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Baker Administration, Mass League of Community Health Centers to Launch Public Awareness Campaign

In partnership with the Mass League of Community Health Centers, the Baker-Polito Administration today announced an upcoming new COVID-19 public awareness campaign, “New Tools, New Rules – Same Great Care.”

Community Health Centers throughout the Commonwealth are open and accepting patients, and this campaign encourages residents to continue to seek care for their medical conditions and reminds individuals not to delay treatment as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

In addition to implementing additional, onsite safety protocols, many Community Health Centers have introduced and expanded telehealth care options. Furthermore, MassHealth contracts with three telehealth providers to offer additional support for members with questions about symptoms that might be related to COVID-19.

Featuring diverse patients with common conditions such as asthma, diabetes and pregnancy, these ads will run for free on WCVB in the Greater Boston area and on WWLP-22News and The CW Springfield in Western Massachusetts.

Digital video advertisements on Facebook will be in English, Spanish and other languages, and will specifically target regions with the highest populations of families in need of services.

Last week, the Baker-Polito Administration announced an expansion of its initiative to boost testing in community health centers across the Commonwealth.

The Baker-Polito Administration will continue to update the public on developments related to COVID-19. Residents can visit www.mass.gov/covid19 for the latest information, call 2-1-1 with questions, and subscribe to text-alerts by texting “COVIDMA” or “COVIDMAESP” (for Spanish alerts) to 888-777.




FDA Authorizes First Antigen Test to Help in the Rapid Detection of the Virus that Causes COVID-19

The following is attributed to FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. and Jeff Shuren, M.D., director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a COVID-19 antigen test, a new category of tests for use in the ongoing pandemic. These diagnostic tests quickly detect fragments of proteins found on or within the virus by testing samples collected from the nasal cavity using swabs. The EUA was issued late Friday to Quidel Corporation for the Sofia 2 SARS Antigen FIA. This test is authorized for use in high and moderate complexity laboratories certified by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), as well as for point-of-care testing by facilities operating under a CLIA Certificate of Waiver.

Diagnostic testing is one of the pillars of our nation’s response to COVID-19 and the FDA continues to take actions to help make these critical products available, including by issuing EUAs. During this pandemic, there have been two types of tests for which the FDA has issued EUAs. One type are polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, a molecular diagnostic testing technique that detects the genetic material from the virus and can help diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. The other type are serological tests that look for antibodies to the virus, which can help identify individuals who have developed an adaptive immune response to the virus, as part of either an active infection or a prior infection (serological, or antibody, tests should not be used to diagnose active infection).

This latest FDA authorization is for an antigen test, which is a new type of diagnostic test designed for rapid detection of the virus that causes COVID-19. Each category of diagnostic test has its own unique role in the fight against this virus. PCR tests can be incredibly accurate, but running the tests and analyzing the results can take time. One of the main advantages of an antigen test is the speed of the test, which can provide results in minutes. However, antigen tests may not detect all active infections, as they do not work the same way as a PCR test. Antigen tests are very specific for the virus, but are not as sensitive as molecular PCR tests. This means that positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, but there is a higher chance of false negatives, so negative results do not rule out infection. With this in mind, negative results from an antigen test may need to be confirmed with a PCR test prior to making treatment decisions or to prevent the possible spread of the virus due to a false negative.

Antigen tests are also important in the overall response against COVID-19 as they can generally be produced at a lower cost than PCR tests and once multiple manufacturers enter the market, can potentially scale to test millions of Americans per day due to their simpler design, helping our country better identify infection rates closer to real time.

This is just the first antigen test to be authorized and we expect more to follow. We also anticipate providing an EUA template for antigen tests, similar to ones we’ve released for other test types, to help manufacturers streamline submissions and help expedite our review and issuance of additional EUAs.

Antigen tests will play a critical role in the fight against COVID-19 and we will continue to offer support and expertise to help with the development of accurate tests, and to review and monitor marketed tests to ensure accuracy, while balancing the urgent need for these critical diagnostics.




