Massachusetts has more than 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections as of Thursday, one of the highest state totals in the country, as Gov. Charlie Baker said the peak demand on hospitals is approaching fast.
The state reported 137 new deaths attributable to the disease, including at least 13 from western Massachusetts.
The toll is growing more dramatic in locations that house some of the state's most vulnerable residents, such nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Through Thursday, 610 of the 1,245 deaths linked to the highly contagious illness — nearly half — were reported in long-term care facilities.
That includes a growing list of fatalities from the state-run Holyoke Soldiers' Home. As of Thursday, the state reported 44 veterans who died recently tested positive for the COVID-19. Nearly 100 other veterans have also tested positive, along with 81 employees.
Advocates and state lawmakers urged passage of a bill Thursday that would require more detailed daily reports from long-term care facilities during the Legislature's second-ever committee hearing conducted over videoconference.
Democrat Patricia Jehlen, the Elder Affairs Committee’s Senate co-chair, said facilities have "so many needs right now," including personal protective equipment, additional staff, and money, but "information is one of the most important things, and one that's really been lacking for people."
For the second day in a row, Baker told reporters the surge has begun in Massachusetts. The peak should hit later in April, he said, and he warned "letting up" on social distancing practices at this point "would only result in greater harm."
The timeline will vary by community, according to Dimitris Bertsimas, an MIT associate dean. He leads a team of researchers who built a model predicting when new COVID-19 cases are likely to peak in different states, and ran the numbers at a county level in Massachusetts.
"The model predicts that Hampshire, Berkshire and Franklin are past their peak, while Hampden would reach the peak in about one week," he said. "Just for comparison, Massachusetts in general is expected to see the peak in a week or so."
Like the governor, Bertsimas cautioned that just because the peaks may have passed in some places does not mean it's time to ease up on social distancing.
Meanwhile, Thursday brought another slew of headlines about the wide-reaching economic impacts of the crisis. A new wave of unemployment claims brought the four-week totals to 22 million nationwide and about 573,000 in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation projected a revenue decline of $4 billion for the state's fiscal year 2021 budget. A Senate working group that had been studying tax code changes indicated it will struggle to make recommendations while the pandemic is ongoing.
Progress in the Legislature on high-profile coronavirus legislation was uneven. The Senate approved a bill sought by Gov. Baker that would remove liability health care workers and facilities normally face for damages related to COVID-19 incurred in good faith, a loosening that supporters say will protect those on the front lines as they treat patients in unusual settings such as field hospitals.
The Senate also rejected a proposed amendment that would have lowered signature requirements for state legislative candidates, then approved the underlying bill that lowers those thresholds for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and county candidates.
Another bill prompted by the pandemic that would mandate a pause on almost all eviction and foreclosure proceedings stalled out Thursday when Republican Rep. Shawn Dooley objected. House and Senate Democrats agreed to a deal Wednesday without the support of Republican negotiators, and because the branches are meeting in informal sessions, a single member's objection can immediately pause progress on any legislation.
Much of this story was written by Chris Lisinski of State House News Service, with additional information from SHNS reporter Katie Lannan, and NEPR's Alden Bourne and Sam Hudzik.