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Lawsuit in soldier’s home virus outbreak filed against 5

July 17, 2020 GMT
A waitress seats customers at a restaurant with outdoor dining on a section of street closed to traffic to promote social distancing, Friday, July 17, 2020, in Somerville, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
A waitress seats customers at a restaurant with outdoor dining on a section of street closed to traffic to promote social distancing, Friday, July 17, 2020, in Somerville, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
A waitress seats customers at a restaurant with outdoor dining on a section of street closed to traffic to promote social distancing, Friday, July 17, 2020, in Somerville, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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A waitress seats customers at a restaurant with outdoor dining on a section of street closed to traffic to promote social distancing, Friday, July 17, 2020, in Somerville, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
1 of 9
A waitress seats customers at a restaurant with outdoor dining on a section of street closed to traffic to promote social distancing, Friday, July 17, 2020, in Somerville, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

BOSTON (AP) — The family of a Korean War veteran who died during a coronavirus outbreak at a Massachusetts home for ailing veterans filed a $176 million federal lawsuit Friday against five former home officials.

The suit filed by the family of Joseph Sniadach, an 84-year-old veteran who died at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke on April 27, seeks class-action status. It appears to be the first lawsuit filed in connection with the coronavirus-related deaths of 76 veterans at the facility.

The defendants are former home Superintendent Bennett Walsh, former secretary of the state’s Department of Veterans’ Services Francisco Urena, and three other former home administrators.

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“Each of these five defendants acted with deliberate indifference to the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, an indifference that resulted in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the Soldiers’ Home,” the lawsuit says. “The spread of COVID-19 at the Soldiers’ Home was preventable.”

The suit alleges they violated the veteran’s civil rights by acting with indifference.

Leadership at the home failed to follow state and federal guidelines issued in February and March aimed at containing COVID-19 at assisted living facilities and nursing homes, the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Thomas Lesser and Michael Aleo, said.

Walsh’s attorney, William Bennett, said in an email to The Associated Press that he is reviewing the complaint and will make a public statement next week.

Bennett, who is Walsh’s uncle, previously said that Walsh acted appropriately in handling the virus outbreak at the facility.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Urena had a lawyer to comment on his behalf.

Other coronavirus developments in Massachusetts:

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UNEMPLOYMENT CLIMBS

The Massachusetts unemployment rate rose to 17.4% in June even though the state added almost 84,000 jobs as it emerged from the coronavirus economic shutdown, state labor officials announced Friday.

The June job gains follow the addition of about 55,000 jobs in May, which had a revised unemployment rate of 16.6%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said.

The unemployment rate is based on a monthly sample of households, while the job estimates are derived from a monthly sample survey of employers, which is why the statistics may appear to be going in opposite directions, the agency said.

The June unemployment rate was 6.3 percentage points above the national rate of 11.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Many of the June job gains came in the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus economic shutdown, including leisure and hospitality, which added 29,500 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities, which added 27,900 jobs; and construction, which gained 19,700 jobs.

The steepest job losses in June were in the government sector.

The June estimates show more than 3 million Massachusetts residents employed and slightly more than 638,000 unemployed, according to the agency.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

Massachusetts reported 22 confirmed and probable COVID-19-related deaths Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed and probable deaths since the beginning of the pandemic to just over 8,400 in the state.

There were 298 newly confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, reported Friday — bringing the total number of confirmed and probable cases to nearly 112,900 in Massachusetts.

There were 515 people reported hospitalized Friday because of COVID-19, while 76 were in intensive care units.

The number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 related deaths at long-term care homes rose to 5,328 or more than 63% of all confirmed and probable deaths in Massachusetts attributed to the disease.

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SOMERVILLE DELAYS REOPENING

A Boston suburb is delaying the next phase of reopening businesses shuttered by the pandemic.

Somerville, a city of roughly 80,000 residents that’s also home to Tufts University, will push phase 3 of the state’s economic plan to Aug. 3 at earliest, Democratic Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced Friday.

That means movie theaters, gyms, museums and outdoor performance venues will have to wait longer to reopen, and gatherings will still be limited to no more than 10 people, he said.

The Democratic mayor, who has been critical of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s response to COVID-19, cited concerns of a new surge given a recent uptick in cases in the greater Boston area.

Massachusetts moved into phase 3 of Baker’s reopening plan on July 6, though the process was delayed in Boston until this week.

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USS CONSTITUTION REOPENS

“Old Ironsides” will start welcoming visitors again next month, a spokesman for the warship announced Friday.

The U.S.S. Constitution is scheduled to reopen for free public visits on Aug. 7.

All guests will be required to wear a face covering, and groups will be limited to 25 people or fewer to promote social distancing.

Visits will last approximately 30 minutes, and the ship’s crew will clean and sanitize surfaces and handrails between visitor groups.

The warship closed to the public in March because of the pandemic.

The U.S.S Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat, and played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, actively defending sea lanes from 1797 until 1855.