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As coronavirus cases in Mass. pass 100, disruption reaches almost every sector

A man wore a plastic bubble as he walked down William J Day Boulevard in Boston.
A man wore a plastic bubble as he walked down William J Day Boulevard in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic reached into virtually all aspects of life in New England and beyond Thursday, leading to the suspension of the seasons for professional sports leagues, forcing officials to consider postponing the Boston Marathon for the first time ever, upending travel, and prompting the closure of arts venues from Broadway to Boston.

State officials said Thursday that the tally of cases in the state had jumped to 108, up from 95 the day before, including 102 presumed positive cases and six confirmed by federal public health authorities. Worldwide, the number of cases topped 128,000 while the number of deaths exceeded 4,700.

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Baker says Mass. now has ability to test more people for coronavirus

“The outbreak and the impact of concerns over the spread are already being felt by everyone," said Governor Charlie Baker, speaking in Pittsfield, where three city residents have presumptively tested positive for the coronavirus and six more residents are in quarantine as they await test results. "It may seem hard to grasp that the changes have occurred over the past couple of days.”

The outbreak may also force the Marathon to be postponed until autumn. Two people familiar with the discussions said officials are hoping to salvage some of the Marathon’s economic benefits this year. It would be the first time in 124 years that the event — which regularly draws about a million spectators and thousands of visitors from around the world — wouldn’t be held as planned.

In response to the outbreak in Massachusetts, the Legislature on Thursday passed a supplemental budget to create a $15 million fund that will support the state’s monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness, and prevention efforts. Baker signed the bill Thursday evening.

In Pittsfield, Baker said local public health officials now have the capacity to process four times as many tests as they did a week ago, but he cautioned that federal help is still needed to increase testing availability in Massachusetts.

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Later on Thursday, the state’s Department of Public Health announced that two commercial labs received federal approval for coronavirus testing, which will support the state lab to expedite the testing process.

On the federal level, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health agreed that the United States needs to improve its testing.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” he said on Thursday. “That is a failing. It is a failing, let’s admit it.”

Authorities continued to advise the public to take precautions including hand washing, social distancing, and staying home when they feel ill. Going outside and going to work if you’re sick, Baker said on Thursday, is “simply just a bad idea.”

The governor’s briefing came one day after the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic and President Trump announced he is sharply restricting travel from Europe to the United States in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease.

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But Trump’s announcement was greeted by a dramatic drop in financial markets, concern in Europe, and anger among travelers who were stranded, or feared being so.

In Austria, Holyoke resident Thomas Casartello said a group ski trip was being cut short by several days, with a Friday flight to get back into Boston before the travel ban takes effect.

Even though they’ll be flying into Boston, he said, some people on the ski trip were being told by employers to self-quarantine upon return.

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“We have a surgeon on the trip who has 40 surgeries scheduled for the next two weeks and is going to be quarantined,” Casartello said.

Logan Airport has seen a downturn in passenger travel, with a 13 percent drop last week compared to the first week of March in 2019, which likely fell even more this week.

Lisa Houston, a West Bridgewater resident who flew to Washington, D.C., on Thursday, said that there were fewer than 12 people on her American Airlines flight and that she made it through security in under one minute.

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“It was very unusual for me because I’ve been to Logan many, many times, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” she said. “It was very, very empty, and very, very strange.”

Meanwhile, Boston’s most prominent art museums said they would close to the public, effective at the end of the Thursday.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Institute of Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum cited increased vigilance concerning the spread of Covid-19 in Massachusetts. The news came just a few hours after New York’s enormous Metropolitan Museum of Art announced a temporary closure.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all Broadway theaters to shut their doors, banning gatherings of 500 or more in the city.

Around Greater Boston on Thursday, the pandemic continued to change the day-to-day operations of various institutions, with many local groups choosing caution.

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A litany of Boston-area colleges announced they would be switching to remote learning, and many told students to leave campus. Tufts University announced Thursday that an undergraduate student tested positive for Covid-19.

Local communities also canceled school amid virus concerns. Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford, Belmont, Lexington, and Winchester announced they were closing schools for two weeks. Public schools in Newton will be shuttered for a week.

In Boston, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said the state’s largest district had no plans for a districtwide shutdown.

The judicial system was not spared. Federal jury trials in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield have been postponed for six weeks. In New Hampshire, officials suspended all criminal and civil jury trials in state courts for the next 30 days. Massachusetts is continuing to hold jury trials in its state courts, but is monitoring the situation closely.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said she is reducing her office to skeleton-level staffing starting Monday. All prosecutors in that office will request a 60-day continuance in cases where the individual charged with a crime is not in custody, she said.

At least 82 of the Massachusetts coronoavirus cases were traced to a leadership conference of Biogen employees in Boston late last month. On Thursday, Boston’s Marriott Long Wharf hotel, which was the venue for the conference, said it will close “in the interest of public health.”

Covid-19 is also affecting religious life. In a Thursday announcement, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, temporarily suspended distribution of communion on the tongue, ordered holy water fonts in churches to be emptied, and excused those who have health risks from the obligation of attending Mass and encouraged them to watch broadcasts of church services.

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In the Providence diocese, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin is dispensing Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for the next three weekends.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, meanwhile, took sweeping action Thursday to contain a potential coronavirus outbreak, declaring a state of emergency and revoking all entertainment licenses for at least two weeks. The virus has infected five Rhode Island residents to date.

Like Providence, Pittsfield, where there are three presumptive coronavirus cases, also declared a state of emergency, so that the city could more easily seek reimbursement for expenses related to the illness.

"We are very concerned about our families and we understand that they are very worried about what’s ahead,” said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer.

As part of its coronavirus response, Baker's administration issued an emergency order temporarily changing the state's open meeting to allow government agencies to continue carrying out essential functions. The order, according to authorities, suspends the requirement for public access to the physical location where a public meeting is taking place, so long as there is another means of access available, like a phone conference line or an online stream.

The move relieves the requirement that a quorum of members of a body be physically present at a public meeting, allowing members to participate by remote or virtual means.

Businesses were also taking action.

At the Encore Boston Harbor resort, members of the hotel management staff are taking the temperatures of guests who are coughing, sneezing, or showing other symptoms of illness, according to Rosie Salisbury, a spokeswoman for the hotel and casino.

Matt Stout, Adam Vaccaro, David Abel, Travis Andersen, Felice Freyer, Tonya Alanez, Andy Rosen, Katie Johnston, and Dan McGowan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press, STAT, and the State House News Services was used.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.