2,000+ new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations above 600 in Massachusetts

Colin A. Young
State House News Service

Another 2,047 cases of the coronavirus and 21 COVID-19 deaths were added to the state’s grand totals Tuesday as the percent of tests that come back positive for the virus continues to climb.

The Department of Public Health’s report for Tuesday increased the total case count to 169,976 infections and elevated the virus’s death toll here to 10,184 people with confirmed or probable COVID-19. The seven-day weighted average of the positive test rate stands at 2.63 percent, up from 2.35 percent Monday. If repeat testing from higher education institutions is left out of the equation, the positive test rate would be 4.42 percent, DPH said.

The number of people with COVID-19 who are hospitalized increased by 30 and stood at 618 as of midday Tuesday. Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the state’s COVID-19 trends are headed in the “wrong direction and show no signs of changing.” DPH estimated Tuesday that there are 23,702 active cases of the highly-infectious coronavirus in Massachusetts.

Surge continues in Massachusetts with over 4,000 COVID-19 cases over weekend

Matt Murphy
State House News Service

The week began Monday with the state tracking 22,023 active cases of COVID-19 after public health officials reported 4,009 new cases of the coronavirus over the weekend and 43 new confirmed deaths from the disease.

The Department of Public Health reported on Sunday that 568 people were in the hospital for confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 144 patients who were in intensive care units. That was an increase of 55 patients hospitalized with the virus since Friday and 26 patients newly being treated in ICUs around the state.

The state reported a combined 172,858 new molecular tests on Saturday and Sunday, which put the state’s seven-day average positivity rate at 2.27 percent. When removing repeat higher education testing from the equation, the positivity rate over the past week was 3.92 percent.

This past weekend was the first since Gov. Charlie Baker put in place a new mandatory mask policy in public, and began imposing curfews on some businesses, forcing them to close by 9:30 p.m. so that people have time to return home and comply with the new statewide advisory that people remain in their homes from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. The new guidelines were put in place to slow what Baker has newly described as a second surge of COVID-19, with the seven-day average of new confirmed cases up 717 percent from a low of 157 a day and the average number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 over the past week up 222 percent from a low of 155. The death toll from the virus now stands at 9,923 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

New State guidance urges in-person schooling in Massachusetts

By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

In the midst of a COVID-19 surge and after weeks of prodding schools through press conferences and memos to bring more students back into classrooms, the Baker administration upped the ante Friday by formally urging all communities to avoid remote-only education wherever possible.

New guidance from the state Department of Early and Secondary Education (DESE) instructs cities and towns in any risk designation below the most severe level to resume fully in-person schooling. Even those in the highest-risk red category should opt for hybrid models rather than fully virtual options, the administration now says.

Schools should only reverse course from prioritizing partial or fully in-person learning if there is suspected in-school transmission or a major outbreak in the community, officials said.

About 23 percent of districts are still fully remote, a DESE spokesperson said Friday.

The push for in-person schooling comes as the administration also overhauled its stoplight system measuring COVID-19 transmission risks, making changes that will sharply curtail the number of high-risk communities.

The updated guidance represents an escalation in the administration’s expectations as officials and medical experts continue to warn about the lasting educational, social and emotional harm that staying home can inflict on children.

“Educators, students and parents all agree that even under favorable circumstances, remote learning is a second-best option that should only be used as a last resort,” Education Secretary James Peyser said at a Friday press conference.

In August, DESE’s guidance anticipated that communities color-coded red would operate schools remotely and those marked yellow would choose hybrid models or fully remote with extenuating circumstances.

Gov. Charlie Baker and other administration officials have been increasingly arguing that there is little evidence linking COVID-19 transmission to in-person schooling. They have also been ramping up the push to bring students back in most communities, even as local officials in some cities and towns opt for remote models as a precaution.

“At the same time Governor Charlie Baker is advising families not to gather inside with others for the holidays because it is not safe, he is pressuring schools to open for full in-person learning. The state’s demands make no sense,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy. “Indeed, educators have wanted nothing more than to be back in person with their students. It has been joyful for educators and students to be back together, no matter which model they are following. The state should not threaten or pressure districts to adopt practices that they have good reason to believe are not safe – and that is what is being done today.”

