zero as recently as earlier this week. And the three-day average of the number of COVID-19 deaths is up 60 percent from earlier this month. Despite that, DPH reported Thursday that it sees a “positive trend” on the positive test rate, the number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals, the state’s testing capacity and its contact tracing capabilities. The number of people who have died of COVID-19 and the health care system’s readiness are assessed as “in progress” in DPH’s latest update.




Massachusetts will gives vaccine priority to three groups

By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

Adults over 65 will join frontline health care workers, residents with underlying medical conditions that increase their risks from COVID-19, and other essential workers as the first to qualify for COVID-19 vaccines in Massachusetts, the Baker administration said Tuesday.

During a visit to a new Suffolk Downs testing facility Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker outlined a rough sketch of the state’s draft plan for distributing an inoculation for the highly infectious virus once it becomes available.

The plan was submitted by the administration to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

“The plan also outlines our messaging efforts to make sure people know, once there is a vaccine available, that it has been approved by the federal government and is safe and effective,” Baker said. “We’ll also make it a priority to reach out specifically to groups that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including people and communities of color.”

Massachusetts can expect between 20,000 and 60,000 doses of a vaccine in the first phase of distribution, according to the plan.

Those on the other end of the age range appear to be driving the most significant chunk of new infections: over the past two weeks, young adults between 20 and 39 represented the highest positive test rate in the state.

The rising infection numbers — higher on Monday than any day since May, albeit with far more tests conducted — prompted Baker and his top deputies to renew their warnings Tuesday against large gatherings and other unregulated social events.

Asked if the uptick in cases would prompt him to scale back reopening, Baker told reporters that most of the recent growth in infections has come not from dining or other public activities, but instead from “informal events and social gatherings.”

“Those are the places and spaces where, if people are asymptomatic, they will give it to somebody else, and neither of them are wearing a mask, and they’re engaged in close contact over an extended period of time,” Baker said. “That’s exactly what happens when people get together to have a house party or a backyard party or some other celebration — the kinds of stuff we used to do, once upon a time, as a matter of course almost every weekend.”

In recent weeks, the state’s COVID enforcement team has observed several private parties bringing together dozens or hundreds of people — often young — in close quarters and with spotty use of masks, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

One event in Everett last month “attracted more than 300 people,” she said.

“Typically, these are held on private property, away from all of our eyes, without the owner’s permission,” Sudders said.

Authorities have in some cases broken up events in progress, citing the state’s ban on large gatherings, or prevented them from taking place.

Both Sudders and Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo pointed to a party that individuals allegedly attempted to organize in the city for Oct. 10. After noticing promotion of the event on social media, State Police contacted those behind the effort and warned them that going through with it would violate COVID regulations.

Arrigo said during the press conference that an individual was arrested in connection with the incident, though a State Police spokesperson told the News Service the arrest was due to an outstanding warrant “unrelated to COVID guideline violations.”

The defendant, 21-year-old Felipe Moreira Oliveria of Chelsea, was arrested on a warrant for malicious damage to a motor vehicle, Massachusetts State Police spokesperson David Procopio wrote in an email.

“We are assisting the COVID command center in identifying organizers of large-scale events that violate the state’s COVID restrictions on large gatherings,” Procopio said. “As part of that mission we recently identified and located two young adult males who were separately planning rave-type gatherings. We made contact with both men and advised them that the events they were planning were in violation of the state COVID order and instructed them to cease and desist planning and advertising those events. In the process of doing that we determined that one of the young men was the subject of an outstanding criminal warrant unrelated to COVID restrictions.”

Baker said during the press conference that those between the ages of 19 and 39 represent “where the vast majority of the increase in positive tests has been happening.”

According to weekly data published by the Department of Public Health, the 20-to-29 and 30-to-39 age groups posted the second- and third-largest increases in total cases between Sept. 2 and Oct. 14 — lagging only the 0-to-19 group.

In terms of total cases, the 0-to-19 age group saw the largest increase between Sept. 2 and Oct. 14 with 996 more cases counted in the weekly DPH report. The second-highest raw increase was for ages 20 to 29, which jumped 816, while the third-highest was for the 30-to-39 cohort, which grew 730.

Altogether, individuals between 20 and 39 represented about 37 percent of total cases in the past two weeks tracked in the DPH’s Oct. 14 report.

