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Governor: Massachusetts planning how to distribute vaccines

November 23, 2020 GMT
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A man is tested for COVID-19 at Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Mass., on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. With in school learning closed due to a recent surge in cases the school district is testing staff, children and families through a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)
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A man is tested for COVID-19 at Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Mass., on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. With in school learning closed due to a recent surge in cases the school district is testing staff, children and families through a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts is well into planning how to distribute coronavirus vaccines when they begin arriving in the state, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday.

The state’s public health system already has an existing infrastructure that allows it to process and distribute million of vaccines — including annual flu shots — the Republican governor said during a Statehouse press conference.

The vaccine will likely be targeted first at high-risk groups, which could include health care workers, long-term care workers, people with preexisting conditions and people in hard-hit communities, Baker said. The details are still being worked out.

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“There’s a lot of discussion about where the original focus of vaccine distribution should be,” Baker said. “I would say still hasn’t been fully decided yet.”

Baker said the state has been communicating directly with federal officials about what it needs to do to make sure the distribution goes as smoothly as possible. He declined to say exactly how many vaccines the state will be receiving and when.

“I don’t want to put a number out there yet, because those are still being discussed, but I think the idea is to have a fairly significant amount of vaccines start to be available early in 2021, with that amount growing sort of over the course of the first five or six months of the calendar year,” Baker said.

In other coronavirus news in Massachusetts:

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AWARENESS CAMPAIGN

Massachusetts is launching a public awareness campaign in several languages aimed at encouraging residents to remain vigilant against the coronavirus as the state continues to see a surge, Baker announced Monday.

The television and digital ads will reinforce basic virus protections like wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene, maintaining a safe distance and getting tested.

The ads stress that the way to get back to activities that everyone is missing — attending live sporting events, throwing a child’s birthday party, going out dancing with friends — hinges on how well everyone adheres to safety protocols now.

The campaign includes social media messages and digital animated videos in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, simplified and traditional Chinese, and Vietnamese. Information posters will also be displayed in convenience stores.

Television ads in English and Spanish will run on broadcast and digital channels through February.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

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The number of people hospitalized in Massachusetts is climbing.

There were more than 920 people reported hospitalized Monday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 200 in intensive care units.

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths increased by 18 on Monday and more than 1,780 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The new deaths pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 10,299 and its confirmed caseload since the start of the pandemic to more than 201,800.

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

The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 6,685.

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NURSING HOMES

Long-term care facilities can begin using rapid 15-minute COVID-19 tests to screen people entering the facilities who are not regular staff members, including visitors, state health Secretary Marylou Sudders said Monday.

Those who test negative can enter provided they already meet existing criteria, including not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and complying with other requirements, such as wearing a mask.

The expansion of rapid testing follows an announcement last week about the use of the 15-minute tests to help screen students in K-12 schools who may be experiencing symptoms.

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COVID-19 GRANTS

The state has awarded $650,000 in grants to community and faith-based groups designed to help spread and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in communities of color in cities and towns hardest hit by the disease.

Twenty organizations that officials say have demonstrated deep engagement with their communities are receiving funding.

Strategies to reach individuals in those communities include relying on youth peer leaders, trusted community leaders, and those with shared lived experience to increase the understanding of the impact of COVID-19.