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Mass. coronavirus deaths pass 1,000

At Massachusetts General Hospital, hazmat-suited EMT’s wheeled in a patient into the emergency room.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, hazmat-suited EMT’s wheeled in a patient into the emergency room.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

Massachusetts passed a distressing milestone Wednesday as the death toll linked to the coronavirus surpassed 1,000, more than doubling in less than a week, pushed ahead by the largest single-day total since the pandemic began.

State public health officials reported 151 new fatalities, putting the overall total of deaths at 1,108 and confirming repeated warnings that infections would spike this week. The number of confirmed cases climbed to nearly 30,000, as testing continued to expand.

“We are in the surge, yes,” Governor Charlie Baker said at a State House news conference.

For the first time, state officials also released the number of local coronavirus cases in cities and towns, providing a more detailed picture of the contagion’s path.

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Reported cases tend to be higher in communities with substantial Black and Latino populations, reflecting an emerging national trend, and generally cut along economic lines, affecting lower-income communities where more workers interact with the public and housing density makes social distancing more difficult.

Boston reported the highest number of cases through Tuesday, with 4,609. But on a per capita basis, Chelsea has been hardest hit. Its 712 cases amounted to a rate of nearly 1,900 per 100,000 people, roughly three times the prevalence in Boston.

Political leaders in Chelsea have implored state officials for assistance in recent days, from expanded testing to help with segregating patients.

Brockton, with a rate of 1,223 cases per 100,000 people, and Lawrence, with a rate of 923, have also seen sizable outbreaks. Smaller communities were also hit hard. Randolph, with a population of around 35,000 people, has reported 367 cases, the state’s third highest rate.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said residents of his city are suffering because they work on the front lines.

“Lawrence is a workforce for the Merrimack Valley and beyond, so we have people who are part of the essential workforce who go as far away as Nashua, N.H., and as far south as Boston,” Rivera said in an interview Wednesday, adding later, “What this is showing us is the fault lines in our society. It’s no surprise that the people who are working in the toughest jobs are the people who are most exposed to the virus.”

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Outbreaks at long-term care facilities caused high infection rates in communities such as Littleton, where 10 patients have died and 14 staffers have fallen ill at the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, and Williamstown, where 13 residents of the Williamstown Common nursing home have died and another 48 have tested positive.

As of Wednesday, about 48 percent of the 1,108 people who have died of COVID-19 lived in long-term care facilities, the state said.

Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch said that the elderly care facility accounts for “the lion’s share” of local coronavirus cases, and that social distancing efforts have held the virus at bay.

“It’s kind of the worst of all possible worlds, because it’s a contained and vulnerable population,” Hoch said of Williamstown Common. “It’s so tough for the residents, the staff, and the families. We all want to fix it, but the painful part about this virus is, there is no fix.”

The state had previously reported cases only by county. The new data show high infection rates clustered in neighboring communities both north and south of Boston.

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Chelsea’s population is two-thirds Hispanic or Latino, according to the US Census Bureau. Neighboring Everett, which is 27 percent Latino, is sixth highest with 915 infections per 100,000 residents, and Revere, which is 33 percent Latino, is ninth with 772 infections per 100,000. Other nearby communities, including Lynn, Malden, and Medford, have reported rates that are well above average.

South of Boston, Brockton, Randolph, and Braintree all reported substantial case burdens. Neighboring communities such as Avon and Stoughton were above average.

Randolph Town Manager Brian P. Howard said the majority of infected residents work in the medical field and many other cases in town were among retail workers.

“Our residents are working on the front-line serving their fellow residents of the Commonwealth putting themselves at risk on a daily basis,” Howard said by e-mail. “These statistics do not come [as] a surprise. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their service and bravery.”

Horace Small, executive director of the Boston-based Union of Minority Neighborhoods, said the high infection rates in diverse cities and communities of color are a mirror of longstanding inequities: On the whole, those in poorer areas have higher levels of illness and stress, worse access to health care and insurance, and are less likely to hold jobs that allow them to work from home.

“This virus has finally exposed everybody to the truth, which is that poverty kills people,” Small said. “Economic inequality and racism are at the center of why people are dying the way they are.''

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New Bedford, despite being populous and diverse and having a large working class population, had a low rate of infection — just 166 cases per 100,000 residents. Nearby Fall River and Dartmouth had nearly identical rates.

New Bedford Mayor Jonathan F. Mitchell said rates are lower in Southeastern Massachusetts in part because the region is its own metropolitan area outside the Greater Boston and Greater Providence bubbles, which have seen much wider spread of the virus.

Mitchell added that his city had responded quickly with a strategy informed by early advice from his wife, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“We got out ahead of the problem in a really comprehensive way before we had the first case,” Mitchell said.

Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said the local data would be released each week as part of "our commitment to continue to improve our public-facing reporting.”

Baker, meanwhile, offered some good news, saying the federal government would be sending the state 1 million pieces of personal protective equipment for medical personnel, including 650,000 masks and 260,000 Tyvek suits. The shipment is expected to arrive in the next few days.

Baker said the state is “intensely focused" on mitigating outbreaks in nursing homes and was braced for an continued influx of cases.

“I believe with the addition of some of the other stuff that’s coming online over the course of the next five to seven days, we are pretty well-positioned to deal with this," he said.

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Baker teared up when he told reporters that his best friend’s mother had died from the coronavirus.

“He and his mom had a great relationship, and because they had a great relationship, they never left anything unsaid," he said. Baker said he was especially mindful of people who haven’t had a chance to say goodbye to loved ones who succumb to the virus.

Baker also said another portion of the "aircraft mask shipment” arranged by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft had arrived late Tuesday night. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will work quickly to distribute the equipment.

“State officials are in the process of inspecting and counting all this inventory,” Baker said, adding that he was “incredibly grateful for the generosity and support of the Kraft family."

Baker noted that Wednesday marked the seventh anniversary of the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings.

That “was a dark day for the city of Boston,” the state, and the nation, he said.

“The lives taken and the lives changed forever are never very far from our thoughts,” Baker said. He added that while there was much suffering that day, “there was also bravery, compassion, and strength” as first responders and civilians worked to help the injured.

During the current pandemic, “We are rising to the task to meet it again," Baker said. "We will get through this, and we will get through it together.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, at a City Hall briefing, announced a new infusion of $1.7 million into the Boston Resiliency Fund, which the city set up to aid community groups helping vulnerable residents including the homeless and immigrant populations.

“We are harnessing the generosity of Boston residents and businesses,” he said.

Also Wednesday afternoon, bells at the Old South Church on Boylston Street tolled in honor of the bombing victims. The normally bustling area outside the church, which is located near the Marathon finish line, was virtually empty as the bells rang out at 2:49 p.m.

Laura Crimaldi, Travis Andersen, Dan Adams, and Jaclyn Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.