DESE reported 252 new cases in Massachusetts schools over the past week as statewide infection numbers continue to rise, but Baker said the total number of positive cases is minute compared to the more than 450,000 students now in public school classrooms each week.

State data based on contact tracing, while covering only a portion of confirmed COVID-19 cases, also found little evidence of cluster outbreaks in schools.

“At this point, there is clear and convincing scientific data that shows children are at significantly less risk of developing serious health issues from exposure to COVID-19, and there is clear and convincing scientific data that shows learning in a classroom, as long as people are playing by the rules, does not lead to higher transmission rates,” Baker said.

While the new guidance significantly ramps up the administration’s push for more in-person learning, it is not clear how hard Baker and his deputies would crack down on local or union leaders who still hold out.

The administration has in recent months threatened to audit districts that remain remote in communities with low infection levels, even as Baker and other officials stress the importance of local decision-making.

Asked Friday if a district would face penalties for remaining remote for several more months as an added precaution, DESE Commissioner Jeff Riley declined to answer directly.

“We’ll address that with each individual,” Riley said. “I don’t want to speak about hypotheticals, but we’ll certainly, based on your track record in the past, address when we feel that people aren’t following state guidance.”

The state will also provide rapid mobile testing for schools with clusters of positive cases at no costs to the districts, starting this month. Riley said those tests should not be used for “broad-scale asymptomatic testing in schools,” instead limited only to those who display symptoms for the highly infectious coronavirus.

“The time to get kids back to school is now,” Riley said. “It has become increasingly clear that this virus is going to be with us for a while.”

Dr. Mary Beth Miotto, vice president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, joined administration officials at the press conference, where she praised the updated school guidance as a step that will “help school districts and local boards of health create COVID plans that are more relevant to transmission in their specific populations.”

She warned that the health risks of remote learning are becoming more and more clear to medical professionals, citing personal experience in her Worcester practice of pediatric patients adopting sedentary lifestyles during the pandemic and an observed rise in youth suicide attempts.

“Many of these kids with suicidal thoughts and attempts don’t have a history of behavioral health problems,” she said. “They’re typical children bending or breaking under the stress of the pandemic, and specifically from being alone for long hours at the computer.”

Administration officials increased their push to expand in-person learning with case numbers on the rise in Massachusetts — Baker told municipal officials on Thursday that a “second surge” is “certainly underway” — and alongside a significant overhaul to how the state measures COVID-19 risks at the community level.

The state will now measure color-coded local public health outlooks on different scales for small-, medium- and large-population cities and towns, taking into account both a higher threshold of cases per 100,000 residents as well as positive test rates.

Under the system that has been in place since August, only incidence rates count toward a community’s risk level, with those home to an average daily rate of eight or more cases per 100,000 over the past two weeks marked red.

To earn the highest-risk designation moving forward, communities with fewer than 10,000 residents must record more than 25 cases in the sample period. Those with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 must have either 10 or more cases per 100,000 residents or a positive test rate of 5 percent or higher. Those home to more than 50,000 people will only be deemed in the red if they report both at least 10 cases per 100,000 and also a positivity rate of at least 4 percent.

With those changes, the number of communities marked red will be slashed by nearly 85 percent, from 121 in last week’s report under the old metrics to 16 this week under the new metrics.

Asked Friday if the administration was changing the rules to reduce the number of highest-risk communities, Baker said including more measurements improves the utility of the system and helps incentivize testing.

“I happen to think this is a more nuanced and more accurate way to test how communities are doing: not just in terms of their cases per 100,000, but how they’re doing with respect to testing practices and policies,” Baker said. “We want communities to test. I don’t want some communities to say, ‘I’m not going to test because I’m worried about increasing my numbers.’ ”

Najimy, of the MTA, said the new metrics “will dramatically reduce the number of communities identified as high-risk just as the numbers of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are increasing in Massachusetts. There is a real disconnect between the changes and the current situation. In fact, the new metrics may encourage people to relax their guard when they should be more vigilant than ever.”

