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Lawmakers call for centralized state vaccine sign-up system

February 17, 2021 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts should create a centralized COVID-19 vaccine sign-up system to let all residents pre-register for shots, confirm eligibility and receive a notification when an appointment becomes available at a nearby location, members of the state’s congressional delegation said Tuesday in a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker.

“A disjointed and cumbersome sign-up process has left seniors confused and unable to access desperately needed vaccine appointments, and the disproportionate reliance on mass vaccination sites has left appointments unfilled with large portions of our most vulnerable populations unserved,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in the letter to the Republican governor.

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The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, James McGovern, Lori Trahan, Jake Auchincloss, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Stephen Lynch, and William Keating.

“We remain deeply concerned that the absence of a centralized pre-registration system for vaccine appointments has contributed to a slow and inequitable deployment of vaccines in Massachusetts,” the lawmakers added.

The Baker administration last week launched an online tool designed to make it easier for residents to find COVID-19 vaccination locations.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Finder lets individuals search for locations near them by entering their ZIP code, city or town name, or the name of a vaccination location. Residents can also filter results by site type, such as mass vaccination locations, locations run by local health departments, retail pharmacies or health care locations.

The finder displays all vaccination locations open to residents, but includes only appointment details for mass vaccination locations and some sites operated by local health departments.

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COVID-19 VARIANT FOUND IN STATE

The first case of the South African COVID-19 variant has been identified in Massachusetts, the state Department of Public Health announced Tuesday.

The variant was discovered in a female in her 20s who lives in Middlesex County and who had no reported travel.

The South African variant is known to spread easily. Genetic sequencing at the Broad Institute on behalf of the DPH confirmed the variant, which was originally identified in South Africa.

State health officials urged continued vigilance, including the wearing of secure face coverings, maintaining distance from others, avoiding gatherings and staying home when sick.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 49 on Tuesday, pushing the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 15,257 since the start of the pandemic.

The number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by about 970 and its confirmed caseload rose to more than 531,000.

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

There were nearly 1,100 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 270 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 72. There were an estimated more than 42,000 people with 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 8,392.

More than 1.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including nearly 862,000 first doses and nearly 305,000 second doses.

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TEACHER VACCINATIONS

The speaker of the Massachusetts House, a former teacher, says teachers should be moved higher on the state’s coronavirus vaccination prioritization list to help schools reopen sooner.

“I think if a teacher wants to be vaccinated and is comfortable that the vaccine provides them with the protection that keeps their families safe, yeah I think they should be moved up,” Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, told WCVB-TV’s show “On The Record” on Sunday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that vaccinating teachers is not required for schools to reopen for in-person learning.

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is running for mayor, said in a statement Tuesday that teachers should be prioritized.

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UNSPENT COVID-19 FUNDS

Some lawmakers in Massachusetts are demanding to know why the Baker administration has not spent more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus funds.

“We need to stop sitting on money,” state Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, told the Boston Herald. “He was sitting on money for several months while we engaged in a big debate (about) how to protect tenants from eviction.”

Many businesses are in desperate need of cash to stay viable, said state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen.

“The governor needs to start allocating these resources immediately — not in the future when it may be too late for small businesses,” she said.

About $1.38 billion of the aid allocated to Massachusetts for expenses related to the COVID-19 public health emergency had been spent, leaving $1.32 billion on the table, according to state data.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office for Administration and Finance responded that all coronavirus relief fund dollars received have been “spent or committed.”

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COMMUNITY OUTREACH EFFORT

A targeted outreach initiative is being launched in the 20 Massachusetts cities and towns most disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 the Baker administration announced Tuesday.

The goal is to increase awareness of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and to reduce barriers to vaccination. As part of the initiative, state health officials will work with local officials and community- and faith-based groups.

The initiative includes hiring local residents for neighborhood and business outreach efforts, which may include a door-knocking campaign to provide information and answer questions about vaccine efficacy and safety.