New Bedford passes 1,000 COVID-19 cases, reaches 30 deaths on Saturday

New Bedford officials reported one more COVID-19 related deaths since yesterday or 11 deaths since last Saturday bringing the total to 30 in the city.

Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office reported 98 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Bedford on Saturday, bringing the total positive cases in the city to 1,042, up from 944 on Friday.

As of Thursday, none of the 26 people who have died from COVID-19 in New Bedford were under 50 years old and 98% of those who have died in Massachusetts have had at least one preexisting health condition. New Bedford’s breakout by age here.

26 additional cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Fall River. This brings the total in Fall River to 711. The City was also notified of its twelfth fatality. Full details here.

On May 8, the Massachusetts Public Health Department reported that the state added 1,612 more positive cases of COVID-19 bringing to total to 75,333. This is a decrease from Thursday’s 1,696 reported cases. Full details here.

The numbers that state health officials report each day keep going up and up and up. The number of people tested for the coronavirus, the number of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the number of people who have been killed by the virus. There’s another number that does not get reported but also keeps rising — the number of people in Massachusetts who have recovered from COVID-19. Full details here.

A federal judge will temporarily lift a Gov. Charlie Baker executive order requiring firearm retailers to close their physical businesses during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Full details here.

Gov. Charlie Baker lifted the ban on golfing in Massachusetts. Full details here.




COVID-19 cases pass 75,000 in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Coronavirus Update

On May 8, the Massachusetts Public Health Department reported that the state added 1,612 more positive cases of COVID-19 bringing to total to 75,333. This is a decrease from Thursday’s 1,696 reported cases.

150 new COVID-19 related deaths were reported on Friday bringing the total deaths in Massachusetts to 4,702. As of 4 pm today, 366,023 people in Massachusetts have been tested for COVID-19 – 14,391 new tests since yesterday.

As of May 5, 32,019 individuals in Massachusetts were subject to quarantine with 22,148 no longer in quarantine. 9,871 individuals are undergoing monitoring/under quarantine.

A federal judge will temporarily lift a Gov. Charlie Baker executive order requiring firearm retailers to close their physical businesses during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Full details here.

New Bedford Coronavirus Update

New Bedford officials reported three more COVID-19 related deaths since yesterday, six in the past two days or 10 deaths since Saturday bringing the total to 29 in the city. 29% of New Bedford’s COVID-19 related deaths have come in the past six days.

Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office reported 53 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Bedford on Friday, bringing the total positive cases in the city to 944, up from 891 on Thursday.

As of Thursday, none of the 26 people who have died from COVID-19 in New Bedford were under 50 years old and 98% of those who have died in Massachusetts have had at least one preexisting health condition. New Bedford’s breakout by age here.

Fall River Coronavirus Update

26 additional cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Fall River. This brings the total in Fall River to 711. The City was also notified of its twelfth fatality. Full details here.




65,733 people in Massachusetts have survived COVID-19

Colin A. Young
State House News Service

The numbers that state health officials report each day keep going up and up and up. The number of people tested for the coronavirus, the number of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the number of people who have been killed by the virus. There’s another number that does not get reported but also keeps rising — the number of people in Massachusetts who have recovered from COVID-19.

“People can and do recover, and we need to remember that,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said late last month after she recovered from her own COVID-19 diagnosis and returned to work.

There have been 73,721 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Massachusetts since Feb. 1. As of Thursday, 4,552 people have died of the disease and another 3,436 people are currently hospitalized with the virus. That leaves 65,733 people who could be sick with the virus but not badly enough to need hospital care, could have been treated at a hospital and released, or could have made a full recovery like Bharel.

A COVID-19 simulator built by Massachusetts General Hospital estimates that the number of active cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts — meaning “anyone who is in the infectious period” — is roughly 6,200. But there is no real way to know for sure yet.

Clinicians in Massachusetts are required to report positive cases of COVID-19, but are not required to report when a patient recovers and the Mass. Department of Public Health does not track the number of recoveries in the state, a DPH spokeswoman said.

