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Massachusetts COVID-19 “Stop The Spread” testing site in New Bedford becomes appointment only

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has informed the New Bedford Health Department that its Stop the Spread testing site located at the Whale’s Tooth Parking Lot, which serves the Seastreak Ferry, becomes appointment-only on Monday, December 14.

Beginning Monday, the testing site will be run by Project Beacon. Governor Charlie Baker announced updates to the state’s Stop the Spread initiative this week. More information is available at https://www.mass.gov/news/baker-polito-administration-launches-new-testing-infrastructure-to-increase-testing-capacity.

According to the announcement, statewide, “three current locations will expand to regional testing sites run by Project Beacon,” including New Bedford’s Whale’s Tooth site, which is a drive-up testing site. Registration for testing in New Bedford will begin this weekend at app.beacontesting.com/.

The full schedule of Stop the Spread testing is available on the state’s website at https://www.mass.gov/info-details/stop-the-spread#new-bedford-.




Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes First Direct-to-Consumer COVID-19 Test System

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized LabCorp’s Pixel COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit for use by any individual 18 years and older without a prescription. This product, which is authorized as the first COVID-19 direct-to-consumer (non-prescription) test system, allows an individual to self-collect a nasal swab sample at home and then send that sample for testing to LabCorp. Positive or invalid test results are then delivered to the user by phone call from a health care provider. Negative test results are delivered via email or online portal.

This home sample collection kit can be purchased online or in a store without a prescription. It is intended to enable users to access information about their COVID-19 infection status that could aid with determining if self-isolation (quarantine) is appropriate and to assist with health care decisions after discussion with a health care professional.

“This is the first kit for consumers to self-collect a nasal sample for COVID-19 in their home that does not require a prescription,” said Jeff Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “While many home collection kits can be prescribed with a simple online questionnaire, this newly authorized direct-to-consumer collection kit removes that step from the process, allowing anyone to collect their sample and send it to the lab for processing.”

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.




Governor Baker announces initial steps for Massachusetts COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced allocation and distribution plans for the first round of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Massachusetts set to begin around December 15. The state’s first shipment of 59,475 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was ordered from the federal government this past Friday and will be delivered directly to 21 hospitals across 8 counties, as well as to the Department of Public Health Immunization lab.

Doses will then be redistributed for access to 74 hospitals across all 14 counties for front line medical workers. The next 40,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine will be allocated to the Federal Pharmacy Program to begin vaccinating staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, rest homes and assisted living residences.

Vaccine is being prioritized for these groups to maximize life preservation and to support the health care system. Based on information at this time, Massachusetts is expecting 300,000 first doses of the vaccine to be delivered by the end of December. The first vaccines, manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer, will require two doses administered 3-4 weeks apart.

While all delivery dates and quantities are subject to change due to ongoing federal approval and allocation, the Administration plans to receive and distribute over 2 million doses to priority population groups by the end of March.

In collaboration with the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, the Administration designated groups of medical workers, first responders and residents most at risk for serious illness to receive the vaccine before the general population. The Vaccine Advisory Group is made up of leading medical, infectious disease and public health experts as well as representatives from communities of color and representatives of high-risk populations.

Communities of color and at-risk populations are prioritized throughout the process to maximize life preservation and to prevent serious complications from COVID related illnesses.

Anticipated Vaccination Phases and Timeline:

Phase One (December 2020-February 2021):
In order of priority
Clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers doing direct and COVID-facing care

Long term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities

Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services

Congregate care settings (including shelters and corrections)

Home-based healthcare workers

Healthcare workers doing non-COVID facing care

Phase Two (February 2021-April 2021):
In order of priority
Individuals with 2+ comorbidities (high risk for COVID-19 complications)

Early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works and public health workers

Adults 65+

Individuals with one comorbidity

Phase Three (April 2021- ):
Vaccine available to general public

The first shipments of the vaccine are expected to contain doses manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna. While both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are pending FDA emergency use authorization, Massachusetts will not distribute the COVID-19 vaccine until it receives this authorization.

