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24 more coronavirus-related deaths, more than 1,300 new confirmed cases in Mass.; hospital executive pledges salary to lowest-paid workers

Dr. Eric W. Dickson, chief executive of UMass Memorial Health Care.
Dr. Eric W. Dickson, chief executive of UMass Memorial Health Care.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The state reported two dozen additional deaths attributed to the coronavirus Saturday, as the numbers of residents in long-term care facilities infected with the disease continued to grow, and the federal government prepared to send more ventilators to Massachusetts.

While front-line health care workers face the growing numbers of patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, some are stepping up.

In Worcester, the chief executive of the health system that includes UMass Memorial Medical Center promised to give his salary to his company’s lowest paid workers, joining fellow executives at other hospitals who have pledged to give up some or all of their pay.

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Meanwhile, the pandemic continued to reshape daily life. Hewing to new guidelines from federal health officials, people donned cloth face masks this weekend as they ventured outside for groceries or a stroll. State bar officials delayed the July bar exam. And churches devised workarounds to mark Palm Sunday; in Norwood, an Episcopal priest made plans for a special drive-through following online Palm Sunday services, allowing church members to collect palm leaves while social distancing.

“If you are going to have a lot of high tech, you are going to need some touch,” said the Rev. John Brockmann of Grace Episcopal Church

In Washington, Vice President Mike Pence said 100 ventilators were being deployed to Massachusetts on Saturday.

“I spoke to Governor Charlie Baker today, and was able to inform him we’re watching the Boston area very closely,” Pence said.

On Saturday, the state Department of Public Health reported more than 1,300 new confirmed cases of the disease in Massachusetts, bringing the state total to more than 11,700, a 13 percent increase from Friday.

Most of the deaths reported Saturday involved people in their 80s and older, though they also included a Hampden County man in his 60s, and two men in their 70s — one from Franklin County and the other from Norfolk County, according to state health officials.

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The state Department of Correction announced Saturday that a third inmate at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater had died from the virus at a local hospital. The inmate, a man in his 60s, had been incarcerated since last year and had underlying health conditions, the department said in a statement.

There have been 216 reported deaths due to the coronavirus in Massachusetts since March 20, when state officials reported the first death attributed to COVID-19.

The number of residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities diagnosed with coronavirus also surged to 480, a 26 percent increase from 382 reported cases Friday.

There were also 49 new confirmed cases affecting patients who are age 19 and younger, the largest increase in that age group since the state began releasing those figures last month.

The state also reported completing 5,838 new tests Saturday, bringing the total number of tests to 68,800 .

Earlier in the day, Dr. Eric Dickson, the chief executive of UMass Memorial Health Care said he will donate his salary to his company’s lowest paid workers. His decision followed announcements by his counterparts at other Massachusetts hospitals, including at Beth Israel Lahey Health, Boston Medical Center, and Wellforce, the parent company of Tufts Medical Center.

Dickson and his wife, Dr. Catherine Jones-Dickson, an emergency medicine physician at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, are contributing their salaries to an employee assistance fund until the end of the state of emergency in Massachusetts, the hospital system said in a statement.

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The couple’s combined monthly pay is about $60,000.

Anthony Berry, a UMass Memorial spokesman, said in an e-mail that Dickson and Jones-Dickson understand some people are in a better position to handle the financial and economic hardship brought on by the global pandemic than others.

The donated salaries will impact any “struggling caregiver,” Berry said, with a priority given to those at the lower end of the pay scale. The hospital system has some employees who are paid at, and slightly above, the minimum wage.

The employee fund provides limited financial assistance when an employee is unable to meet “immediate, essential expenses” and has exhausted other available sources of funds, the statement said. Eligible employees may apply for the grant, which is based on need and will not need to be repaid.

UMass Memorial has not had to lay off any employees and has committed to paying caregivers through May 2, Berry said. But other health care organizations have announced cuts: Wellforce has announced temporary layoffs and reduced hours for about 2,000 employees, and BMC has placed 700 employees on furlough. At Beth Israel Lahey Health, most of the workforce will continue earning their normal salaries, officials have said.

The impact of the coronavirus has also forced the rescheduling of the state’s bar exam from July to the fall. Due to the public health emergency, the Massachusetts bar examination will be administered Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, the state Supreme Judicial Court and Board of Bar Examiners said in a statement, instead of July 28 and 29.

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“The Board of Bar Examiners, in consultation with the Supreme Judicial Court, will continue to closely monitor public health and safety guidelines, including prohibitions against large gatherings, related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.

If limitations on large gatherings continue to interfere with administering the bar examination, “alternative means” for testing applicants will be devised and announced, the statement said.

Few aspects of daily life remain untouched by the virus, and with major religious holidays approaching for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, religious leaders continue to do their best to improvise. In Massachusetts, most worship services have been forced online due to Governor Charlie Baker’s orders for most residents to remain home and not gather in more than groups of 10.

In Norwood, Brockmann of Grace Episcopal Church said his church will stream its Palm Sunday service on its Facebook page from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.,.

About a half-hour later, members will be able to drive to the church, he said; one at a time, he said, they can reach out of their cars, pick up a palm leaf, and drive away safely.

He said he’s planning a similar process for Good Friday, when there will be displays of the Stations of the Cross outside the church. Again, members will be able to take in the sight from the comfort and safety of their car.

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“It’s guerrilla Christianity," Brockmann said. "When the forces seem arrayed against you in an impregnable way, there is always a way to get around it.”

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey of the Globe staff and Correspondent Breanne Kovatch contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.