Governor Baker authorizes $56 million to combat food insecurity in Massachusetts

The Baker-Polito Administration Sunday announced $56 million to combat urgent food insecurity for some Massachusetts families and individuals as a result of COVID-19. This funding is consistent with findings of the Food Security Task Force, which was convened by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center in response to increased demands for food assistance. The task force is comprised of a broad group of public and private members charged with ensuring food insecurity and food supply needs are addressed during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“These funds jump start some of the recommendations to address urgent needs and food supply chain issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic for communities across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “While COVID-19 has had a statewide impact, some of our communities and residents who have historically experienced food insecurity have been even more disproportionately impacted.”

“Our Administration has always been focused on supporting residents and families dealing with food insecurity, especially now during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We thank the Food Security Task Force for their work on these important issues, and are glad to make these crucial investments.”

The Administration will continue to utilize the Food Security Task Force and work with the Legislature to address food security issues going forward.

“Longstanding food assistance programs including the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infant and Children’s Program (WIC) are experiencing significant increases in assistance applications. In addition, community-based food banks are seeing skyrocketing demand and local grocers and farmers are struggling to meet the needs of consumers,” said COVID-19 Command Center Director and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “I am appreciative of the task force’s practical recommendations to meet immediate needs as well as the longer-term solutions.”

“We are pleased to provide new funding to a wide array of programs and initiatives in order to help ensure individuals and families have access to affordable, nutritious food during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Secretary of Administration and Finance Michael J. Heffernan. “This funding builds upon other critical COVID-19 resources which are being distributed by the Administration in partnership with the Legislature, including the $502 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds which will support important municipal initiatives, such as food assistance, during this public health crisis.”

“Increasing food security is essential to protecting the health of Massachusetts residents, and the funding and recommendations made available through the Task Force will help meet greater demand for nutritional assistance among vulnerable populations and those struggling with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides. “The ongoing crisis has also highlighted the importance of reinforcing our local food supply chain, and this investment from the Baker-Polito Administration will provide needed capital to the farmers, fishermen, food banks, and distributors that are helping the Commonwealth respond to this unprecedented public health emergency.”

In less than a month, the Food Security Task Force, which was convened on April 22, synthesized and prioritized more than 80 recommendations into the following four key actionable categories:

– Develop and implement an emergency food program
– Fortify the food bank system
– Maximize federal resources for food and nutrition
– Reinforce and redeploy the food system infrastructure

As the task force continues its work going forward, today the Administration announces:

A $36 million COVID-19 Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program with a goal of ensuring that individuals and families have access to food. Eligible services include:

– Increasing capacity for food direct delivery;
– Increasing capacity of food banks and food pantries;
– Increasing capacity of local food distribution partners;
– Innovative solutions to enable those receiving SNAP and WIC benefits to receive food more easily;
– Innovative solutions for urban farming and
– Farms, retailers, fisheries and other food system businesses to help them adapt to the disruptions and to allow them to provide greater access to local food.

$5 million increase for the Healthy Incentives Program to meet increased demand for local produce and to increase access points that process SNAP and HIP benefits.

$12 million for the provision of 25,000 family food boxes per week through a regional food supply system. Each family food box contains 30 to 35 meals. Food boxes would be distributed throughout the state to food pantries.

$3 million in funding as an immediate relief valve to food banks.

The work of the task force builds on Massachusetts’ initiatives to increase access to food, including establishing emergency food distribution sites and school meal sites for food distribution, implementing Pandemic EBT to provide food to 500,000 youth who usually receive free or reduced priced lunch, distributing additional SNAP benefits to households, requesting online EBT purchasing approval from the federal government, and streamlining food benefit program administration.

Additionally, the Commonwealth recently released funding from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund to local cities and towns of up to $502 million and highlighted food insecurity as an eligible program.

