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Mass. reports 38 more coronavirus-related deaths; number of confirmed cases rises to 10,402

Governor Charlie Baker.
Governor Charlie Baker.Sam Doran/Pool

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Massachusetts surged past 10,000 on Friday, as the state reported its largest single-day tally of new cases — and deaths — since the outbreak began.

An additional 38 people, most in their 70s or older, died due to COVID-19, state data show, bringing the total to 192. And as clusters of cases at nursing homes continued to emerge around the state, the number of people living in long-term-care facilities who tested positive nearly doubled, growing from 197 to 382 — a rise that health officials attributed, in part, to reconfiguring which centers they consider as offering long-term care.

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At a news conference, Governor Charlie Baker detailed the state’s plan to trace the contacts of people who have tested positive, “an enormously powerful tool for public health officials to rely on in their battle” against the coronavirus pandemic, Baker said.

Plans call for the “community tracing” program to include a virtual call center that will consist of nearly 1,000 contact tracers.

The staff will contact people who test positive to make sure they’re healthy, but also get contact information from them, and then contact those people who may have been exposed so they can self-quarantine or get treatment.

“What we’re doing here today is the beginning of breaking of new ground in the fight against COVID-19,” Baker said, calling the program unique in the nation. "We need to get out ahead of this, and do everything we possibly can here in Massachusetts to deal with COVID-19 through and in the aftermath of the surge.”

Officials’ goal is to get the new initiative staffed and ready to go by the end of the month. But some public health specialists have been skeptical that ramped-up contact tracing would have much of an impact, with hundreds of new cases already being reported every day.

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“Three weeks ago this would have been helpful,” Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, told the Globe a day before the program was announced.

The 1,436 new cases announced Friday brought the statewide total to 10,402 — a roughly 16 percent increase that emerged from a new daily high of 6,354 completed tests, and a daunting number for any tracing initiative.

“From where I sit, I view us as early in this game,” Baker said, noting that projections that he released Thursday put the possible total number of cases as high as 172,000.

Meanwhile, the state sought to contain deadly outbreaks at long-term-care facilities that house seniors.

At Williamstown Commons Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in the northwest corner of the state, two more residents have died from the virus, bringing the death toll to three, according to the facility’s parent company, Berkshire Healthcare.

The facility’s first fatality occurred last Saturday when an 86-year-old woman with the virus died.

So far 33 residents there have tested positive for COVID-19, and 10 more tests are pending, said Lisa Gaudet, spokeswoman for Berkshire Healthcare

The company also operates Hunt Nursing and Rehabilitation in Danvers, where one resident has died and 20 have tested positive for the virus. On Thursday, Gaudet said the Massachusetts National Guard tested the remaining 55 patients.

At Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton, where at least 17 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and one has died, the National Guard on Friday tested the remaining patients, at least 80 people.

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The state has not yet followed through on a pledge to release data about each nursing home or long-term-care facility outbreak, and some families say they’ve been left in the dark.

Among the families that struggled to get updates from Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley was the son of Hazel Plummer, who is 111 years old and the state’s oldest resident.

David Plummer said he wasn’t aware of the COVID-19 cases at the facility until his son in Chicago alerted him on Thursday. Plummer said he called the facility repeatedly and even drove to the nursing home on Friday, but was turned away at the door by National Guard members who have been deployed to help test patients for the virus.

Then Friday evening, Plummer, 83, got a call from a representative who told him his mother has no fever or congestion and was tested for COVID-19 by the National Guard. He said the testing results are expected next week.

She is vulnerable to the virus because of her age and history of upper respiratory infections, he said.

“Let’s face it. As old she is, someday she’s going to pass. It’s just a given, but I would prefer that obviously that she doesn’t get this virus if it’s at all possible,” Plummer said.

In December, the facility hosted a celebration for Hazel when she became the state’s oldest resident, according to the nursing home’s website. The party included a cake, trivia about 1908, the year she was born, and a videotaped message from Governor Charlie Baker.

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The secret to a long life, she said at the gathering, is “eating ginger.”

Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.