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Massachusetts to ease some pandemic business restrictions

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts will begin to ease some of its pandemic restrictions on businesses as spikes in the number of hospitalizations and new cases of COVID-19 have begun to slow, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday.

Beginning Monday at 5 a.m., the state’s early closure order for businesses and the stay at home advisory for the public will be lifted, Baker said at a Statehouse press conference.

The early closure order — put in place in early November — targeted a range of businesses including restaurants, health clubs, movie theaters and others, requiring them to close at 9:30 p.m.

A 25% capacity limit on businesses will remain in place until February 8.

The state is also lifting on Monday the advisory that people stay at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Baker pointed to positive trends in the disease for his decision to begin to loosen restrictions on businesses.

“Post-Thanksgiving we had a significant spike in cases and hospitalizations,” Baker said. “Today, three weeks into 2021, our public health data is trending in a better direction for some categories.”

Hospitalizations are down by 10% since they peaked in early January, he said. The average positive test rate for COVID-19 has gone down 33% since the beginning of January.

There are other positive developments, Baker said, including the fact that vaccines are beginning to be administered.

The state will also continue to monitor the new variant of the coronavirus that has been recently detected in Massachusetts, although Baker said the administration had assumed the variant was already in the state weeks ago.

Also Thursday, Baker announced all Massachusetts residents in Phase One of the state’s vaccination plan are now eligible to receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Eligible residents — including healthcare workers, long-term care facilities residents and staff, first responders, congregate care setting residents and staff and home-based healthcare workers — can make an appointment at more than 150 locations including Gillette Stadium, regional vaccination sites and participating CVS Health and Walgreens pharmacies.

Resident must demonstrate their eligibility. Most pharmacies require individuals to attest to their eligibility as part of the online appointment scheduling process.

All other sites will accept the state's self attestation form. Those getting vaccinations should bring either an employer-issued ID card, a government-issued identification or license, or recent paystub.

VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths rose by 75 on Thursday while the number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by more than 4,800.

The new deaths pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 13,622 and its confirmed caseload since the start of the pandemic to nearly 463,000.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were more than 2,100 people reported hospitalized Thursday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 430 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 71. There were an estimated nearly 89,000 current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 7,838.

SOLDIERS’ HOME

Overworked staff and lack of regular work schedules helped contribute to the troubles at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home leading up to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic there, Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said Thursday.

The COVID-19 virus has been blamed for the deaths in the spring of nearly 80 veterans who lived at the state-run facility, one of the country’s worst outbreaks at a long-term care facility.

The home did not have a strong internal nursing development program and relied on mandatory overtime to help fill gaps in schedules, which put added stress on the staff, Sudders said during a virtual public hearing.

“If you hire staff and don’t then give them — make sure they have — the skills to do the job, you’re going to have high turnover,” Sudders said. “There were reasons why people were calling out if they wanted to take a weekend off or they were sick, but they didn’t know what their schedule was going to be.”

Sudders didn’t blame staff for the handling of the outbreak, instead pointing to what she said were more fundamental troubles at the home, including problems with clinical management and operations.

“There were many nursing homes that faced the pandemic, but their internal structures didn’t collapse,” she said. “What happened at Holyoke, from my read of everything, was a complete collapse.”

CAPE COD VACCINATION SITE

A state-run vaccination site is coming to Cape Cod.

Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment Director Sean O’Brien tells The Cape Cod Times the state has committed to opening a “soup to nuts” COVID-19 vaccination site on the famous vacation destination as soon as February.

The specific location of the vaccine site is still to be determined, but local officials are eying a site in the mid-Cape area, he added.

The state’s first mass vaccination site opened this week at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, the home field of the NFL's New England Patriots.

That site is expected to work up to administering over 1,000 vaccinations per day, and soon after, 5,000 vaccinations per day.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has also said Fenway Park, home of the MLB's Boston Red Sox, will also serve as a vaccine site, starting Feb. 1.

 

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