Vaccines go through extensive testing, more than any pharmaceuticals, including extensive testing in clinical trials. The FDA, which approves the vaccine, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which will make its recommendation for use, must ensure any vaccine is both safe and effective for the public before approval and distribution.

The infectious disease experts in the state’s academic medical centers have pledged to review the EUA data and provide an independent opinion about their safety and efficacy.

All residents should visit www.mass.gov/COVIDVaccine to learn more or contact their medical provider for questions about their vaccination plans.




Need for heating assistance grows during pandemic

By Colin A. Young
State House News Service

With more people out of work this winter because of the pandemic, the demand for federal home heating aid is projected to grow nearly 20 percent and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey is calling for an infusion of $10 billion to wipe away pandemic-related utility debt and to keep people warm this winter.

As winter weather descends on New England and other northern parts of the country, Markey said Tuesday that the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will need more money, and called on other states to follow Massachusetts’ lead in banning utility shutoffs until the spring.

“We are teetering on the edge of a financial cliff that is forcing already vulnerable households to make the impossible decisions of either putting food on the table, covering rent or keeping the heat on through the cold winter months,” the senator said, adding that 1.3 million American households now have an average of $5,400 in rent and utility bill debt.

Markey said that 26 million American households, including 160,000 in Massachusetts, qualified for LIHEAP before the COVID-19 pandemic and that experts expect five million more households nationwide will qualify this winter as a result of the pandemic. That would mean about 190,000 Massachusetts households could seek federal help this winter.

“This week in Massachusetts, temperatures are expected to dip into the mid-20s and we all know that when temperatures drop heating bills begin to pile up for many families in the commonwealth,” he said.

Markey said an infusion of $10 billion for LIHEAP would help seven million families eliminate utility bill debt and provide a “safety blanket” during the winter.

Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, said LIHEAP’s typical funding level is not enough to meet the demand for home heating assistance that his organization expects this winter.

“We’re facing conditions you’d not be surprised to see in a Charles Dickens novel, to be honest,” he said. “Families are falling behind in the rent, you’re seeing long food lines, for the first time in years middle-class families can’t pay their utility bills. These families don’t even know where to go for help, they’re not used to asking for help, they’re used to paying their own way. We think there’s an extra seven or eight million households that were formerly middle class, for all purposes, that have lost their jobs and that need help.”

Wolf said the $10 billion investment in LIHEAP will help ensure that families do not end up with $3,000 or $4,000 in utility bill debt by the time the worst of the pandemic passes.

“They’ll never get back on their feet,” he said.

In Massachusetts, the Legislature and administration have often supplemented the federal LIHEAP funding with state dollars amid a steady decrease in federal support over recent years. Federal aid to Massachusetts for the LIHEAP program decreased by $15 million between 2017 and 2021, Markey said, despite overall program funding increasing by nearly $350 million.

“That’s because the federal Department of Health and Human Services is using outdated energy price information to determine LIHEAP allocations. They are currently using data that is years out of date for fuel costs and weather projections, instead of up-to-date information, in determining how to distribute LIHEAP funds to the states that need it,” the senator said. “As a result, some of the LIHEAP money that gets awarded to states like Massachusetts is divorced from the reality of what families will spend this winter to heat their homes.”

Markey also reiterated a call he made in March for states and utilities to impose or extend moratoria on gas and electric service disconnections, late fees, reconnection fees, rate hikes, and more.

For residential customers in Massachusetts who receive electric or gas service from an investor-owned utility, such a moratorium is in place until April 1. For residential customers who get electric or gas service through a municipal utility, the attorney general’s office says “most municipal utilities” have also agreed to suspend shut-offs until April 1. The Massachusetts moratorium on commercial shut-offs ended Aug. 31.

“Our commonwealth can serve as an example to the rest of the nation as we enter the long winter months, but no one anywhere should be left to fall sick because they’re falling behind,” Markey said.




