The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported Wednesday that the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the state had risen by 252 cases to 3,405. It was the largest single-day increase announced so far in the outbreak.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed by 1,963 to 60,265. The Department of Public Health also reported a total of 265,618 people in the state had been tested, up from 254,500 a day earlier.
Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus continued to hover at a high level, at 3,856, with 1,011 people in intensive care, according to the latest DPH report.
Governor Charlie Baker said at a State House news conference that the state was still “on the plateau" of the pandemic, with hospitalizations staying fairly steady in recent weeks. That, he said, was "better than a sharp spike, but it’s not falling at a consistent rate, either.”
In the DPH’s weekly update on the town-by-town impact of the pandemic, the communities hit hardest by the virus remained largely the same. Chelsea still has the state’s highest rate of infection. Everett, which borders Chelsea, and nearby Lynn remain in the top five communities, as do Brockton and Randolph, which neighbor each other south of Boston.
The rates of infection in the hardest-hit communities also continued to increase. Chelsea’s rate jumped from 3,841.8 cases per 100,000 residents last week to 5,217.1 per 100,000, and every community in the top 10 has seen an increase.
In sheer numbers, Boston had both the state’s highest total, with 9,284 cases, but also the largest increase, with 4,675 new cases reported in the past two weeks — more than doubling the number reported April 15, when town-by-town data were first released.
Brockton also saw its cases more than double, from 1,202 to 2,735. The third largest increase, in raw numbers, came in Worcester, which jumped from 886 cases to 2,284.
At his daily news conference on the state’s coronavirus response, Baker also addressed the economic toll of the pandemic, saying the state continues to work diligently to pay out unemployment benefits to those who have lost their jobs. “Making sure workers get the benefits they’re entitled to is a critical part of how we deal with the very real economic impact" of the pandemic, Baker said.
Baker said the state has paid out nearly half a billion dollars in jobless benefits to gig workers and independent contractors thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic.
The payouts to gig workers and contractors came after more than 150,000 applications from the workers, who wouldn’t normally qualify for unemployment. The money was provided by the federal CARES Act, which left administering the program to the states, Baker said.
Baker said the state has also paid out benefits to more than 400,000 residents who qualify for the traditional program. According to the state, unemployment programs have distributed a total of $2.3 billion to the state’s workers since March 15.
Massachusetts, like other US states and countries worldwide, is dealing with both a heartbreaking pandemic and an economic crisis. Baker ordered non-essential businesses closed and asked people to stay at home, in a bid to slow the spread of the deadly disease, which has killed more than 219,000 worldwide, including more than 58,000 in the United States.
While stressing that Massachusetts won’t reopen until the public health data suggests it’s safe to do so, Baker said the state’s reopening advisory board had a productive first remote meeting Tuesday.
The reopening board, Baker said, will craft a plan for a phased reopening of various industries. He urged representatives of industries and unions to “come see these folks" and pitch their proposals for reopening.
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who co-chairs the reopening board, said the panel focused during its first meeting on “what the public health principles are to trigger a reopening,” as well as a “checklist” of prerequisites for reopening businesses, such as safe distancing protocols, hygiene and sanitation, and personal protective equipment.
“We are in this together, and we’re quite sure because of all your hard work there are better days ahead,” Baker said.
Baker acknowledged that deaths from the virus are likely undercounted. Experts have said early cases were likely missed as the virus circulated unseen in the state.
"I think most people believe that COVID-19 death rates are probably undercounted because it was here … before people truly understood and appreciated what it was,” he said.
Asked about President Trump’s comments Tuesday regarding possibly withholding coronavirus aid from states with so-called “sanctuary cities,” Baker said he didn’t think aid should be “driven by something that, in the grand scheme of things,” isn’t related to the issues at hand.
Rather, Baker said, aid should be based on a “desire to help states, localities, tribes and others rebuild or create for the first time the infrastructure needed to trace, track and monitor” the virus going forward.
Baker said focusing on other issues “doesn’t seem consistent with the way the law was written.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh at a later news conference outside City Hall was stronger in his criticism of the controversial, divisive president.
“These suggestions or threats by the White House are uncalled-for,” he said.
“This is not the time to politicize issues, to push forward an agenda. People are hurting, people are dying, people are scared. This is the time for leadership, and that’s exactly what we’re going to provide here in Massachusetts and the city of Boston, and that’s my suggestion that Washington should start doing, providing some leadership for the people of America.”
In other updates from Baker’s news conference:
- Baker reported on the status of the distribution of personal protective equipment, saying the state had distributed more than 6.8 million pieces of gear to health facilities and front-line workers.
- Marylou Sudders, the state’s health and human services secretary, said the state was increasing the amount of data it has been releasing to the public on the progress of the pandemic. In addition to “refining” the daily dashboard the state releases, she said, the state will release the underlying data files that the dashboard is based on.
- Baker said he wasn’t worried about the nice weather Wednesday and the forecast for the weekend, which calls for a sunny spring Sunday, saying he believed people wouldn’t be tempted to relax social distancing measures. “People around here have been really good for the most part about understanding and appreciating why distancing is so important,” he said. He said he believed that people’s compliance with social distancing had “a lot to do” with the state not seeing a sharp spike in coronavirus cases but instead seeing a more gradual rise.
At his news conference, Walsh said he wanted to send a special message to runners and cyclists that they should wear masks.
“Even though you’re exercising, you need to be wearing a face covering when you’re exercising,” he said.“This is not considerate to the people around you, and I understand why it’s making people angry. It’s sending the message that you’re not necessarily concerned about them and the community,” he said. “This is a precaution we all have to take to protect each other.”
Walsh said 333 Bostonians had died from the virus as of Tuesday and asked residents to keep the victims’ families “in your thoughts and prayers.”
The mayor said the city is working to expand access to testing, with the total number of testing sites soon to reach 19 citywide. And, he said, the city’s pilot antibody testing program in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital should be completed by the end of this week.
The program, which will test 1,000 voluntary participants in several neighborhoods for COVID-19 antibodies and for the virus itself, will give officials a “better picture of how the virus is spreading,” Walsh said.
In other updates from Walsh’s news conference:
- Walsh said the Boston Resiliency Fund for COVID-19 relief has raised $27.4 million from nearly 5,000 donors, and more than $13.8 million has been distributed so far, with the latest installment supporting efforts including expanding testing access and providing grants to the Greater Boston Food Bank.
- The city, he said, has provided over half a million meals to local youths since the start of the pandemic, and there are 65 free meal sites for Boston children as well as seven meal sites serving adults, with an eighth slated to open Thursday.
- He said city officials are also continuing to administer separate funds totaling $5 million for rental and small business relief, and “we’re working to try and replenish those programs.” Walsh also said 17 banks and lenders have now agreed to defer mortgage payments for at least three months for homeowners falling behind, and they’ve also pledged to not report late payments to credit agencies.
- The city has also distributed more than 30,000 Chromebooks and set up about 2,400 wifi hotspots in homes to support remote learning for school children, Walsh said.
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Martin finucane can be reached at email@example.com.