By SHNS Staff, State House News Service
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 10, 2020 — Hours after the state released a new batch of numbers Monday showing that COVID-19 cases surged while he was away, Gov. Charlie Baker cut short his family vacation in Utah and flew back to Massachusetts to prepare for a Tuesday press conference.
Global Numbers: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been tracking the outbreak and on Tuesday reported more than 116,000 confirmed cases globally, resulting in nearly 4,100 deaths, with nearly 64,400 people with COVID-19 reported as having recovered from the illness.
Baker returns: Baker departed for a family vacation in Utah on Friday, when there were eight people who had tested positive for the coronavirus-caused illness in Massachusetts. By Monday, that figure hit 41, with 32 directly related to a Biogen employee meeting in Boston in late February, four deemed travel-related and five still under investigation. Baker, who had planned to stay away until Thursday, decided to return early. After he participated in a private call with public health officials at 6 p.m. Monday, Baker aides announced he would be at the State House to hold a 2 p.m. press conference Tuesday to discuss response to the coronavirus-caused illness. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Health Commissioner Monica Bharel and other state officials will join him.
Colleges going remote: Both Amherst College and Harvard University will no longer hold classes on campus starting March 23. Students were effectively asked not to return after spring break and will transition to online learning once the week of vacation concludes. At Amherst, Thursday and Friday classes this week are canceled, and all students except those who successfully petition to stay on campus were told to leave by Monday, March 16. Staff and faculty will remain on campus with regular work schedules. Meanwhile, UMass Amherst’s campus operations “are ongoing without interruption,” guided by campus emergency operations professionals in consultation with UMass President Marty Meehan’s office and state and federal health officials, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote in an email to students and faculty. “Campus decisions related to this rapidly evolving situation are made in this context and may differ in some cases from those of other institutions, including Amherst College, which announced today that it will move to remote learning after spring break,” Subbaswamy wrote.
Impact on Asian-American community: To speak out against fearmongering and racism against people of Asian descent during the global spread of COVID-19, the Asian American Commission plans to host a press conference on the State House steps Thursday with members of the Asian-American State House Caucus. “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Asian American Commission will not tolerate racism, xenophobia, and bigotry towards the Asian American community due to fear-mongering and misinformation about the coronavirus,” the commission wrote in a statement. “Local Asian establishments have taken a huge hit economically, and there has been a surge in verbal insults and violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country. While we understand that it is human nature to fear the unknown, targeting and discriminating against a specific group only fuel the biggest epidemic of all — racism.” The press conference is planned for 10 a.m. Thursday on the State House front steps.
St. Patrick’s cancellations: The South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade and St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast were both canceled Monday evening. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh cited “an abundance of caution” in the decision to shut down the annual parade. Sen. Nick Collins, who was scheduled to host the breakfast, said on Twitter that the threat remains low but that “public health and safety must be our top priority” in a rapidly changing situation. On Tuesday morning, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera announced that his city was canceling its St. Patrick’s Day parade planned for Saturday “out of an abundance of caution.”
Walsh on large events: Boston Mayor Martin Walsh went on WEEI’s Greg Hill Show on Tuesday morning to talk about his decision to cancel the parade and the factors he would consider if the Boston Marathon is thrown into question.
Guidance to lawmakers and staff: Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo wrote to their members and staff Monday night, advising them to stay home if sick and practice proper hygiene. “We want you to know that our top priority as legislative leaders is the safety of the employees and members of the Senate and House,” they wrote in an email. “We acknowledge that people may have concerns about the spread of coronavirus, particularly in a public building. The Department of Public Health has assured us that anyone who has been deemed to have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 will be contacted directly by the local board of health.” In a joint statement to the News Service, DeLeo spokeswoman Catherine Williams and Spilka spokeswoman Sarah Blodgett said, “The Legislature is in constant communication with the Department of Public Health and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. We are following all guidelines and advice from public health experts.” The State House is open to the public and does regularly host advocacy events, though some groups have canceled them in light of virus concerns. Both branches of the Legislature have scheduled informal sessions for Thursday, and Senate Democrats planned to caucus Wednesday.
Norwood manager tests positive: Norwood officials announced Monday night that Tony Mazzucco, the town’s general manager, tested positive for COVID-19 and that his close contacts have been notified by public health officials of the need to self-quarantine. He began exhibiting symptoms on March 5. The town had earlier reported that Mazzucco was among 11 municipal officials and employees who attended a party with someone who had tested positive for the virus. A professional cleaning crew was hired to disinfect Norwood Town Hall over the weekend.
States of emergency: Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency Monday amid concerns over COVID-19. Two Massachusetts border states have now formally declared emergencies after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did so on Saturday, with both officials saying the status will help unlock additional resources to limit spread of the virus.
Trump stimulus plan: President Donald Trump on Monday night said he would pursue a stimulus package with a “big number” to offer small business loans and to support tourism industries stunted by business slowdowns amid the virus, POLITICO reported. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier Monday during an appearance in Boston that she was interested in legislation aimed at assisting workplaces and employees affected.
Bedford VA screening: The Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford announced Tuesday it will “implement a 100 percent screening process for COVID19 symptoms for all staff, patients and visitors of the Bedford Healthcare System, including its Community Based Outpatient Clinics.” Screenings will take place upon entry at each outpatient clinic and before boarding any VA shuttle. Personnel will be asked if they have a fever, a new or worsening cough or shortness of breath, or flu-like symptoms. Of those who answer “yes,” patients will be sent to urgent care, employees to occupational health, and visitors asked to leave the facility and check in with their physician.
MBTA meetings shuttered: Three MBTA public events scheduled for Tuesday night were canceled “out of an abundance of caution,” spokeswoman Lisa Battiston announced. The 5:30 p.m. Better Bus Project presentation in Roxbury, the 6 p.m. Green Line Extension meeting in Cambridge and the 6 p.m. public engagement discussion in Framingham were all called off Tuesday morning.
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