Baker-Polito administration launches new testing infrastructure to increase testing capacity & efficiency for Massachusetts

Building on Massachusetts’ nation-leading COVID-19 testing program, the Baker-Polito Administration today announced the Commonwealth will increase testing capacity and locations to provide more access for residents in every county. This plan includes five new locations, and the state plans to collect 110,000 COVID-19 tests per week—representing a 50% testing increase for state-financed and organized testing sites alone. Across Massachusetts, there are more than 350 testing locations available to the public. Massachusetts remains among the top five states for testing per capita in the nation and has made significant progress to increase testing and access.

New Project Beacon Sites: In addition to five new Stop the Spread (STS) locations, three current locations will expand to regional testing sites run by Project Beacon: New Bedford, Framingham and Lynn. Project Beacon currently operates a testing site in Revere and specializes in high-volume testing scheduled through an online platform. Each Project Beacon site will test at least 1,000 individuals per day. The sites are expected to be operational by the end of December, with the site in Framingham launching today.

Western MA & Cape Cod Testing: The Administration also announced expanded testing in Hampshire, Franklin, Berkshire and Barnstable Counties. This includes a partnership with UMass Amherst for free testing in Hampshire County at Amherst, a partnership with Berkshire Health Systems to expand free testing across multiple sites in Berkshire County, and an intent to expand free testing with a mobile provider in Franklin County. These sites are coming online during the coming weeks. The Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment is opening two testing sites, including one in Falmouth with $550,000 in state funds.

To date, the state has allocated more than $150 million for COVID-19 free testing, including surveillance testing programs in congregate settings and investments in laboratory capacity to process samples.

When all these new sites are operational, the Baker-Polito Administration will have 50 testing sites in the state-run Stop the Spread program, which will be able to conduct 110,000 free tests per week. This program has grown exponentially since it first launched in early July. In September, STS sites tested approximately 28,000 people each week, that number grew to 42,500 in October, and more than 91,400 individuals were tested at STS sites between November 19 and November 25.

Shifting to higher-volume, less expensive sites that serve an entire region will allow the Commonwealth to test more individuals on a weekly basis and reduce per-test costs, making the testing program more sustainable.

AbbotBinaxNOW Tests: Additionally, to support increased testing demand for vulnerable populations, the Administration will distribute up to 150,000 AbbotBinaxNOW tests to community health centers and community hospitals to use during December. Ordering information for Community Hospitals and Community Health Centers can be found here.
Building on Massachusetts’ nation-leading COVID-19 testing program, the Baker-Polito Administration today announced the Commonwealth will increase testing capacity and locations to provide more access for residents in every county. This plan includes five new locations, and the state plans to collect 110,000 COVID-19 tests per week—representing a 50% testing increase for state-financed and organized testing sites alone. Across Massachusetts, there are more than 350 testing locations available to the public. Massachusetts remains among the top five states for testing per capita in the nation and has made significant progress to increase testing and access.

New Project Beacon Sites: In addition to five new Stop the Spread (STS) locations, three current locations will expand to regional testing sites run by Project Beacon: New Bedford, Framingham and Lynn. Project Beacon currently operates a testing site in Revere and specializes in high-volume testing scheduled through an online platform. Each Project Beacon site will test at least 1,000 individuals per day. The sites are expected to be operational by the end of December, with the site in Framingham launching today.

Western MA & Cape Cod Testing: The Administration also announced expanded testing in Hampshire, Franklin, Berkshire and Barnstable Counties. This includes a partnership with UMass Amherst for free testing in Hampshire County at Amherst, a partnership with Berkshire Health Systems to expand free testing across multiple sites in Berkshire County, and an intent to expand free testing with a mobile provider in Franklin County. These sites are coming online during the coming weeks. The Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment is opening two testing sites, including one in Falmouth with $550,000 in state funds.

To date, the state has allocated more than $150 million for COVID-19 free testing, including surveillance testing programs in congregate settings and investments in laboratory capacity to process samples.

