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MA inmates will get vaccine soon; RI inmate dies of COVID-19

December 20, 2020 GMT

A look at coronavirus-related developments in New England on Sunday:

RHODE ISLAND

A 66-year-old Rhode Island inmate with COVID-19 died, the state Department of Corrections announced late Saturday.

The inmate, whose name was not released, died at Rhode Island Hospital, the department said. He “had other complicating comorbidities that likely contributed to his death,” the department said.

The man was serving a life without parole sentence in the maximum security facility at Adult Correctional Institutions since 1988 for the sexual assault and resulting death of a 73-year-old woman, the department said.

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The department said Friday that there had been 390 confirmed coronavirus cases at the maximum-security facility of the ACI, including 331 among inmates and 59 among staff, the Providence Journal reported.

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MASSACHUSETTS

Massachusetts inmates will be some of the first to get the coronavirus vaccines after health care workers, emergency medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities get vaccinated.

Tens of thousands of inmates will be offered the shots ahead of home health aides, seniors and medically vulnerable residents, joining people who live in homeless shelters and other congregate settings who will be vaccinated by the end of February, The New York Times reported.

“We used equity as a core principle in our recommendations,” said Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist and a member of the state’s Covid-19 vaccine advisory group. “We have had a lot of cases of COVID in the prisons, and we wanted to make sure those at highest risk were getting the vaccine first.”

Prisons have had some of the country’s biggest coronavirus outbreaks. More than one in 10 inmates around the country is over age 55 and therefore more vulnerable to the virus, said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, co-founder of the COVID Prison Project. Inmates also have higher rates of chronic medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness if they become infected, the New York Times reported.

In Massachusetts, Black and Hispanic people make up a little over half of the prison and jail populations, according to the advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative.

“Those at greatest need — we have to take care of them,” said Dr. Wildes. “You can’t socially distance in prison.”

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This week, Massachusetts had its highest weekly number of cases reported among students and staff in schools since data collection started in September, according to state data.

Districts reported more than 590 confirmed cases among students and nearly 420 among staff between December 10 and December 16, WBZ-TV reported. Schools are not required to report COVID-19 cases to the state.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that schools are not the reason for the spread of the virus.

“School is still a much safer place for kids to be than most other places in the community. In fact, the CDC just put out a report it said among kids who’ve gotten COVID, they were more likely to have been at playdates parties, weddings, or funerals,” he said.

The weekly report released on Thursdays shows positive cases for students in hybrid or in-person learning and does not include remote-only programs.

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Free mobile COVID-19 testing is available to people in Boston regardless of their symptoms, Mayor Martin Walsh has announced.

The mobile teams are in Roxbury, Hyde Park and Jamaica Plain.

“Expanding access to COVID-19 testing, particularly in communities facing higher positive test rates of COVID-19, is vital to our response,” Walsh said.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

As coronavirus cases continue to climb, most of New Hampshire’s largest school districts have gone mostly remote.

The majority of the state’s 15 biggest districts were operating virtually at some point this month. Many said they were closing because of a combination of factors: more COVID-19 cases among students and staff, and growing staff shortages, as more teachers and paraprofessionals are required to quarantine for 10 to 14 days after exposure, New Hampshire Public Radio reported.

Around 375 students, teachers and staff in the Windham school district were quarantining by the end of last week, prompting the district to switch remote instruction until January.

Hopkinton, Concord, and Merrimack have also recently closed school buildings due to staff shortages and rising cases.

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MAINE

The virus outbreak has claimed another winter event in Maine — the National Toboggan Championships.

Organizers of the annual event in Camden, Maine, announced this week that the championships have been postponed until 2022.

Organizers had hoped to continue the event with a reduced number of participants, but they scrapped it altogether because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in Maine, Co-Chairman Holly Anderson said in a statement.

“While we are saddened that our event, like so many others in Maine, as well as the entire country, has been impacted by the pandemic, we know this tough decision is the right one,” she said.

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VERMONT

Some residents on both the Vermont and New York sides of Lake Champlain have concerns about how they’ll get across this winter after the news that a ferry route has been suspended starting in early January.

The Lake Champlain Transportation Company announced this week that the Charlotte-Essex ferry crossing will be suspended until further notice starting on Jan. 4, 2021, because of fewer riders due to the pandemic, WPTZ-TV reported.

Tara Smith lives in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont, and takes the ferry nearly every day with her 3-year-old son, who goes to preschool while she goes to work at an office in Essex, N.Y.

“Of course it’s a huge inconvenience for me not being able to get to my place of work, but the biggest concern is that it’s incredibly disruptive to my family,” she said.

In New York, Essex Town Supervisor Ken Hughes has nearly 2,000 signatures on an online petition to keep the service running.

“The concern that I have is there is still essential travel that needs to take place between our two states, and that essential travel happens right here at this ferry. This ferry is our bridge,” Hughe said.

The ferry company says it will continue to run the Grande Isle-Cumberland Head crossing, consolidating resources there.