Baker weighs extending closures; virus deaths rise by 137
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he’s talking to health care professionals as he weighs whether to extend the state of emergency beyond May 4 to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“Obviously we know it’s something on people’s minds. It’s on ours too,” Baker said at a press conference Thursday. “We’re going to do what we can to give people guidance so they have enough time to plan.”
Whether to reopen schools is also part of part of that discussion, according to Baker, who said a decision about schools will be made “sometime soon.” The state of emergency also shuttered nonessential businesses.
The state has seen an increase in the number of people hospitalized in recent days, Baker said, adding that about half of hospital beds remain empty. He said the state should see a peak in cases later this month.
Baker urged residents to respond if they receive a call from the state’s contact tracing program advising them they may have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
DEATHS CONTINUE TO MOUNT
The number COVID-19-related deaths in Massachusetts rose to 1,245 Thursday — an increase of 137 in the past day — according to public health officials.
There were more than 2,200 new COVID-19 cases, for a total of nearly 32,200 since the start of the outbreak.
Nearly half of the deaths, 610, were reported in long-term care facilities.
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 the infirm, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
PUSH FOR CHANGE TO BALLOT SIGNATURE REQUIREMENTS
Three candidates hoping to get their names on the Massachusetts ballot this fall are asking the state’s highest court to ease signature gathering requirements.
The declaration of a state of emergency by Gov. Charlie Baker makes it virtually impossible to go door-to-door to gather the needed signatures, the candidates argued. The Supreme Judicial Court held a hearing by phone Thursday.
The court could decide to reduce the number of needed signatures, allow electronic signatures, extend the deadline or determine any candidate who made a good faith effort to collect signatures be allowed on the ballot.
The state Senate approved a bill Thursday that would lower the signature threshold for U.S. Senate candidates from 10,000 to 5,000 signatures and for U.S. House candidates from 2,000 to 1,000 signatures. The House has yet to act.
POT SHOPS TO STAY CLOSED
A judge ruled against operators of recreational marijuana shops who sued over Baker’s decision to shut down their businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge on Thursday denied a request to let the pot shops reopen, saying they are unlikely to win their case. The judge said Baker’s decision to keep medical marijuana facilities and liquor stores open while closing recreational marijuana shops had a “rational basis.”
Baker argued that keeping the stores open would harm the state’s ability to control the spread of the virus because they draw customers from states where recreational marijuana remains illegal.
Industry representatives said they were disappointed.
Biogen Inc., the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Partners HealthCare are teaming up to create a repository of biological samples to help research into treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus, officials announced Thursday.
Biogen, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, biotech company linked to an early cluster of COVID-19 cases stemming from a February meeting at a Boston hotel, is asking employees who have recovered to supply blood samples.
The project will help scientists study a large collection of medical data that will offer insights into why some people are severely affected by the disease and others are asymptomatic.
Another 103,000 Massachusetts residents have filed first-time unemployment claims in the week ending April 11, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday.
That brings total unemployment claims in the state to 578,000 in the past month.
SOLDIERS HOME DEATHS
The number of residents who have died at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke climbed to 52 on Thursday, 44 of whom tested positive for the coronavirus.
State health officials said another 97 residents have also tested positive, as have 81 employees.
POLICE OFFICER HONORED
Police officers lined the streets in Boston to honor a colleague who died this week from complications of COVID-19.
Officers wearing masks saluted as Boston Police officer Jose Fontanez’s body was escorted from Boston Medical Center to the funeral home. Fontanez, a 29-year veteran of the police force, died Tuesday.
A Massachusetts food pantry is cranking up efforts to make sure everyone in need is fed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Neighbors in Need, based in Lawrence, said the demand for food assistance has been exploding as more people lose their jobs.
The organization has experienced a significant increase in the number of people unable to leave their homes, and who now need home delivery. Volunteers spent Thursday in the warehouse packing bags and making deliveries.
CATHOLIC SCHOOL CLOSURES
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed two Massachusetts Catholic schools already struggling financially over the edge.
The Diocese of Fall River announced Wednesday that Coyle and Cassidy Middle School and High School in Taunton and St. Margaret Primary School in Bourne will both close permanently on June 30.
Associated Press writer Alanna Durkin Richer contributed to this report.