Reporting up to the COVID-19 Command Center and Secretary Sudders, the work of the Food Security Task Force will continue as a private-public partnership, chaired by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides, Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Amy Kershaw and Jill Shah, President of the Shah Family Foundation.

Bedford VA reports 41 total COVID-19 related deaths

Katie Lannan
State House News Service

The Bedford VA reported Friday that it has had a total of 41 deaths linked to COVID-19, including its first employee death.

That total includes 22 deaths at the Bedford VA Medical Center, 12 deaths of Bedford patients at other medical locations, and six outpatient veterans. The Bedford VA’s last update, published Monday, had tallied a total of 28 deaths. Fifty-six inpatient veterans, 18 outpatients, and 19 employees were positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday, the Bedford VA said in its Friday update.

“We continue to see residents of our Community Living Centers ‘recover,’ having been designated as ‘clinically resolved’ from their previous COVID-19 positive diagnosis,” the update said. “Recovered patients are transferred to designated recovery care units within the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital here.”

Chelsea remains hardest-hit community by coronavirus in Massachusetts

Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

Cities and towns with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the latest round of state data continued to have larger nonwhite populations and lower incomes, while Chelsea remained a hotspot with a rate nearly twice that of any other community.

Through 12 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Public Health reported 2,412 cases in Chelsea, a rate of about 6,403 infections per 100,000 residents. The second-highest rate in the state was in Brockton with 3,490 infections per 100,000 residents.

In terms of overall cases, Boston still has the largest outbreak: its 11,551 cases through Wednesday were nearly three times as many as the 3,549 in Worcester, which has the second-largest total of confirmed cases. Nine of the 10 communities with the highest case rates — Chelsea, Brockton, Everett, Lynn, Lawrence, Revere, Randolph, Lowell and Stoughton — have populations where the percentage of nonwhite residents is higher than the statewide average of 20.7 percent, and five of them have majority nonwhite populations, according to Census data. The only exception in the top 10 is Danvers, which reported a rate of 2,157 cases per 100,000 people and has a population that is 93.4 percent white.

Eight House Democrats ask Governor Baker to extend stay-at-home advisory

Katie Lannan
State House News Service

A group of eight House Democrats asked Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday to extend his administration’s stay-at-home advisory and closure of most businesses beyond its current May 18 lapse date. Baker’s economic reopening advisory board is set to issue its report Monday, and Baker has said he envisions beginning a gradual process of allowing some businesses to resume operations around that date.

In a letter to Baker, the lawmakers — Reps. Mike Connolly, Lindsay Sabadosa, Christine Barber, Michelle DuBois, Nika Elugardo, Jack Lewis, Maria Robinson and Tami Gouveia — outline a series of concerns, including the continued rise in COVID-19 case counts.

“We recognize general improvement in the overall COVID-19 trends and are grateful for the sacrifices that Commonwealth residents have been making,” the letter says. “And while we are cognizant of the hardships people continue to endure, we think it would be premature to allow the Stay-At-Home Advisory to expire on Monday, May 18th. Furthermore, the current plan — to start reopening the economy less than one day after the Reopening Advisory Board releases its guidance — is confusing to many of our constituents and businesses. This confusion will result in poor public health choices and is deeply concerning to us as legislators.”

Massachusetts to receive $13.5 billion if $3 trillion relief package passes

By Katie Lannan
State House News Service

Massachusetts stands to receive $12 billion in aid, plus another $1.5 billion for its school districts and higher education campuses, in a massive $3 trillion relief package that passed the U.S. House Friday, according to Congresswoman Lori Trahan.

But the bill, House Democrats’ proposal for a fourth phase of COVID-19 aid legislation, is on track to meet a dead end, at least in its current form, although it could eventually become a launching point for House-Senate talks and its fate could be determined by unfolding COVID-19 impacts and election year politics.