Many local boards of health do track the number of COVID-19 recoveries in their own communities. Boston said Thursday that 2,882 of the 10,589 residents who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have recovered. Somerville reported 291 recoveries among 665 positive tests in its city. Framingham reports the total number of cases (1,146 as of Wednesday) and then breaks it down into fatalities (42), recoveries (290) and active cases (814). Pittsfield does the same. Brockton reports the cumulative number of confirmed cases, the number of deaths and the number of active cases, making it easy to determine the number of people who have recovered.

A number of states around the country report statewide recovery numbers daily or weekly, too. But things get murky in the fine print of each state’s report.

“Currently, there are multiple ways for recovered cases to be recorded and several methods are used by different countries and states. Some states and countries measure a case as recovered when a person has had COVID-19 for more than 14 days, while others upon hospital discharge data — neither of which completely capture recovery of the full COVID positive population,” the Florida Department of Health, which like Massachusetts does not report statewide recoveries, said in a statement.

To cut through some of that static, Massachusetts is among a group of states talking with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and each other about coming up with a standardized definition of what it means to have recovered from COVID-19, DPH confirmed to the News Service.

Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services publishes a chart that visually displays the number of cumulative cases along with how many of those are active, how many patients have died and how many people have recovered. The chart shows that while the cumulative number of cases increases, so too does the number of recoveries.

As of Wednesday, Alaska reported that about 78 percent of people who have tested positive in that state have recovered. The state defines a recovered patient as someone “whose symptoms have improved enough to meet the CDC criteria to be released from home isolation, and are no longer considered to be infectious.”

Michigan reports a cumulative number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 infection each Saturday. Last weekend, the state said 15,659 of the 44,397 people who had been diagnosed with the virus had recovered, about 35 percent of all cases.

There, public health officials count as recovered any COVID-19 patient who is still alive 30 days after testing positive for the virus.

On Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that more people in his state had recovered from COVID-19 than had been newly diagnosed with it over the last two days.

“That’s exactly what we want to see,” the governor wrote. “Texas ranks 3rd highest among states for number of people who have recovered from #coronavirus.”

In Abbott’s state, the Department of State Health Services reports daily on the number of cumulative COVID-19 cases in the state, and estimated numbers of active cases and of patients who have recovered from the virus.

But the fine print on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard reveals that the estimates are “based on several assumptions related to hospitalization rates and recovery times, which were informed by data available to date” and that the estimates “are subject to change as we learn more about COVID-19.” The estimates also do not include any cases reported before March 24.

Tennessee, which got its first COVID-19 case from Massachusetts, reports recoveries and counts in that category “people who (1) have been confirmed to be asymptomatic by their local or regional health department and have completed their required isolation period or (2) are at least 21 days beyond the first test confirming their illness.”

As of Tuesday, Tennessee reported that 6,783 people had recovered from COVID-19, representing about 48 percent of the state’s cumulative cases.

Mississippi public health officials put out a number for “presumed recovered cases,” which is a count of all living COVID-19 patients who were not hospitalized and are 14 days beyond their initial positive test, plus the number of patients who were hospitalized but are 21 days beyond their initial positive test.

In Wyoming, a patient is considered recovered “when there is resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and there is improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, shortness of breath) for 72 hours AND at least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.”

Having a uniform definition of what it means to have recovered from this new virus could play a major role as states reopen their economies and send people back to work. Some have suggested that people who have recovered could return to work sooner or could be asked to take frontline jobs in medicine or retail, if studies show that recovery from COVID-19 comes with some level of immunity from re-infection. But that all hinges on knowing what recovered actually means.

“We’ve asked the CDC this question so we don’t all define it in different ways just based on the state,” North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said in an April 16 news conference. “We’re trying to figure out how we as a country can all define recovery so we have that sort of standardization and not apples to oranges if we define it in different ways.”




FDA Authorizes First Diagnostic Test Using At-Home Collection of Saliva Specimens

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the first diagnostic test with the option of using home-collected saliva samples for COVID-19 testing. Specifically, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory for their COVID-19 laboratory developed test (LDT), which had been previously added to the high complexity molecular-based LDT “umbrella” EUA, to permit testing of samples self-collected by patients at home using the Spectrum Solutions LLC SDNA-1000 Saliva Collection Device. This announcement builds on last month’s EUA for the first diagnostic test with a home-collection option, which uses a sample collected from the patient’s nose with a nasal swab and saline.