The changes bring Massachusetts more in line with how neighboring states measure municipal risk levels and better account for nuance at a granular level, Baker administration officials said Friday.

They pointed as an example to Nahant — a tiny town with a population of slightly more than 3,400 — where only 12 confirmed cases could have pushed it into the red under the older measurement.

Because the count of communities in the red is smaller, the updates will also likely allow more cities and towns to advance into the next stage of economic reopening, in which they can bring back indoor performance venues and several recreational activities.

More than 140 inmates test positive for COVID-19 at Massachusetts jail

Norfolk is one of the 16 cities in Massachusetts that have been designated by state officials to be of high-risk for COVID-19.

A week ago the Massachusetts Department of Corrections ordered facility-wide testing at MCI-Norfolk after two inmates tested positive for COVID-19. More than 1,200 inmates were tested and presently 140 of those tests came back positive, with 300 tests still pending.

While all inmates who tested positive were primarily asymptomatic they were still immediately transferred to quarantine and are currently receiving treatment within MCI-Norfolk.

All in-person visitations to the facility have been suspended until further notice.

Acushnet Fire & EMS utilize CARES Act funds for COVID testing trailer

“If you have driven by the station the past few days you have probably noticed our newest addition.

With CARES Act funds made available by the Board of Selectmen, we have purchased an 18-foot trailer from which we will continue our COVID testing initiative during the colder months.

The trailer is set up as two evaluation rooms with heat, air conditioning and forced air ventilation. We will be adding a few items, changing the logos and rolling this testing unit out as soon as possible.

The trailer has never been used, the previous owner ordered but never used!” -Acushnet Fire & EMS Department.

Acushnet Fire & EMS photo.

Acushnet Fire & EMS photo.

Acushnet to conduct their fourth community-wide, free COVID testing clinic

“We will be conducting our fourth community-wide, free Covid testing clinic on Saturday, November 7th from 9:00am-noon at the parking lot between the schools on Middle Road.

“These testing clinics are proving to be beneficial to the community. New cases were reported this week with residents taking the appropriate quarantine actions. Obviously we are not catching every non-symptomatic person in town but it is a step in the right direction.

“Every indication is that things will get worse before they get better. We will continue to offer free testing outside (safest method) for as long as the weather cooperates. We will be sharing some news very soon on how we plan on addressing testing during the colder months.

“We have heard some frustrations with accessing test results and those have been passed along to the lab. A few hints, use a desktop to access the website and provide a cellphone number when filling out the paperwork so an access code can be sent by text. If all that fails, call us and we can help.

“Finally, this project is working for Acushnet. By doing testing locally we are able to ensure (through our doctor) that individuals testing positive are contacted as soon as possible. Equally important, residents testing negative are able to know that the personal protection practices that they are using is working!

“This entire project only works because of the dedicate staff and volunteers who are committed to making a difference. Each and every one has my deepest appreciation and respect.” -Chief Kevin A. Gallagher, Acushnet Fire & EMS Department.

Acushnet Fire & EMS Department photo.

Baker announces stay at home advisory, targeted measures to curb rising COVID-19 hospitalizations

Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a series of targeted measures to disrupt the increasing trend of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Governor Charlie Baker announced these changes at a time where public health data has indicated that cases are rising, with cases up by 278% and hospitalizations up by 145% since Labor Day. These measures are meant to disrupt rising trends now, so the Commonwealth can keep the economy and schools open for residents and to prevent the need to roll back to Phase I or Phase II of the reopening plan.

All orders and advisories will be effective Friday, November 6th at 12:01 AM.

New Orders & Advisories:

Stay At Home Advisory: The Administration issued a revised Stay At Home Advisory to ensure residents avoid unnecessary activities that can lead to increased COVID-19 transmission. The revised Stay At Home Advisory instructs residents to stay home between 10 PM and 5 AM. The Advisory allows for activities such as going to work, running critical errands to get groceries and address health needs, and taking a walk.

