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Mass. reports 221 new coronavirus deaths, 1,745 new cases; Baker says nearly 4,000 hospitalized

Governor Charlie Baker.
Governor Charlie Baker.Nicolaus Czarnecki/Pool photo

The number of coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts soared past the 2,000 mark Wednesday, as the state continued to experience a surge of cases at its hospitals, officials said.

The death count rose by 221, the largest single-day total yet, to 2,182. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed by 1,745 to 42,944, according to data released by the state Department of Public Health.

Boston once again had the most COVID-19 cases: 6,744 — an increase of more than 2,000 over last week’s total, according to the data.

Chelsea, which has been called one of the outbreak’s epicenters, saw its cases more than double, to 1,447. Its rate of 3,842 cases per 100,000 people was once again the state’s highest.

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Most of the other hardest-hit cities remained the same as in data released last week by the DPH, including Brockton, Everett, Randolph, Lynn, and Lawrence. But the small town of Topsfield, with a population of about 6,000, added 60 new cases in the week ending April 21, bringing its rate among the highest in the state: 1,300 cases per 100,000 people.

Danvers also saw a significant increase, jumping from 190 to 316 cases of the virus, which bumped the town’s infection rate from 665 cases per 100,000 residents to 1,107 per 100,000.

Danvers Town Manager Steve Bartha attributed the increase to Danvers’s large number of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities where “the National Guard has come in and done wall-to-wall testing.” By conducting tests on residents without symptoms, he said, the Guard identified many more cases of infection than were previously known.

“From the get-go we’ve been cautioning that this virus was coming, that it doesn’t really pay attention to town borders, and that once testing ramped up we expected to see an increase,” Bartha said in a phone interview.

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Nearly 4,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized statewide, the DPH data said.

Governor Charlie Baker at his daily media briefing urged residents to continue social distancing efforts and other safeguards in the fight against the pandemic.

Roughly 56 percent of the state’s approximately 18,000 hospital beds remain unoccupied, the DPH said. Baker said officials are continually monitoring capacity as hospital beds fill up with coronavirus patients. Five temporary hospitals have opened around the state to handle any surge.

While officials have seen fewer or roughly the same number of confirmed cases over the last few days, Baker said, the public should not interpret that as a sign that the virus is diminishing in strength.

“We think it’s too soon to draw a conclusion from that,” Baker said.

The governor reiterated that he understood the desire of residents to return to normal.

However, Baker said, “for Massachusetts, which is now a national hot spot for COVID-19 infections, we really do need to stay the course and keep up our efforts” around social distancing and other measures. “If we move too quickly, we risk losing the progress that we have made so far.”

Among the reasons why Massachusetts is a hot spot, Baker said, is the state’s high level of testing, its densely populated areas, and its connection to the global economy.

The DPH reported a total of 180,462 people in the state had been tested, up from 175,372 a day earlier.

Baker once again urged residents to take phone calls from the state’s contact tracing team and cooperate with the callers, who are working to determine with whom infected patients may have crossed paths.

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“We need everybody out there to participate in this community tracing program,” Baker said.

He said that as of Tuesday, the state had distributed more than 5.3 million pieces of protective gear, including masks, gowns, and gloves, to hospitals, first responders, and other front-line workers. Officials are also working to increase testing at community health centers in high-density areas around the state, an effort that’s allowed some furloughed workers at the centers to come back on the job, Baker said.

Baker was also asked about the possibility of reopening some nonessential businesses such as barbershops that have been closed under his emergency order, set to expire May 4.

He said that going forward, officials believe the question will be “less about the date” and less about differentiating between essential and nonessential businesses, and more about “the rules of the road for reopening” in terms of spacing and other safety measures.

“We need to be on the other side of the curve before we do any of this stuff,” Baker said, adding that researchers now believe between 20 and 40 percent of people infected with the virus could be asymptomatic and not know they have it.

“This is not like the flu,” Baker said, speaking slowly for emphasis. “If you get the flu, you know it and everybody else knows it.”

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Speaking during a later briefing outside Boston City Hall, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the city’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 196 as of Tuesday, with total cases at 6,010.

“Our prayers continue to go out to the families who lost loved ones” and families whose relatives are sick, Walsh said.

Walsh said the Boston Hope temporary hospital at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which has a 1,000-bed capacity, has treated 290 patients so far.

The mayor added that he supported Baker’s decision, announced Tuesday, to close schools for the rest of the academic year and said the city will soon announce plans for expanded remote learning opportunities for BPS students.

Walsh said he had a conference call Tuesday with the leaders of the city’s colleges and universities, and that they discussed “what reopening looks like” once students are able to safely return to campus.

Turning to national politics, Walsh said he was upset when President Trump announced earlier this week that he planned to close the United States to people trying to immigrate. Walsh called the idea a “foolish policy” that would serve only as a distraction. Immigrants, he said, are integral to an array of industries in Boston, including health care, construction, hospitality, and food.

Baker was also critical of the idea on Tuesday.

Asked when construction in the city could start to ramp up, Walsh said there is no specific date, adding that city authorities would discuss it in coming weeks. The vast majority of construction in the city is currently suspended because of the pandemic.

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Walsh was also asked if he still thinks the Boston Marathon will take place on its new date of Sept. 14, in light of the fact that organizers of the Berlin Marathon announced Tuesday that their race won’t go forward as scheduled on Sept. 27.

The mayor said he was aware of the Berlin cancellation, but city officials “haven’t had those conversations yet.”

The pandemic has sickened more than 2.5 million people globally and killed more than 179,000. In the United States, more than 826,000 people have been sickened and more than 45,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

A highly cited University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model as of Monday predicted about 3,900 coronavirus deaths will occur in Massachusetts.

While the state is in the midst of a surge of severely ill patients, officials increasingly are optimistic that the wave, while deadly, will not overwhelm the state’s hospitals.

Travis Andersen, Martin Finucane, and Jaclyn Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.