Coronavirus Updates For Western New England: Cases, Deaths Jump In Mass., Conn.

Mar 25, 2020

Four new deaths in Massachusetts are now attributable to COVID-19, adding up to 15 dead in less than a week. 

State public heath officials on Wednesday afternoon released the latest numbers on the disease caused by the new coronavirus. They show 1,838 people have tested positive, a nearly 700-case jump since Tuesday. This comes as the state ramps up its testing capabilities.

Western Massachusetts has 141 of the patients; half of those in Berkshire County alone.

The Baker-Polito Administration has launched a text-based notification system that Massachusetts’ residents can use to receive important information regarding the state’s response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

In Connecticut, officials on Wednesday said the state's coronavirus death toll has risen to 19 — seven more than were reported the day before. The number of confirmed cases increased to 875, up from 618 the day before.

Vermont's death total increased by one, to eight, on Wednesday. The state reported 123 cases, up from 95 Tuesday.

Vermont's health commissioner Mark Levine said six of the deaths linked to an outbreak at a Burlington care facility. Levine said he's very concerned about the number of deaths the small state has had. Governor Phil Scott has ordered Vermonters to stay home and nonessential businesses to work remotely by 5 p.m. on Wednesday to help stop the spread of the virus.

New Hampshire has one death attributable to COVID-19, with no new fatalities reported Wednesday. The number of cases in the state increased by 29, to 137 Wednesday, the bulk of which are in Rockingham and Grafton counties. 

Maine reported 142 cases, up from the 118 announced Tuesday. Rhode Island reported eight new cases on Wednesday, totalling 132. Neither state has attributed any deaths to COVID-19.

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.

U.S. Senate’s new relief bill could benefit Massachusetts 

The U.S. Senate is on track to approve a relief bill as coronavirus continues to spread throughout the nation. The bill requires $2 trillion from the federal government to be given out to low- and middle-income Americans, state and local government aid, small business support, health care investments and emergency funding.

While exact state-by-state breakdowns are not yet available, Massachusetts is prepared to receive significantly more federal aid after a package passed earlier this month, giving $12 million to the state. The bill includes $150 billion for state and local governments and $8 billion for tribal governments.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker criticized the U.S. Senate for failing to reach agreement on a bill sooner. He has predicted that Massachusetts will have to dip into its $3.5 billion “rainy day” savings account.

Massachusetts, Connecticut schools to stay closed a while longer

Schools and non-emergency child care centers in Massachusetts will now be closed until at least May 4 under a new order Baker signed Wednesday afternoon. In the meantime, Baker said, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will work to produce in-home programming for students. Previously, schools had been ordered closed until at least April 6.

In Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont said Monday he is extending school closures to at least April 20, but has also indicated he thinks schools will probably remained closed until the start of the next academic year.

Attorneys general call for more medical supplies

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined with 15 of her counterparts Tuesday in urging President Donald Trump to make full use of the Defense Production Act and prioritize production of medial supplies including masks, respirators and COVID-19 testing equipment.

The 16 attorneys general, in a letter to Trump, said the federal government needs to "act with urgency and clarity" to quickly get such supplies to health care providers and first responders.

"We are on the brink of catastrophic consequences resulting from the continued shortage of critical supplies," the letter said. "The federal government must act decisively now and use its sweeping authority to get as many needed supplies produced as soon as possible for distribution as quickly as possible."

Massachusetts casinos to remain closed until April 7

Massachusetts casinos will remain closed until at least April 7 as the governor urges residents to stay home and continue practicing social distance. Casinos in the state were originally closed temporarily until at least March 29 in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

“The health and safety of our employees, their families, and the community is our number one concern,” said Chris Kelley, president of MGM Springfield. “As COVID-19 continues to place unprecedented demand on the region, MGM Springfield will remain engaged with the local community to support frontline workers, organizations and residents most impacted.”

The measure was passed unanimously Wednesday afternoon during a virtual meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The temporary closure extends to the same date as the governor’s stay-at-home advisory and ten-person gathering ban. The commission agreed to convene again before April 7 to further extend the closure, if necessary.

Connecticut reports 'unprecedented' unemployment claims

State workers in Connecticut are processing 20 times the number of unemployment claims they normally do. It's a deluge caused by the coronavirus outbreak, and that's being blamed for longer waits for payments. Staff members have been shifted from other jobs to help the unemployment claims operation. Also, about a dozen retirees and other employees who've handled the state's unemployment claims in the past have been asked to return.

The state is also allowing golf courses to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some modifications, while college students at Connecticut's universities will soon be refunded room and board payments.

New Hampshire seeks volunteers, stay-at-home order resisted

New Hampshire is asking for volunteers, both medical and non-medical, to help deal with surging cases of the new coronavirus in the state. The state is seeking licensed, as well as retired, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, administrative, transportation, information technology, and security professionals. They can register online at nhresponds.org, a site that was created to get help with emergency situations following 9/11. Governor Chris Sununu has said the coronavirus situation in New Hampshire doesn't yet warrant a stay-at-home order.

NEPR's Kayla McMillan, Heather Brandon and Sam Hudzik contributed to this report, which includes information from State House News Service, WNPR and The Associated Press.