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Mass. COVID-19 deaths surge past 500

BOSTON — Massachusetts hit a cruel milestone Thursday in its effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic, surging past 500 deaths and rapidly approaching 20,000 confirmed cases, authorities said.

The state reported 70 new deaths, pushing the toll to 503. It also logged 2,151 new cases for a total of 18,941.

In other virus-related developments:



Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday he's making it easier for doctors educated overseas to practice in Massachusetts in an effort to get more people on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.

The Republican governor said he signed an executive order that allows graduates of international medical schools who completed at least two years of post-graduate training to be licensed in the state. Another executive order allows people in the last semester of nursing programs to practice as nurses in the state when supervised by a licensed medical professional, he said.

“These orders will contribute to our efforts to build a robust community of front line workers to support our health care institutions statewide as they significant increase their capacity to deal with the surge," Baker said.



Nearly 140,000 people filed for unemployment in Massachusetts in the past week, according to new federal data. About 470,000 people have filed new unemployment claims in Massachusetts over the last three weeks, Baker said.

People collecting regular unemployment compensation will get an additional $600 per week under under the federal COVID-19 relief package. The extra money will be provided for every week between March 29 and July 31, Baker said.



Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced new housing options for first responders and shelter staff.

Hotel Boston in Brighton is providing rooms for members of Boston Police, Fire and EMS who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to a coworker with the disease and cannot properly isolate themselves at home, Walsh said.

Northeastern University is also offering rooms in one of its dorms for first responders who live with people who are at higher risk if they get COVID-19 because of their age or underlying conditions, Walsh said. Meanwhile, Boston University is providing 75 rooms for Pine Street Inn's shelter staff.



A federal judge has ordered the release of 15 more immigration detainees at the Bristol County House of Correction amid coronavirus concerns, lawyers said. A total of 33 immigration detainees at the facility have or will be released as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Lawyers for Civil Rights and other groups.



The superintendent of a Massachusetts veterans home who was placed on leaving following COVID-19 deaths there said Thursday that state officials were not kept in the dark about illnesses at the facility.

Bennett Walsh said he is cooperating with Baker's investigation into his actions as superintendent of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Walsh said reports that state officials were not notified about the virus's spread and staffing problems at the home are false.

“State officials knew that Holyoke needed as much help as possible. No one was kept in the dark," Walsh said in an emailed statement. Walsh is on administrative leave.

Attorney General Maura Healey has also launched an investigation into COVID-19 deaths at the home, saying her office is trying to determine whether any legal action is warranted.

Officials said Wednesday that 27 residents have died, 20 of whom tested positive. Another 62 residents and 68 staff members have also tested positive.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.



A group of marijuana dispensaries have sued the governor over his decision to shutdown recreational pot operations in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday asks the court to allow recreational pot shops to reopen, saying the closure will cause serious harm to the industry.

The Republican governor said keeping the stores open would harm the state's ability to control the spread of the virus because they draw many customers from other states where recreational marijuana remains illegal.



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