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Boston field hospital suspends admissions; new COVID-19 cases fall

BOSTON (AP) — In another sign of progress in the battle against the spread of the coronavirus in Massachsuetts, a field hospital set up inside the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is suspending the admission of new patients.

The field hospital, dubbed “Boston Hope,” was one a handful of temporary emergency facilities created around the state to help hospitals cope with an expected influx of COVID-19 patients.

The facility served more than 700 COVID-19 patients and will continue to treat those still in the facility, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday. The 1,000 beds will remain in place over the summer in case the state experiences another COVID-19 surge.

Baker said the decision to close the facility comes after daily conversations with the health care community.

“We’ve talked a lot about preparing for and dealing with the surge — which is now something that, thanks to a lot of work by a lot of people, is behind us — and as a result of that, many of the field hospitals that we set up around the state to add beds and reduce strain on hospitals have begun to close," he said.

The emergency hospital was pulled together by state and city officials, Mass General Brigham, Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, and others.

The state’s hospitals were stressed but never overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, according to Baker.

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COVID-19 UPDATE

The number of new COVID-19 cases fell below 500 as the state continues to see steady improvement as it battles the coronavirus.

The number of individuals in Massachusetts diagnosed with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday climbed to about 93,700 as the state reported 422 new cases.

The number of confirmed COVID-19-related deaths since the start of the pandemic climbed to 6,473 as another 57 deaths were reported.

There were other signs of progress.

The number of people currently hospitalized with the disease fell to about 2,100, down from about 3,100 two weeks ago.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care also fell to 560 -- down from 818 two weeks ago.

The number of deaths at long-term care facilities rose to 3,924 — or about 60% of all COVID-19-related deaths in the state.

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SOLDIERS' HOME

The suspended head of the state-run Massachusetts soldier’s home where dozens of elderly veterans have died from the coronavirus maintains state officials were aware of the unfolding disaster sooner than they say.

William Bennett, an attorney for Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh, released more than a dozen documents Tuesday he said shows the Department of Veterans’ Services and Executive Office of Health and Human Services were aware of the outbreak as early as Mar. 21 and that Walsh even requested help from the National Guard.

Baker’s administration has maintained it wasn’t notified until Mar. 28, after Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse reached out.

Bennett also suggested Tuesday that Walsh was placed on paid administrative leave on Mar. 30 because he’d talked to Morse and other local officials about the crisis in the facility even though the Baker administration had instructed him not to.

Baker’s office declined to comment on Walsh’s remarks. Baker said earlier Tuesday his administration’s investigation into the outbreak, considered one of the nation’s deadliest in a nursing facility, should be completed soon.

Meanwhile, health officials reported two more virus-related fatalities at the home Tuesday, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths to 76.

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GOVERNOR-HAIRCUT

Baker said he got a haircut Tuesday morning — the day after barbers and hair salons were allowed to reopen.

It wasn’t a typical visit, the Republican governor told reporters.

“I showed up at 7 a.m. They took my temperature,” Baker said. “The place where I got my hair cut had Plexiglas between the chairs. I had to wet my hair before I got there.”

Baker said he wore a mask the entire time and the man who cut his hair also wore a mask and a gown.

“I was out in 20 minutes.” Baker said.

There are about 41,000 licensed barbers and hair stylists in Massachusetts.

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COVID-19 CHILD PORNOGRAPHY ARREST

A man who had been in jail on child pornography-related charges in Massachusetts and released in April with a GPS ankle bracelet is back behind bars, according to the New Hampshire U.S. Attorney’s Office.

United States Attorney Scott W. Murray said Tuesday that Russell Graham, 40, of Lowell, Mass., was arrested on a federal complaint charging him with distributing child pornography.

In early May, an undercover officer met Graham in an internet chatroom and Graham began sending the officer videos and images of child pornography, according to Murray, who said Graham told the officer he was wearing an ankle bracelet and had been released from jail because of COVID-19.

Graham was arrested on May 22 and appeared before a federal magistrate judge Tuesday. He was detained pending further proceedings, Murray said.

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MUSEUM-LIMITED OPENING

A Massachusetts museum that closed to the public in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic is planning to reopen on a limited basis next month.

The EcoTarium, a science and nature museum in Worcester, is reopening June 4 only to visitors who purchase tickets in advance, the museum announced Monday on its website. No tickets will be sold to walk-up visitors.

Only the paths and trails, ponds and wildlife habitats will be open at first.

Buildings, except for the bathrooms, will remain closed.

Guests will be required to wear face masks.

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DRIVE-IN SELLOUT

A Massachusetts drive-in movie theater opened to sellout crowds on the first weekend drive-ins were allowed to reopen under Baker’s economic restart plan.

The Mendon Twin Drive-in opened with a double feature at midnight on Sunday.

Owner Dave Andelman told WBZ-TV he spent weeks making sure he could make it safe for his staff and customers. He offered an app for customers to order snacks, spaced vehicles 12 feet apart and required guests to wear face coverings outside of their vehicles.

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Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo contributed to this report.

 

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