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Boston meeting linked to as many as 300,000 COVID-19 cases

December 11, 2020 GMT
Barbara Grenell and Yaacov Ankori dine outside at Bizen on Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Mass., Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. Even as the weather gets chilly, outdoor dining is safer than dining indoors at a restaurant. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)
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Barbara Grenell and Yaacov Ankori dine outside at Bizen on Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Mass., Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. Even as the weather gets chilly, outdoor dining is safer than dining indoors at a restaurant. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)
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Barbara Grenell and Yaacov Ankori dine outside at Bizen on Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Mass., Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. Even as the weather gets chilly, outdoor dining is safer than dining indoors at a restaurant. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)

BOSTON (AP) — As many as 300,000 COVID-19 cases around the world can be traced to a two-day biotech meeting at a hotel in downtown Boston last February, according to a study published by the journal Science.

The meeting of Biogen managers sent 100 people home with the coronavirus who then spread it to 29 states and overseas to Australia, Slovakia and Sweden, according to the study published Thursday.

The study estimates the conference is responsible for about 1.6% of all cases in the United States.

The study was done by tracking the unique genetic signatures of the virus that could be traced to the Boston event.

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The lead author was Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, but more than 50 researchers were credited.

“If there is a public health message here, it is that the conditions that enable these types of massive super-spreading events to occur are still with us,” Lemieux told The Boston Globe. “They’re still possible if we let our guard down. They’re still possible if infected but otherwise healthy people mingle and travel without restriction.”

Biogen in a statement said the pandemic has had a “very direct and personal impact” on the company and hoped that the study would “continue to drive a better understanding of the transmission of this virus and efforts to address it.”

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COMMUTER RAIL REDUCTIONS

The company that runs commuter rail services in the Boston area is temporarily cutting back weekday service because so many employees are unavailable to work due to coronavirus-related reasons.

Keolis Commuter Services and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced Thursday that the service reductions are scheduled to start Monday and run until at least Dec. 27.

Instead of 541 trains per weekday, there will be only be 246 trains per weekday. All lines and stations are affected.

“The MBTA and Keolis, like other employers in Massachusetts, have experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases over the past 10 days,” the statement said.

The company did not specify how many employees are out and said it will continue to monitor the situation.

Keolis has made several safety changes during the pandemic, including enhanced sanitization and air filtration on rail cars.

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LATEST FIGURES

State public health officials reported nearly 5,500 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 47 new confirmed deaths.

That pushes Massachusetts’ active cases to nearly 66,000 and the death toll to 11,010. Authorities say the real number likely is significantly higher because of additional deaths not attributed to the virus.

More than 1,600 people were hospitalized, and more than 300 of those were receiving intensive care, the state Department of Public Health said.

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COVID-19 RESPONSE FUND

The Boston Foundation announced Friday it is distributing nearly $2 million to organizations helping area residents cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Ten organizations focused on helping Black, Indigenous and other communities of color in the city and suburbs will share $1.5 million in grants, while the foundation will invest another $450,000 in three collaborative efforts to meet long-term needs in housing, community development and the arts.

“The second wave of the pandemic has exacerbated the pain for too many people in our communities. It is incumbent on all of us, in philanthropy and beyond, to commit to meet long-term needs and fix the systems that create and sustain inequity,” President and CEO Paul Grogan said in a statement.