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Coronavirus deaths poised to pass 5,000 in Massachusetts

EMT Emily Moran and Paramedic Ricky Cormi drove into a parking lot crowded with ambulances outside of Mass General Hospital.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

The death toll from the coronavirus in Massachusetts is poised to cross 5,000 as soon as Monday, after another devastating weekend saw hundreds of new fatalities attributed to the dangerous illness that made its first known appearance here just three months ago.

State officials on Sunday reported 139 additional deaths from COVID-19. The grim total stood at 4,979. There were 1,050 new cases of the virus detected, according to the Department of Public Health, bringing the statewide total to 77,793.

Dr. Ashish Jha, professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, estimated that the coronavirus has nearly doubled the rate of deaths in Massachusetts over the past month. Monthly fatalities, from all causes, are usually around 5,000, he said.


“That’s a stunning, stunning notion: that one disease that we had not heard about could cause almost as much death as every other disease combined,” Jha said.

The state is approaching the milestone as other data points suggest there’s measured progress in the fight against the virus. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Massachusetts stood at 3,128 Sunday, continuing a days-long decline that has reduced the number to levels not seen since early April.

The state also reported Sunday that 9 percent of the 11,852 new tests conducted were positive for the virus, dropping below the 14 percent average for positive tests over the previous seven days.

The mounting number of lives lost to the coronavirus is a reminder of the difficult calculus state and local governments must weigh as they consider easing a months-long lockdown that has brought severe economic and social consequences.

As other states begin to reopen, Massachusetts has a stay-at-home advisory and a ban on nonessential businesses in effect until May 18. A panel appointed by Governor Charlie Baker is set to deliver recommendations by that date for how to restart the economy.


But Massachusetts is among the hardest-hit areas in the nation. No state has seen more overall deaths from coronavirus except New York, which had reported 21,478 by Sunday, and New Jersey, which reported 9,255. Massachusetts in recent days surpassed Michigan’s total, which on Sunday stood at 4,551.

"The administration is continuing to fight this insidious virus with every tool available and is grateful to the residents across the commonwealth who continue to do their part to stay home to protect our most vulnerable residents,” Baker press secretary Sarah Finlaw said in a statement.

In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said, the city is “giving everything we have to fight this pandemic.” The city has, among other things, banned large events such as festivals and parades at least until Labor Day.

“Our focus remains on slowing its spread to save lives, and getting everyone impacted the care and support they need," the mayor said in a statement.

The virus has been particularly deadly in nursing homes. The number of deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities reached 3,001 Sunday, making up about 60 percent of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths.

“Our hearts go out to all of the families that have lost loved ones," Dr. Eric Dickson, chief executive of UMass Memorial Health Care, said in a statement. "We have to remain focused while strictly adhering to preventative measures like universal masking and social distancing, or we will see those numbers continue to rise.”


With businesses suffering from lost revenue and tens of thousands of people losing their jobs every week, some public officials are readily comparing the economic crisis to the Great Depression.

US Senator Ed Markey said Sunday that he wants the federal government to send as much as $5.7 trillion in direct monthly payments to American households.

The Massachusetts Democrat joined Senate colleagues Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders last week to propose a bill that would provide $2,000 per month to people with incomes below $120,000 in the United States until the crisis subsides.

In a news conference Sunday, Markey compared the plan to the New Deal programs laid out by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression.

“My feeling is that we’re at an FDR moment, where we have to respond to this crisis in a way that’s realistic,” Markey said.

And the virus continues to affect people in public-facing jobs. The grocery chain Whole Foods Market said Sunday that it had temporarily closed its Lynnfield store after employees there tested positive for coronavirus.

The store is undergoing “professional deep cleanings and disinfections,” the company said.

A spokesperson said Whole Foods will pay workers who miss shifts due to the closing. The company did not say how many people tested positive at the store.

The statewide lockdown, aimed at protecting public health, may also have consequences for public safety.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said Sunday that she believes many cases of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect are going unreported because the victims are confined to their homes.


Speaking to WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller, Rollins said there has been an increase in domestic violence cases in the county, but she believes there are even more people who are becoming victims in their homes.

Rollins said it’s likely that the suffering of many children is going unnoticed because schools are closed and they are away from the “eyes, and ears, and love of teachers” and other people who are required to report evidence of mistreatment of children.

She called for more public resources for victims and raised the possibility of using unoccupied hotels to house those who need a safe place to go: “We have to adapt better for the most vulnerable of us, who need our help,” she said.

Rollins also reiterated her calls to keep violent offenders and suspects incarcerated, even as judges have ordered some people released to reduce the risk that the coronavirus will spread behind bars.

"I always have to look at public safety over public health. Period. End of story,” Rollins said.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, which put on display the many ways the virus has forced people to rethink traditions in the name of social distancing.

The 24th Mother’s Day Walk for Peace, a gathering of survivors who are bonding over their shared losses of loved ones to violence, was driven online this year.

The annual walk-a-thon and fund-raiser was transformed into an online telethon complete with a host and virtual guest appearances by Walsh, Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, and other public officials.


The pandemic also forced changes in Duckling Day, the annual Boston Public Garden Mother’s Day celebration in which parents dress their children as characters from the book “Make Way for Ducklings,” by Robert McCloskey, in fluffy yellow feathers and tiny blue police uniforms.

But this year sculptor Nancy Schön’s duckling statues, often dressed up for holidays and sports championships, have been wearing protective masks over their bronze beaks. So the celebration went virtual.

The group Friends of the Public Garden hosted a live reading of the book on its Facebook page and posted templates for finger puppets and hats that children could make.

“In my lifetime, I have never seen the parks be more important than they are today,” said the Friends’ executive director, Liz Vizza, who was safely indoors, wearing a yellow feathered boa for the occasion. “They are a place where we can be alone together. We can go and be renewed by the beauty of nature.”

Gal Tziperman Lotan and Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Max Jungreis contributed to this report.

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.