When all these new sites are operational, the Baker-Polito Administration will have 50 testing sites in the state-run Stop the Spread program, which will be able to conduct 110,000 free tests per week. This program has grown exponentially since it first launched in early July. In September, STS sites tested approximately 28,000 people each week, that number grew to 42,500 in October, and more than 91,400 individuals were tested at STS sites between November 19 and November 25.

Shifting to higher-volume, less expensive sites that serve an entire region will allow the Commonwealth to test more individuals on a weekly basis and reduce per-test costs, making the testing program more sustainable.

AbbotBinaxNOW Tests: Additionally, to support increased testing demand for vulnerable populations, the Administration will distribute up to 150,000 AbbotBinaxNOW tests to community health centers and community hospitals to use during December. Ordering information for Community Hospitals and Community Health Centers can be found here.

COVID-19 cases are increasing across the Commonwealth, and the Administration’s expanded testing will focus on converting certain sites to high-volume sites so they are able to serve more residents. Over the next month, existing testing sites will engage in winter planning preparations including converting to an appointment-based system to reduce wait times and traffic congestion.

Stop the Spread Operations by City/County: Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Framingham, Great Barrington, Greenfield, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, Nantucket, New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield, Randolph, Revere, Salem, Saugus, Springfield, Winthrop, Worcester, Amherst (Free community testing & increased lab capacity is being supported with $5M of ELC funding in Amherst (UMass), Barnstable County (Free community testing in Barnstable County is being supported by $550K in earmarks), Martha’s Vineyard (Free community testing in Dukes County is being supported locally)

Visit www.mass.gov/gettested for more information and to find a testing site near you.

In addition to STS sites, Massachusetts residents who are a close contact or who have COVID-19 symptoms can obtain a test, covered by their insurance, at more than 350 testing sites across the Commonwealth, with no co-pay. Residents can also order at-home test kits like Pixel, which are covered by insurance and available for uninsured individuals as well. These tests are easy-to-use, arrive via overnight shipping, and currently have an average turnaround time of 1-2 days according to LabCorp.

COVID-19 cases are increasing across the Commonwealth, and the Administration’s expanded testing will focus on converting certain sites to high-volume sites so they are able to serve more residents. Over the next month, existing testing sites will engage in winter planning preparations including converting to an appointment-based system to reduce wait times and traffic congestion.

Stop the Spread Operations by City/County: Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Framingham, Great Barrington, Greenfield, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, Nantucket, New Bedford, North Adams, Pittsfield, Randolph, Revere, Salem, Saugus, Springfield, Winthrop, Worcester, Amherst (Free community testing & increased lab capacity is being supported with $5M of ELC funding in Amherst (UMass), Barnstable County (Free community testing in Barnstable County is being supported by $550K in earmarks), Martha’s Vineyard (Free community testing in Dukes County is being supported locally)

Visit www.mass.gov/gettested for more information and to find a testing site near you.

In addition to STS sites, Massachusetts residents who are a close contact or who have COVID-19 symptoms can obtain a test, covered by their insurance, at more than 350 testing sites across the Commonwealth, with no co-pay. Residents can also order at-home test kits like Pixel, which are covered by insurance and available for uninsured individuals as well. These tests are easy-to-use, arrive via overnight shipping, and currently have an average turnaround time of 1-2 days according to LabCorp.




Town of Acushnet Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

On Friday, December 4, 2020, the Town of Acushnet was notified that an employee at the Parting Ways building tested positive for COVID-19.

While the case appears to be isolated, out of an abundance of caution the building will remain closed for the remainder of the day to be deep-cleaned and disinfected. The Parting Ways building will reopen for business on Monday, December 7, 2020, for its normal operating hours by appointment only.

The employee and all those identified as close contacts will follow the state’s protocol for quarantining. For privacy requirements the Town cannot divulge specific information about the individual who has tested positive. Since the Town has closed all lobby hours, we are confident that there was no direct contact with the public.