As infections trend upward, some local officials have increased their efforts to crack down on the kinds of activities — particularly maskless and in close quarters — that health experts warn are most likely to contribute to viral spread.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said last week that city departments are planning to increase enforcement, including fines on violations of COVID-19 regulations.




Bristol Community College’s Education Department creates family-friendly COVID-19 information resource

Students and faculty from Bristol Community College’s Education Department, including the college’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Elementary Education programs, have created a free, family-friendly resource for COVID-19 related information using the increasingly popular new digital platform Padlet.

As a component of the department’s curriculum, Bristol’s COVID-19 Resources Padlet provides an interactive source for families seeking credible information, videos, websites, activities, stories and books related to the current pandemic. The project was developed by Bristol’s Education Department Faculty and Staff members: Engin Atasay, Melissa Cardelli, MaryAnn Casavant and Carole Norberg, to engage students in current program-related resources while assisting the community with valuable information.

Bristol Community College Education Department COVID-19 Resources Padlet: https://padlet.com/melissa_cardelli/yhsup5ulu49038rq

With the guidance of faculty, students in the first year of the ECE program have contributed resources related to mindfulness and assisting children and adults dealing with stress at various levels, while second-year students have contributed activities and materials for children as well as helpful tips for families of children in infant/toddler programs, preschools and elementary schools.

The multiplatform collaboration tool, Padlet, was chosen for its ease of access to community members, by computer or mobile devices, as well as the ability for students to share and interact with content by uploading and creating materials in one central location. Students were also able to utilize the resources they found and share them or incorporate them into their practicum.

The Padlet tool was also already being utilized by Bristol’s ECE faculty to support students constructing their final portfolio for the program. The college’s ECE faculty hopes to further expand its use, given the ability to present work using a variety of visual and written modalities, supporting different learning styles.




Six New Bedford restaurants fined for violations of COVID-19 orders to protect residents

The New Bedford Health Department has issued fines to six New Bedford-based restaurants and bars for failure to comply with the City’s COVID-19 regulations and protections for residents.

Hong Kong Restaurant at 2899 Acushnet Avenue, Mikey B’s Restaurant at 989 Victoria Street, Taqueria La Raza at 1408 Acushnet Avenue, Whiskey Lounge at 1669 Acushnet Avenue, The Bar at 266 Dartmouth Street, and Casa Benfica at 1484 Acushnet Avenue were fined for their failure to comply with the regulations.

Hong Kong Restaurant, Whiskey Lounge and The Bar were cited for serving alcoholic beverages without food, and for failure for employees to wear masks.

Mikey B’s and Taqueria La Raza were cited for failure of employees to wear masks.

Casa Benfica was cited for serving alcoholic beverages without food.

Fines were issued in the following amounts:

Hong Kong Restaurant: Fined $300
Mike B’s Restaurant: Fined $100
Taqueria La Raza: Fined $100
Whiskey Lounge: Fined $300
The Bar: Fined $300
Casa Benfica: Fined $100

Violation orders were issued on October 14 after inspections by the New Bedford Police Department and the New Bedford Health Department.

Earlier this year, Mayor Jon Mitchell and the Board of Health announced emergency orders to keep employees safe at their place of work, and to outline reporting requirements of COVID-19 in the workplace. The orders include strong measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.

Businesses will be subject to fines for failure to comply with the City’s orders, including failure to protect employees and failure to notify the Health Department of an outbreaks. The orders can be found on New Bedford’s COVID-19 webpage: https://www.newbedford-ma.gov/health-department/coronavirus/.




Bristol Community College’s Education Department creates family-friendly COVID-19 information resource on new digital platform

Students and faculty from Bristol Community College’s Education Department, including the college’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Elementary Education programs, have created a free, family-friendly resource for COVID-19 related information using the increasingly popular new digital platform Padlet.

As a component of the department’s curriculum, Bristol’s COVID-19 Resources Padlet provides an interactive source for families seeking credible information, videos, websites, activities, stories and books related to the current pandemic. The project was developed by Bristol’s Education Department Faculty and Staff members: Engin Atasay, Melissa Cardelli, MaryAnn Casavant and Carole Norberg, to engage students in current program-related resources while assisting the community with valuable information.