“Authorizing additional diagnostic tests with the option of at-home sample collection will continue to increase patient access to testing for COVID-19. This provides an additional option for the easy, safe and convenient collection of samples required for testing without traveling to a doctor’s office, hospital or testing site,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “We will continue to work around the clock to support the development of accurate and reliable tests, as we have done throughout this pandemic. The FDA has authorized more than 80 COVID-19 tests and adding more options for at-home sample collection is an important advancement in diagnostic testing during this public health emergency.”

Today’s EUA for Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory’s molecular test permits testing of a saliva sample collected from the patient using a designated self-collection kit. Once patients collect their saliva sample, they return it to the Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory in a sealed package for testing.

The Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory test is currently the only authorized COVID-19 diagnostic test that uses saliva samples to test for SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The test remains prescription only.

Today’s authorization is limited to testing performed at the Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory using their molecular LDT COVID-19 authorized test for saliva specimens collected using the Spectrum Solutions LLC SDNA-1000 Saliva Collection Device. It is important to note that this is not a general authorization for at-home collection of patient samples using other collection methods, saliva collection devices, or tests, or for tests fully conducted at home.




Massachusetts fishing industry in line for $28 million in federal aid

Michael P. Norton
State House News Service

Massachusetts will receive $28 million in fisheries assistance under CARES Act allocations announced Thursday by the federal government, and efforts are ongoing to deliver more aid to an industry that officials say has been hit hard by impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross allocated $300 million in nationwide assistance, saying the Trump administration “stands with the men and women working to provide healthy and safe seafood during this uniquely challenging time.”

The fisheries support 1.7 million jobs and generate $200 billion in annual sales, he said. Only Alaska and Washington, which are each in line for $50 million in aid, received larger allocations than Massachusetts. Maine received the fifth largest allocation, at $20.3 million.

A senior NOAA Fisheries official said the funds will be disbursed “quickly and effectively.”

Spending plans will be developed by NOAA Fisheries working with interstate marine fishery commissions, and the plans must describe the main categories for funding, including direct payments, fishery-related infrastructure, and fishery-related education to address direct and indirect COVID-19 impacts.

Applicants may include commercial fishermen, charter businesses, aquaculture operations, processors, and other fishery-related businesses, according to NOAA Fisheries. “Once a spend plan has been approved by NOAA, the agency anticipates that the three Commissions will review applications and process payments to eligible fishery participants on behalf of the states and territories. The states will have the option to process payments themselves.”

The commerce department noted that vessel repair businesses, restaurants and seafood retailers are not considered “fishery-related businesses.”

There’s a standard for applying for assistance and each state partner will be required to determine how to verify which applicants meet the threshold of economic revenue losses greater than 35 percent as compared to the prior five-year average, according to NOAA. The timing of funds disbursement will vary, the agency said, and will occur on a rolling basis and without the need for the secretary to first declare a disaster.

NOAA also announced Thursday that President Donald Trump signed an executive order to help grow the fishing industry.

USDA Seafood Purchasing

Earlier this week, members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation applauded a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to include Atlantic seafood in so-called Section 32 program food purchases made available in part by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act approved in late March.

Massachusetts officials said the federal program has historically overlooked East Coast seafood, but has agreed to purchase $20 million in Atlantic haddock, pollock, and redfish to help East Coast seafood producers.

Congressman William Keating said the purchases “will not only help to support our fishing industry during these trying times, but will also provide highly nutritious, sustainable food for families in need across the nation.” U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton added, “Fishermen are hurting. Things were already tough because of the trade war and they got a lot tougher when restaurants closed because of the pandemic. Government’s strength is measured by its ability to serve the people it represents. I hope this brings new business and peace of mind to America’s fishermen.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and about two dozen of their colleagues are pressing for more fishing industry aid in the next potential COVID-19 relief law. In a letter on Wednesay to Senate leaders, the senators wrote that while many agricultural sectors “have seen a significant increase in grocery sales, seafood has been left out of that economic upside, as stores have cut back on offerings.”