The Town of Acushnet has prided itself on being proactive with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have consistently provided free testing clinics to our residents and staff, and have put many precautionary measures in place inside our buildings to prevent the spread as much as possible. However, this proves that we are not completely immune. As cases continue to grow in Acushnet, we would like to use this opportunity to remind all residents to continue to practice social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing/sanitization to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Please contact the Health Department for any questions.




New Bedford will implement state COVID-19 guidelines at houses of worship

New Bedford will implement the statewide COVID-19 guidelines for houses of worship in the city, the Health Department announced to faith leaders this week.

New Bedford had implemented an additional cap, 40% or 100 people, whichever was lower, in the spring. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against certain capacity restrictions in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York.

In November, Governor Baker issued COVID-19 Order No. 54, Further Regulating Gatherings in the Commonwealth, which requires religious gatherings to follow COVID-19 safety rules and capacity limitations.

The following is an excerpt summarizing the state’s occupancy guidelines:

For indoor services, places of worship must monitor member entries and exits and limit occupancy at all times to the greater of the following:

50% of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy as documented in its occupancy permit on record with the municipal building department or other municipal record holder

Buildings for which no permitted occupancy limitation is on record may allow 10 persons (including staff) per 1,000 square feet of accessible space

In any case, no enclosed space (e.g. a single room, basement) within the building may exceed occupancy of 10 persons per 1,000 square feet

All occupancy counts and calculations shall include attendees, staff, and other workers

Attendees who are not part of the same immediate household must be seated at least 6 feet apart. Members of the same immediate household are permitted to sit together and less than 6 feet apart

Under Massachusetts statewide COVID-19 protocols, all attendees of any indoor gathering must wear face coverings or masks in accordance with COVID Order No. 31 and guidance of the state Department of Public Health while inside, and while entering and exiting places of worship or otherwise participating in in-person services, except where a person is unable to wear a face covering or mask due to a medical or disabling condition.




Massachusetts schools report 527 New Cases

Katie Lannan
State House News Service

A total of 527 new COVID-19 cases were logged in Massachusetts public schools over the past week, according to Department of Elementary and Secondary data. Districts reported 276 new cases among students participating in hybrid or in-person learning from Nov. 26 through Dec. 12, the exact same number as the previous week.

The number of new cases among staff accessing school buildings increased over last week, from 206 to 251. For the second week in a row, Methuen led the state with the most new cases among students, reporting 22 this week after documenting 15 the previous week.

Ninety-nine districts reported at least one new staff case of COVID-19, with the highest numbers in New Bedford (nine) and Fall River (eight). Methuen, Quincy, Cambridge and Haverhill each had six new staff cases. Among approved special education schools, the JRI Meadowridge Swansea Wood School reported 17 student cases and 11 staff cases.




Acushnet Fire Chief Gallagher has chance to test and chat with Acushnet’s oldest resident

“We have tested a lot of people in the last few days. A lot! But this lady was special.

At 102 years of age, she is the oldest resident in town. She was born in 1918, the year of the last great pandemic. I got a chance to talk with her for a time and came away in awe of her strength, dignity, and grace.

She told me she always wears a mask and is keeping to herself, except for her daily walk. They say “with age comes wisdom.” Here you have it.” -Chief Kevin Gallagher




The Bar closed by New Bedford Health Department due to repeated COVID-19 violations

The New Bedford Health Department has issued a cease and desist order to The Bar at 266 Dartmouth Street for its third violation of the state’s regulations to protect residents from the spread of COVID-19.

The Bar has been fined $2,900 and is ordered closed effective immediately, and may not be allowed to reopen until Phase 4. The cease and desist order was issued on Wednesday, December 2.

The Bar was previously fined $300 on October 14 for serving alcohol without food and for failure of employees to wear a mask. On November 21, The Bar was fined $600 for failure of employees to wear masks.

Businesses and employees are reminded to comply with mask-wearing to keep themselves and others safe. 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/.

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