An 87-year-old Winthrop man has become the first person in Massachusetts to die from an illness related to the coronavirus.
The state Department of Public Health said the man had been hospitalized and had pre-existing health conditions that put him at higher risk for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. A person familiar with the matter confirmed his age and place of residence.
“I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends who lost their loved one,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement.
The announcement came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state continued to rise, climbing to 413 on Friday, up from 328 the day before, with more than 4,000 tests conducted.
“We are living in uncertain and challenging times, and our administration is bringing every available resource to bear in the fight against this disease, and remind everyone in our Commonwealth to continue to work together, follow social distance protocols and look after each other to keep our communities safe," Baker said.
Speaking at a news conference, Baker said the news of the death was “heartbreaking,” but he also said this was “certainly a day I think we all knew would come.”
He urged people again to maintain social distancing to stem the spread of the virus.
“We need to remember that we’re all in this together, and we ask everyone to take responsibility to do their part to stop the spread of this horrible, contagious virus,” he said.
“We are very much in social distancing and shutdown mode here in Massachusetts, based on what we’ve already done. ... We have shut down an enormous part of our economy and our communities across the Commonwealth," he said.
He said he was following the guidance of medical and public health professionals and ”I’m not going to do it just because somebody else did it."
Baker also announced an initiative by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council in which the state’s life sciences companies are being encouraged to volunteer supplies to help in the battle against the virus.
“The response so far has been amazing,” said Bob Coughlin, head of the Council, who also appeared at the news conference. He said that in just 24 hours nearly 200 companies had stepped forward with “supplies they were willing to donate to this fight.” The offers will be forwarded to the state, he said.
Baker also said he had a message for tenants and homeowners around the state, saying officials “will do everything we can to ensure that no one loses their housing because of this crisis.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh at a news conference hours later joined Baker in calling for people to follow social distancing practices.
“The quicker and the more that we adhere to the rules of social distancing, the quicker we’ll get to the other side of this. It’s really important that we adhere to all of these suggestions,” he said. “We have to do everything we can to keep these numbers down.”
Walsh also said he was appealing to companies to turn over masks and respirators of the kind that are worn by workers in asbestos and mold remediation, as well as general demolition, so it can be used by medical workers who need protection from the virus.
Until now, among the top 10 states with the most coronavirus infections, Massachusetts had been the only one without a patient death
In other states, New York, which has the most cases in the country with 5,711 people infected, has seen 38 deaths, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Washington state, with 1,376 cases, has had the most people die: 74.
The higher infection and fatality numbers so far in these other states may have to do with their more aggressive testing, which links deaths to potential coronavirus causes. Most deaths have been caused by a severe inflammatory response in the lungs.
“COVID-19 activity is increasing in Massachusetts,” the state health department said in the statement. “At this time, if people are only mildly symptomatic, they should stay home. If they become more ill, they should speak to their healthcare provider about whether they need to be assessed in person. If not, they should stay at home while they are sick. Asymptomatic family members should practice social distancing and immediately self-isolate if they develop symptoms.”
The coronavirus pandemic has swept around the world and across the United States. More than 10,000 people have died from it worldwide, including more than 150 in the United States.
With no vaccine and no cure available, desperate officials have turned to trying to keep people from gathering together and spreading the disease. The measures have resulted in massive disruptions to daily life, including the closures of schools and businesses, and a staggering blow to the world economy.
For most people, the disease causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some people, especially older adults and those with existing health problems. Most people recover — those with mild illness in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks, according to the World Health Organization.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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