Citing reports that many of the nation’s fisheries lost 95 percent of their sales, the senators said efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 have led to a “near total shutdown” of restaurants and outlets that serve fresh seafood and the supply chain of fishermen and seafood processors has been “decimated.

The senators asked that the next relief bill include at least $2 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seafood purchases and authorization for the purchased products to be distributed to local, state, and national non-profits on the frontlines of hunger relief efforts.

“The seafood industry is currently facing an unprecedented collapse in demand because of the novel coronavirus,” the senators wrote in their letter. “We urge you to facilitate the government purchase of seafood products that would both ensure stability in this key sector and provide healthy, domestically produced food for Americans.




New Bedford reports ten COVID-19 related deaths in the past six days

New Bedford officials reported three more COVID-19 related deaths since yesterday, six in the past two days or 10 deaths since Saturday bringing the total to 29 in the city. 29% of New Bedford’s COVID-19 related deaths have come in the past six days.

Mayor Jon Mitchell’s office reported 53 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Bedford on Friday, bringing the total positive cases in the city to 944, up from 891 on Thursday.

As of Thursday, none of the 26 people who have died from COVID-19 in New Bedford were under 50 years old and 98% of those who have died in Massachusetts have had at least one preexisting health condition. New Bedford’s breakout by age here.

Mayor Jon Mitchell and Club Madeirense S.S. Sacramento together have announced that the 106th Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, scheduled for July 30 through August 2, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Full details here.

30 additional cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Fall River. This brings the total in Fall River to 685. The City has been notified of its eleventh fatality due to COVID-19. Full details here.

On May 6, the Massachusetts Public Health Department reported that the state added 1,696 more positive cases of COVID-19 bringing to total to 73,721. This is a decrease from Wednesday’s 1,754 reported cases. Full details here.

A federal judge will temporarily lift a Gov. Charlie Baker executive order requiring firearm retailers to close their physical businesses during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Full details here.

Gov. Charlie Baker lifted the ban on golfing in Massachusetts. Full details here.




All New Bedford COVID-19 related deaths were 50 and older

As of Thursday, none of the 26 people who have died from COVID-19 in New Bedford were under 50 years old and 98% of those who have died in Massachusetts have had at least one preexisting health condition.

Here is New Bedford’s breakout by age:

Per Massachusetts Public Health officials, the average age of COVID-19 cases is 53, but the average age of COVID-19 related deaths is 82. 98.3% of those who have died from COVID-19 had at least one preexisting health condition.

The information shows there is very little risk of death form COVID-19 for healthy individuals under the age of 50. The real risk for people in that age group is passing COVID-19 on to the most vulnerable – people over 50 with preexisting conditions.

Massachusetts COVID-19 overall update

On May 6, the Massachusetts Public Health Department reported that the state added 1,696 more positive cases of COVID-19 bringing to total to 73,721. This is a decrease from Wednesday’s 1,754 reported cases.

132 new COVID-19 related deaths were reported on Thursday bringing the total deaths in Massachusetts to 4,552. As of 4 pm today, 351,632 people in Massachusetts have been tested for COVID-19 – 11,993 new tests since yesterday.

As of May 5, 32,019 individuals in Massachusetts were subject to quarantine with 22,148 no longer in quarantine. 9,871 individuals are undergoing monitoring/under quarantine.




Judge lifts Governor Baker’s order closing Massachusetts gun retailers

Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

A federal judge will temporarily lift a Gov. Charlie Baker executive order requiring firearm retailers to close their physical businesses during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock issued a preliminary injunction Thursday in a case that Massachusetts residents, gun shop owners and gun rights groups brought against the Baker administration. The online case docket indicated the order will take effect at 12 p.m. Saturday. State defendants in the case will have until May 28 to file their rebuttal seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs argued the administration’s decision to include gun retailers in the list of non-essential businesses that must shutter their stores amid the pandemic — but allowing other locations such as liquor stores to stay open — was unconstitutional. According to a Monday report in Law360, Woodlock said during a hearing in the case that he could not find justification for the disparate treatment of firearm retailers and liquor stores.

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