The White House has said President Trump’s advisors would recommend he veto it, saying the bill is focused on “delivering on longstanding partisan and ideological wishlists.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has used similar language, also describing it as a “parade of absurdities.” Trump said Thursday that the bill is “dead on arrival” and that House Speaker “Nancy Pelosi knows that.”

Congressman William Keating, who joined Trahan and other New England Democrats on a conference call with reporters Friday to urge the Senate to follow the House’s lead in swiftly passing the bill, pushed back against Republicans’ criticisms. He said the package instead addresses “nuts and bolts” issues and the core needs of workers, states and local governments.

“This isn’t a wishlist, as I think you might hear,” Keating said. “This is directly focused on all the critical needs that we have, and I do believe that you’re going to see these things included as we move forward.”

Dubbed the HEROES Act, the expansive bill would steer nearly $1 trillion in aid to state, local, territorial and tribal governments; create a $200 billion fund to provide hazard pay to essential workers; allocate $75 billion for COVID-19 testing, tracing, isolation and treatment; send another round of direct stimulus payments to taxpayers, of up to $6,000 per household; and extend federal unemployment benefits, among other measures.

Keating said New Bedford alone would receive almost $200 million in direct payments, and Trahan said cities in her district like Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill would benefit from “much-needed relief” to help stabilize their budgets.

“If we don’t pass this bill, local governments will continue to operate on the brink of bankruptcy,” she said.

In late March, Trahan estimated the $2 trillion federal CARES Act, which became law, would direct about $2.67 billion to Massachusetts in aid to state government, and $1 billion to preserve public transit jobs.

With local budgets strained by pandemic-related spending and the limited revenues that come from a near-total economic shutdown, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline said front-line workers like police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians are “at risk of losing their jobs as they risk their lives to care for us.” Teachers, who have been forced to adapt to remote education amid widespread school closures, also face the risk of job cuts, he said.

Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont said the federal government is the only entity with the capacity and fiscal flexibility to step in and provide a “lifeline.”

“The impact of this has been brutal and widespread, and the fact is that there’s an immense amount of dislocation and anxiety and suffering for individuals economically, but it’s also all of our institutions,” Welch said. “Our restaurant and hospitality industry is just devastated.”

Pelosi has indicated she’s open to negotiation on the fourth round of relief legislation, and Cicilline said the Senate’s options include amending the House bill or passing its own legislation, which would set up conference committee talks. Cicilline said the House “put together a piece of legislation that responded to the gravity of the moment.”

“Inaction is not an option,” he said.

Both the White House and Senate leadership have highlighted measures they want to see in whatever version of legislation ultimately is pursued.

“When additional legislation is contemplated, it should include a payroll tax holiday, safeharbor provisions to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits, permitting reform to facilitate infrastructure projects, and other policies to spur our economic comeback,” reads a statement of Trump administration policy.

McConnell said in a Fox News interview that his “red line” is “liability protections for those who are brave enough to begin to open up the economy again in the wake of the trial lawyers who are descending already on hospitals and doctors and businesses as of about a week and a half ago.”

New Bedford officials report three more COVID-19 related deaths, 54 more cases

New Bedford health officials reported three additional COVID-19 related deaths today bringing the city’s total death count to 48.

Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office reported 54 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Bedford on Saturday, bringing the total positive cases in the city to 1,437, up from 1,383 on Friday.

Greater New Bedford has six operation COVID-19 testing sites; two in New Bedford, three in Dartmouth, and one in Fairhaven. Details on each location and list of COVID-19 symptoms here.

The City of New Bedford is offering a mask to any New Bedford resident who wants one at no cost, at a series of drive-through distribution events in late May and June. Full details here.

33 additional cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Fall River, according to the Mayor’s Office. This brings the total in Fall River to 939. The City was also notified of its twentieth fatality. Full details here.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to drop as Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board is set to reveal plans. Full details here.

About 90 percent of Bostonians have not been exposed to the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, an antibody study conducted by the city and Massachusetts General Hospital found. Full details here.

