Coronavirus Updates For Western New England: In 1 Day, 10 New Deaths In Mass.

Mar 26, 2020

Massachusetts officials have reported a sharp increase in the number of deaths attributable to COVID-19. That state's public health department on Thursday said 25 people in the state have died of the disease, an increase of 10 from the day before. 

The new deaths include two from western Massachusetts — a man in his 80s from Hampden County and a man in his 80s from Franklin County.

Overall,  2,417 Massachusetts residents have now tested positive for the disease, nearly 600 more than were reported Wednesday.

New deaths slowed a bit in Connecticut, with two new fatalities compared to the seven reported Wednesday. Overall, the state has had 21 deaths linked to COVID-19, with a confirmed caseload of 1,012, up from 875 the day before.

Vermont's death total again increased by one, to nine, on Thursday. The state reported 158 cases, up from 123 Wednesday.

Maine reported 155 cases, up from the 142 announced Wednesday. Rhode Island reported 33 new cases on Thursday, totalling 165. Neither state has attributed any deaths to COVID-19.

New Hampshire's numbers had not yet been updated Thursday. The state has one death attributable to COVID-19, with 137 laboratory-confirmed cases, as of Wednesday.

Those numbers include "presumptive positive cases" identified by state and private labs, as well as cases confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials have said the numbers will continue to rise as testing capacity in the region expands. They've also said the data are incomplete, as not all patients with symptoms associated with the disease are being tested.

New unemployment claims skyrocket

In the week ending March 21, U.S. workers filed nearly 3.3 million unemployment claims, an increase of three million from the previous week's revised level, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday morning. "This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series. The previous high was 695,000 in October of 1982," the department said. The federal agency's report lists just under 7,500 initial claims filed in Massachusetts for the week ending March 14, with initial claims then surging by more than 140,000 in the week ending March 21.

Northampton mayor tests positive

Northampton, Massachusetts, Mayor David Narkewicz announced Thursday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and is working from home while in "strict isolation" from his family and others. The city said Narkewicz "began experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms on Monday, March 23, and his symptoms worsened overnight into Tuesday."

After consulting with the city's public health department, it was recommended that the mayor be tested "due to a contact investigation that revealed possible exposures." The positive test results came back Thursday morning and the source of the mayor's exposure remains under investigation by the Northampton Health Department, the city said.

Narkewicz had previously closed all municipal buildings to the public on March 13, though some staff have been coming in on a reduced schedule to take care of essential business. City Clerk Pamela Powers said Thursday she was the only one working in the building and that municipal staff has not heard whether the mayor’s COVID-19 status will change the rules about coming in.

Layoffs announced at MASS MoCA

A North Adams, Massachusetts, museum said it’s laying off nearly three-quarters of its employees next month. MASS MoCA closed its doors March 15 amid coronavirus concerns. Due to lost revenue, it will lay off 120 of its 165 employees from every department as of April 11. The museum said laid-off employees will get regular paychecks through Friday, and through April 10 they’ll get at least 70% of their normal pay. Remaining employees are taking voluntary reductions in hours or pay, the museum said in a statement.

MASS MoCA is the first major museum in the state to announce wide-scale layoffs since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Nonprofit cultural organizations in the state reported more than $55.7 million in lost revenue in the first week of the health crisis, according to the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Don't flush that

As the COVID-19 situation continues, more people are using disposable wipes, and flushing them down the toilet. Officials at some area sewer systems say doing so can jam up the works.

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission's Katie Shea said even wipes labeled as flushable, don't break down in water. She said that's led to extra maintenance of pumping stations. "They typically get cleaned every four to six months, and now they're having to clean it every couple of weeks," she said.

Officials with the Metropolitan District in Connecticut, the sewer provider for several communities, reported no current problems from the wipes, but still urged people not to flush them.

New rules for grocery stores

The Massachusetts Public Health Department is imposing new rules on grocery stores and pharmacies to help protect customers and staff from COVID-19, although many of the measures had already been put in place. According to the new rules, these retailers must now provide special shopping times for high-risk customers, as well as access to hand-washing and sanitizing. They also must make sure employees and customers stay well apart.

"We've marked the floor in six-foot increments, so people can see where social distancing lines are," said Rochelle Prunty, manages the River Valley Coop in Northampton.

The coop no longer takes customers' reusable bags, another of the state's new orders. Several grocery stores have also started curbside pickups so customers don't have to enter the building at all. River Valley Coop tried that, but Prunty said after 200 orders came in in less than a day, they had to suspend the service while they hire more staff.

Loan program launched to help Connecticut small businesses

The state of Connecticut has launched a short-term, no-interest loan program to help small businesses and nonprofits that are struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic. Small businesses and nonprofits with 100 or fewer employees that are in good standing with the Department of Revenue Services and have been profitable prior to March 10 can apply for one-year, no-interest loans of as much as $75,000 to help with cash flow. Also, the Department of Correction says inmates have thousands of cotton face masks and the state is expecting to receive $1.4 billion in federal funding from the federal virus relief fund.

NH commissioner: Virus to peak between late April, early May

New Hampshire's health commissioner said the number of coronavirus cases is expected to peak in the state sometime between the end of April and early May. Commissioner Lori Shibinette addressed an Executive Council meeting on Wednesday. She said health officials will have more accurate numbers in the next week or two.

Regarding supplies of personal protective equipment, Shibinette said New Hampshire has a total of 1,000 ventilators or machines that can be converted to them and has ordered 45 more. She said the state also is going through its warehouse for equipment that could be resurrected. 

Leahy: Vermont to get nearly $2B in virus relief package

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy says Vermont is poised to receive nearly $2 billion in support from the nearly $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by the Senate. Leahy said the legislation, which is expected to pass the House on Friday, includes $1.25 billion to support state and counties that are addressing the economic devastation caused by the virus.

Among other appropriations for Vermont, the bill will provide $20 million to support public transportation, $5.4 million to support public health preparedness and $4.7 million in community development block grants. Vermont is under a stay-at-home order after more than 120 people tested positive for COVID-19 and there have been eight fatalities.

NEPR’s Heather Brandon, Adam Frenier, Sam Hudzik and Karen Brown contributed to this report, which includes information from State House News Service, WBUR and The Associated Press.