Bristol Community College Education Department COVID-19 Resources Padlet: https://padlet.com/melissa_cardelli/yhsup5ulu49038rq

With the guidance of faculty, students in the first year of the ECE program have contributed resources related to mindfulness and assisting children and adults dealing with stress at various levels, while second-year students have contributed activities and materials for children as well as helpful tips for families of children in infant/toddler programs, preschools and elementary schools.

The multiplatform collaboration tool, Padlet, was chosen for its ease of access to community members, by computer or mobile devices, as well as the ability for students to share and interact with content by uploading and creating materials in one central location. Students were also able to utilize the resources they found and share them or incorporate them into their practicum.

The Padlet tool was also already being utilized by Bristol’s ECE faculty to support students constructing their final portfolio for the program. The college’s ECE faculty hopes to further expand its use, given the ability to present work using a variety of visual and written modalities, supporting different learning styles.




1,922 COVID-19 cases, 39 deaths reported in Massachusetts over long Columbus Day weekend

Colin A. Young
State House News Service

More than 1,900 new people were confirmed to have COVID-19 over the three-day weekend as single-day positivity rates remained above 3 percent, continuing a trend that began in late September.

The Department of Public Health reported 587 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, 570 additional cases on Sunday, and 765 fresh cases on Monday, though the agency said Monday’s total included “data from a national laboratory that had a delay in reporting.” Along with the 1,922 new cases DPH reported 39 recent COVID-19 deaths since Friday, bringing the death toll to 9,617 people. Since Feb. 1, 136,933 people in Massachusetts have become infected with the virus.

Though DPH said Monday the seven-day average of the positive test rate of all tests conducted remained at 1.1 percent, the agency also reported that 4.2 percent of people tested for the first time Friday were found to be positive for COVID-19, 3.4 percent of people first tested Saturday had the virus, and 3.2 percent of people first tested Sunday were confirmed to have COVID-19. The single-day positivity percentage has been above 3 percent since late September, according to DPH.

As of midday Monday, there were 501 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Massachusetts. That’s down by 30 patients from midday Saturday, but DPH said the three-day average number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is up 70 percent from the low of about 300 patients in late August. As of midday Monday, 82 people were being treated in an intensive care unit including 32 COVID-19 patients on ventilators.

Dr. David Rosman, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, took to Twitter each evening this weekend to call attention to trend lines that he said “are still pointing up” and to encourage people to remain vigilant about social distancing and mask-wearing.

“Evening #MA. 765 new #COVID19 cases on 18.8k new tests. That’s not good. Unusually high for a Monday. 3.2% positive. That’s better than the last week which is good. Interesting that # of tests are going up. #StayHealthy #WearAMask #StayHome,” he tweeted Monday.




New Bedford Health Department issues tips for a safe and healthy Halloween

The New Bedford Health Department is providing tips for a safe, healthy Halloween 2020 during COVID-19.

Halloween will look different this year, but families can still celebrate, and they can do so safely. Many of the tips are habits everyone has already adopted during the pandemic.

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind for Halloween this year.

Trick-or-treat safely by keeping good habits.

• Wear a mask. You can do this under a Halloween mask, or you can wear one with your costume if it doesn’t include a mask. Wear a mask at your doorstep or in your yard if you are outside during Halloween.

• Practice social distancing. Stay six feet away from anyone in your group. Don’t interact directly with trick-or-treaters.

• Provide your treats without making hand-to-hand contact. Instead of using a bowl to hand out goodies, separate them and leave them on an outdoor surface. Don’t hand them out, and don’t get close to trick-or-treaters or anyone outside your group. You can also provide hand sanitizer where you leave your goodies.

• Skip Halloween parties or Trunk-or-Treat events because of the large gatherings. Stick with small groups and stay outdoors.

• Keep your group small. Limit group activities to household members when possible. Carry hand sanitizer, and wash your hands well after trick-or-treating.

• Remember, some people will not be celebrating this year. Respect those who won’t be participating in Halloween this year. If the lights are off or goodies aren’t offered on the porch, head to the next house that’s celebrating Halloween.

• If you are feeling sick or have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19, stay home and don’t hand out goodies. Keep your lights off to let trick-or-treaters know.

You can learn more at the CDC’s Halloween page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html or at the state Department of Public Health’s Halloween page: https://www.mass.gov/news/halloween-during-covid-19.

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