Several Republican legislators on Tuesday urged Gov. Charlie Baker to not delay the reopening of the economy any longer, expressing frustration that other states around Massachusetts are allowing businesses to resume activities while owners and employees in their districts remain in limbo. Full details here.

Study: One in 10 people in Boston have been exposed to Coronavirus

Colin A. Young
State House News Service

About 90 percent of Bostonians have not been exposed to the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, an antibody study conducted by the city and Massachusetts General Hospital found.

Mayor Martin Walsh and the hospital announced Friday that the study that tested 750 asymptomatic residents in East Boston, Roslindale, and two Dorchester zip codes revealed that 9.9 percent tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies and 2.6 percent tested positive for active COVID-19. The city said the results suggest 1 in 10 residents have developed antibodies and approximately 1 in 40 currently asymptomatic individuals are positive for COVID-19 and potentially infectious.

“We can draw two preliminary conclusions from the results of this study,” Walsh said. “First, that the actions we took early on in this pandemic made a real difference in slowing the spread and, second, that the majority of our population still have not been exposed to the virus. This underscores what we already know, that we have to move cautiously and stay focused on what got us this far. This can be done by a gradual, phased-in approach to reopening that includes clear health criteria and safety guidelines for each industry and depends on testing and hospital metrics reaching certain benchmarks, and continuing to move in the right direction.”

In East Boston, 1.1 percent of participants tested positive for COVID-19 and 13.3 percent tested positive for antibodies. In Roslindale, 2.2 percent tested positive for COVID-19 and 7.6 percent tested positive for antibodies. Dorchester’s 02121 zip code had a 2.7 percent positive rate for COVID-19 and 6.3 of participants tested positive for antibodies. Dorchester’s 02125 zip code had 4.6 percent of participants test positive for COVID-19 and 12.1 percent test positive for antibodies.

Greater New Bedford has six operation COVID-19 testing sites

Greater New Bedford has six operation COVID-19 testing sites; two in New Bedford, three in Dartmouth, and one in Fairhaven. Details on each location and list of COVID-19 symptoms:

1. St Luke’s Hospital (ER and hospital)
101 Page Street Po Box H 3003 New Bedford MA 02740
PHONE: 508-997-1515
HOURS: ER testing 24 hours
Call First: No

2. AFC Urgent Care New Bedford
119 Coggeshall Street, New Bedford, MA 02746
PHONE: (508) 990-1900
HOURS: Weekdays 9am-5pm, Weekends 9am-2pm
Call First: Yes

3. Hawthorn Medical Associates Urgent Care
535 Faunce Corner Road North Dartmouth MA
PHONE: 508-996-3991
HOURS: 7:00am-7pm Mon-Fri 8am-4pm Sat 8am-4pm Sun
Call First: No

4. Southcoast Health Drive Through
300 Faunce Corner Rd Dartmouth MA
PHONE: 508-973-1919
HOURS: 8am-4:30pm
Call First: Yes

5. Southcoast Urgent Care Center – Dartmouth
435 State Rd, Route 6, North Dartmouth, MA, 02747, USA
PHONE: 508-973-1919
Drive-Thru Services: Yes
Appointment Required: Yes
Referral Required: Yes
Call First: Yes

6. Southcoast Urgent Care Center – Fairhaven
208 Mill Road, Fairhaven, MA
PHONE: 508-973-1919
Drive-Thru Services: No
Appointment Required: Yes
Referral Required: Yes
Call First: Yes

List of all COVID-19 testing sites in Massachusetts here.

Per the CDC, COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Infected people have had a wide range of symptoms reported – from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:
– Cough
– Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
– Fever
– Chills
– Muscle pain
– Sore throat
– New loss of taste or smell

Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:
– Trouble breathing
– Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
– New confusion
– Inability to wake or stay awake
– Bluish lips or face

Call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque visits Boston police and delivers meals

“Thank You for Thanking Us: Special thanks to Bruins legend Ray Bourque who personally stopped by District A-1 (Downtown) on Thursday, May 14, 2020, to deliver meals to the officers who work there.

