Even before the state announced the latest count of coronavirus cases and deaths, Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday called the cumulative toll “staggering.”
“We must remember the people behind these numbers,” he said at his daily press briefing. “They’re our friends and our neighbors, and these people have families and loved ones whose worlds have been shattered by this ruthless virus.”
Nonetheless, Baker stressed that the state’s health care system has not been overwhelmed by patients and urged residents to continue to go to hospitals if they need treatment for other serious ailments.
Baker’s comments came as the total number of coronavirus fatalities reached 2,360, with 178 new deaths reported Thursday. The daily toll was lower than the 221 the day before, which was the state’s highest number of fatalities since the virus began its deadly march.
The number of confirmed cases climbed by 3,079, a new daily high. The state has now had 46,023 confirmed cases in all.
The Department of Public Health, at the same time, reported a spike in the number of tests, with a total of 195,076 people tested, up from 180,462 a day earlier.
There were other dispiriting metrics, too. The MBTA said Thursday that 103 members of its workforce have COVID-19. That includes 52 bus operators, and 9 who work on subways and trolleys. Six employees have recovered after testing positive, and one MBTA worker has died.
Long-term-care facilities continue to be of particular concern: 1,316 of the state’s 2,360 deaths to date are from nursing homes.
In Topsfield, 12 residents of the Masconomet Healthcare Center have died from COVID-19, an official at the facility confirmed Thursday.
The home’s residents were all tested this week; as of Thursday, 57 residents and 11 workers had confirmed cases.
“Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Masconomet and its dedicated staff, 12 residents of Masconomet have lost their battle with COVID-19 complications,” said Kathryn Connors Soderberg, chief compliance officer.
“Whittier and all of its employees are devastated by these losses," she said, referring to the facility’s parent company, Whittier Healthcare Network.
Baker said the statewide death totals underscored the need to continue protective measures, such as social distancing and keeping nonessential businesses shuttered.
At the same time, the governor said, the state’s hospitals have seen a troubling trend: a sharp decrease in the number of patients seeking attention for serious issues such as heart problems, kidney dialysis, and cancer treatment.
“We know these medical conditions didn’t stop when COVID-19 picked up,” Baker said.
Baker, who was joined by local hospital leaders at his briefing, said the state adequately prepared for the surge in COVID-19 patients, so hospitals could retain the capacity to treat other medical needs as well. As of Wednesday, Baker said, over half the state’s roughly 18,000 hospital beds were available to patients.
“It’s important that people are cared for when they’re sick, whether that’s for COVID-19 or something else,” Baker said, adding that residents should not be delaying life-saving treatment for a different medical problem out of fear.
Nancy L. Shendell-Falik, president of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, said her hospital had seen an 80 percent decline in a month in patients with stroke symptoms such as speech impairment and changes in their vision.
“Those patients are starting to arrive at Baystate Medical Center,” she said. “They are seriously ill, and many of them have lifelong, debilitating consequences to waiting.”
Speaking later during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Globe, Dr. Peter L. Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital, cautioned against ending social distancing too soon.
"Moving too quickly could spark a new wave that’s even bigger than the one we’re in now,” he said.
Joining Slavin was Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who also urged residents to stay the course. “We’re probably in for another four, five, six weeks of what we’re going through today," Walsh said.
Slavin said that while Mass. General has been able to provide adequate protective equipment to staff during the pandemic, some items are now in short supply, particularly gowns doctors wear when seeing patients.
“My understanding is that there are some institutions that are on the verge of running out of them," Slavin said.
Support from the public has been “incredibly heartwarming” to hospital staff, Slavin said. Still, he said, “There’s no doubt that some of our staff are experiencing the precursors” to traumatic stress.
Walsh acknowledged the toll the pandemic has taken on everyone in the city, regardless of their work.
“We’re trying to think about how we can support our people here in the city,” he said, adding that residents can call the 311 hot line. “Call the city. We have counselors here to help,” he said.
Also Thursday, nearly 40 state lawmakers wrote to Baker urging him to speed the screening and release of inmates from the state’s jails and prisons. The letter, organized by Senator Michael Barrett of Lexington, was prompted by a recent Supreme Judicial Court opinion that “a reduction in the number of people who are held in custody is necessary” to minimize the harm of COVID-19.
“Even as the court acknowledged significant limits to its own authority over the situation, it went on, in unusually clear terms, to advise the Governor’s Parole Board . . . to ‘use every effort to expedite the several stages of this process as far as reasonably possible so as to reduce the overall number of incarcerated inmates as quickly as possible,’ ” Barrett said. “We agree with the court, and we want the governor to act.”
As of Tuesday, 97 inmates and 86 staff within county sheriffs’ institutions had tested positive for COVID-19. The state Department of Corrections reported that 117 inmates and 71 staff have tested positive. Seven DOC inmates have died of COVID-19.
Late Thursday came one bit of encouraging news. Monica Bharel, the state public health commissioner who had suffered from COVID-19 herself, told the State House News Service that she has been cleared to end her isolation period and said she’s “feeling 100 percent.”
“As a medical doctor and as the state’s chief medical doctor, it was my duty and my job to learn everything I could and understand COVID-19, and I didn’t expect to have it myself,” she said in an interview. “As I was experiencing all the symptoms I read about, I was learning firsthand what it felt like, how intense the muscle aches could be, how the eye pain could keep you up all night, what it means to try to eat when you’ve lost your sense of smell.”
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.
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