Click here to read the revised Stay At Home Advisory: www.mass.gov/stayhome.

Early Closure of Businesses and Activities: Governor Baker issued a new executive order that requires the early closure of certain businesses and activities each night at 9:30 PM. The 9:30 PM closure requirement is aligned with the Stay At Home Advisory and together the two new initiatives are designed to further limit activities that could lead to COVID-19 transmission.

Effective November 6, the following businesses and activities must close to the public each day between the hours of 9:30 PM and 5:00 AM.

– Restaurants (in-person dining must cease at 9:30 PM, although takeout and delivery may continue for food and non-alcoholic beverages, but not alcohol)

– Liquor stores and other retail establishments that sell alcohol must cease alcohol sales at 9:30 PM (but may continue to sell other products)
– Adult-use marijuana sales must cease at 9:30 PM (not including medical marijuana)
– Indoor & outdoor events
– Theaters/movie theaters (including drive-in movie theaters), and performance venues (indoor and outdoor)
– Youth and adult amateur sports activities
– Golf facilities
– Recreational boating and boating businesses
– Outdoor recreational experiences
– Casinos and horse tracks/simulcast facilities
– Driving and flight schools
– Zoos, botanical gardens, wildlife reserves, nature centers
– Close contact personal services (such as hair and nail salons)
– Gyms, Fitness Centers and Health Clubs
– Indoor and outdoor pools
– Museums/cultural & historical facilities/guided tours

Click here to read the new executive order (including full list of businesses required to close at 9:30 PM).

Face Covering Order: Governor Baker also signed an updated order related to face-coverings. The revised order requires all persons to wear face-coverings in all public places, even where they are able to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. The revised order still allows for an exception for residents who cannot wear a face-covering due to a medical or disabling condition, but it allows employers to require employees to provide proof of such a condition. It also allows schools to require that students participating in in-person learning provide proof of such a medical or disabling condition.

Gatherings Order: Governor Baker also signed an updated order restricting gatherings. The new gatherings order reduces the gathering size limit for gatherings at private residences: indoor gatherings at private residences are limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings at private residences are limited to 25 people. The limit on gatherings held in public spaces and at event venues (e.g. wedding venues) remains the same. The new order also requires that all gatherings (regardless of size or location) must end and disperse by 9:30 PM.

The new gatherings order also requires that organizers of gatherings report known positive COVID-19 cases to the local health department in that community and requires organizers to cooperate with contact tracing. The gatherings order authorizes continued enforcement by local health and police departments and specifies that fines for violating the gathering order will be $500 for each person above the limit at a particular gathering.

201 new student COVID-19 cases reported in Massachusetts

A total of 286 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Massachusetts schools this week, the highest number in the five weeks the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been publishing data provided to it by local officials. That number includes 201 cases among students participating in hybrid or fully in-person education, and 85 cases among district staff who had access to school buildings from Oct. 22 to Oct 28.

Among districts reporting student cases this week, Beverly had the highest total, with eight, followed by Braintree and Rockland, with seven each. New Bedford had the most staff cases, with four, followed by the three each in Haverhill, Waltham and Taunton.

DESE’s data shows no new cases logged in Bedford over the past week, but officials in that town sent a note to public school families Thursday, saying that recent “data and contact tracing details from current cases support the occurrence of in-school transmission of COVID-19 at Bedford High School,” and that there are eight active cases in the high school community.

“We continue to get reports of gatherings and after-school and weekend ‘hang-outs’ where lack of social distancing appears to be contributing to transmission. Over the last 2 weeks, 19 new COVID-19 positive cases were identified in Bedford,” superintendent Philip Conrad, School Committee chair Dan Brosgol, town manager Sarah Stanton and health and human services director Heidi Porter said in the message where they informed families that Bedford High School would operate in a remote mode for at least the next two weeks.