According to Bourque, he just wanted to say thank you to the officers for keeping everybody safe and he thought delivering meals from his restaurant, Tresca located at 233 Hanover Street in the North End, was the perfect way to show his appreciation. Said one of the officers, “Everybody knows Ray Bourque is one the greatest players in the history of the NHL. But, they should also know, especially after what he did for us today, that he’s also one of the nicest.”

Drafted 8th overall in the first round 1979 NHL draft, Bourque went on to play 21 seasons with the Bruins while appearing in 19 consecutive NHL All Star Games. In 2001, he won a Stanley Cup while playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

To this day, Ray Bourque remains one of the most popular players in Boston Bruin history.”-Boston Police Department.

Massachusetts Public Health officials warn of virus-linked syndrome in children

Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

With nine suspected cases of a newly identified pediatric condition in Massachusetts that may be connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel on Thursday alerted health care providers to be on the lookout and ordered them to report any additional cases immediately.

More than 100 cases of the condition, referred to as pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, have been confirmed in New York, including three deaths.

Bharel said in a Thursday memo that nine children in Massachusetts hospitals are suspected to have PMIS, flagging it as a key issue for those on the front lines to watch. She called for mandatory reporting of any confirmed or suspected cases in patients younger than 21 to the Department of Public Health, effective immediately, “to reduce morbidity and mortality.”

“The reason this order’s important is to put out what the symptoms are that primary care and hospitals should be looking for to report this condition,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said at a Thursday press conference on COVID-19 response. “We don’t know what the prevalence is of the condition in Massachusetts yet. That’s why the public health order was so important.”

Health experts have long said that children are less vulnerable to the COVID-19 respiratory illness than adults, but evidence is growing in Europe and in New York state that they may be susceptible to an inflammatory condition that appears linked to the same novel coronavirus.

In her advisory, Bharel wrote that the majority of PMIS patients tested positive for SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Bharel instructed providers to investigate whether pediatric patients who may be presenting symptoms of the syndrome have had any recent illness with COVID-19 or close contact with someone else who caught the highly infectious virus.

The symptoms do not mirror COVID-19, however. Fever, inflammation and other severe issues such as organ failure could be signs of the syndrome, Bharel wrote, when there is no evidence of a plausible alternative diagnosis.

“This syndrome has features which overlap with Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome,” Bharel wrote. “Inflammatory markers may be elevated, and fever and abdominal symptoms may be prominent. Other reported findings have included rash, myocarditis and other cardiovascular changes, coagulopathies, and acute kidney injury. Additionally, some patients have developed cardiogenic or vasogenic shock and required intensive care. Respiratory symptoms may not be a prominent feature.”

She stressed the importance of “early recognition” by pediatricians and added that it is “essential” for providers to collaborate with specialists in infectious diseases, rheumatology, cardiology and critical care.

Public health officials have confirmed 80,497 COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts since the outbreak began and a cumulative death toll of 5,315. Less than 4 percent of all confirmed cases were observed in residents 19 and younger, and the rate of confirmed cases per 100,000 was also the lowest in that age group by a wide margin.

In a Wednesday statement, before Bharel issued new guidance and while state officials were still compiling data about the prevalence of the syndrome in the state, American Academy of Pediatrics Massachusetts Chapter President Dr. Elizabeth Goodman said the growing concerns highlight “why it’s important that parents stay connected to their pediatrician.”

“If a pediatrician thinks a child should be seen in the office, we urge parents to follow through so that we can catch things early, before they become emergent,” she said. “Any family with a known COVID-19 case — any family member — should be on the lookout for fever, rash, red eyes, cracked lips, abdominal pain, swollen or red hands or feet in their children, even if the child was never sick.”

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