Baker administration education officials said this week that districts should keep up in-person learning unless the virus is spreading in schools. “It is increasingly clear that schools are not a source of transmission,” Education Secretary James Peyser said.

Voting safely during COVID-19

Dr. Michael Rocha, a cardiologist in New Bedford, MA and a member of the COVID19 Action Coalition, a physician-led group that is working to keep everyone safe in MA during this pandemic talks about voting safely in these times of COVID.

Voting in person increases the number of people gathering indoors. Already, we have seen an increase in COVID over the last week in Massachusetts.

These simple steps and tips in this video will help you vote safely and can go a long way to stop the spread.

What to Bring:

– Wear a 2 or more-layer cloth mask that snuggly covers your nose and mouth and is secure under your chin.
– Bring your own personal hand sanitizer.
– Bring your own black ink pen.
– Optional protective items include a face shield that can be used over the mask but NOT in place of a mask.
– You also want to avoid masks that have exhalation valves.

Wash Your Hands:

– You may be tired of hearing it but we need to keep washing our hands.
– Wash your hands before entering and after leaving the polling locations.
– While in the polling location, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently, especially after touching surfaces.

Socially Distance:
– Wear your mask and maintain at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) of distance from others.

Try to avoid crowds.
– Use early voting options including in-person(by Oct 30), mail-in, or drop off boxes.
– Vote at off-peak times, such as mid-morning.
– If driving to the polls, monitor the voter line from your car and join it when it’s shorter.

Be Prepared:
– Check your voting location and requirements in advance.
– Verify your voter registration information is correct in advance.
– Read Question 1 and 2 and a sample ballot before entering the polling station to be ready to go when you are in the booth.

Be well. Be safe. Let’s Beat COVID together and let’s vote!

⁣⁣Source @CDC.gov

New Bedford Public Schools launches online COVID Tracker

In a letter today to New Bedford Public Schools families, staff and students, Superintendent Thomas Anderson announced the launching of a dashboard-style tracker of COVID-19 test positivity rates for the district. Linked directly to the district homepage, www.newbedfordschools.org, the data will be updated weekly.

Emphasizing transparency and noting the district has “been working to ensure families are informed of the most up-to-date information,” Superintendent Anderson stated the work includes strict adherence to health and safety guidelines “in collaboration with the New Bedford Department of Public Health, the Mass. Department of Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). This includes steps we must take to address individuals who test positive.”

If a NBPS student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the contact tracing protocol starts immediately. Any adult or student who is considered a CDC Close Contact of a person who tests positive is notified by the Public Health Department and/or New Bedford Public Schools. NBPS follows this 5-step protocol:

1). Families and staff considered “close contacts” are advised to call their healthcare provider for evaluation and to get a COVID-19 PCR test.
2). Children and/or staff in certain classes or in certain schools must stay home during contact tracing.
3). If individuals are not notified, they are not close contacts and do not need to be quarantined.
4). Specific school cases are communicated directly with the school community.
5). If there is a suspected in-school or in-district transmission, the Superintendent will communicate next steps with staff and families as well as with the public. Steps could include: a) closing part of a school, the entire school, or the district for a short time for thorough cleaning; b) closing for the duration of a 14-day quarantine; and c) school will communicate with families about how learning will continue during this time.

Communication is supported by launching the NBPS COVID-19 Tracker on the NBPS homepage to provide timely and updated information about positive cases within the NBPS (updated by 4:00 p.m. every Friday). Please refer to the dashboard for updated information.

The NBPS COVID-19 Tracker is for informational purposes only. Located on the district website homepage, it shares the number of known COVID-19 cases. Tracker data does not include any personally identifiable information and is reported, as required, to DESE. Currently, the Tracker notes: “To date there has been NO evidence of transmission in our schools or offices.”

Superintendent Anderson emphasized, “Families can help by keeping sick students and those students who have been tested but are awaiting test results at home. If your student is ill, please call your school nurse first so that we can ensure you receive the appropriate information to confirm contact tracing begins immediately. Our communication process is dedicated to supporting the health and safety of our students, staff and families.”

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