Coronavirus Updates For Western New England: Tuesday, March 17

Mar 17, 2020

Updated at 5:27 p.m.

Reported cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts increased on Tuesday to 218, up from 197 a day earlier.

Berkshire County now has 14 reported cases of the coronavirus, up from 11 on Monday. Hampden County holds at just one confirmed case, and Worcester County went up by two to eight cases. Hampshire and Franklin counties still have no reported cases. There is just one case currently reported for a Massachusetts county not yet identified.

Officials expect the number of cases to keep rising as testing capabilities expand.

In Connecticut, the number of positive cases increased to 68, a jump of 27 from Monday. There are now seven cases in Hartford County and five in Litchfield County.

In Vermont, the number of cases rose to 10. In New Hampshire, cases are at 17. Rhode Island’s are at 21. Maine now has 32 cases, nearly twice as many as were reported Monday.

Massachusetts governor: No plans for statewide shelter-in-place order

Massachusetts officials said they're pursuing ways to ramp up capacity for coronavirus testing in the state, and outlined initiatives to address ramifications of the pandemic. Governor Charlie Baker announced emergency orders he said will "cut red tape so hospitals can staff up faster," adjust minimum standards for ambulance staffing to maintain EMS availability, and facilitate telehealth services across state lines to help keep people out of hospitals in non-emergency situations. The state is distributing $5 million in emergency funds to local boards of health, Baker said.

Baker said he is also formally requesting that the Small Business Administration issue a declaration of economic injury for Massachusetts in order to make low-interest loans available to small business owners affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. That move follows the governor's announcement Monday of a new $10 million recovery loan fund for small businesses.

At an afternoon press conference, Baker opened his remarks by reiterating that he is not planning to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order. He stressed the need to obtain information from reliable sources and urged grocery shoppers to "use common sense and moderation and avoid hoarding large quantities."

Connecticut governor: small business loans available

Governor Ned Lamont has announced that small businesses and nonprofit organizations in Connecticut are eligible for federal disaster relief loans of up to $2 million. Lamont said the U.S. Small Business Administration loans will be available to all small businesses and nonprofits that experience large, sudden drops in revenue because of the outbreak of COVID-19. He said the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development has done surveys across the state to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the small business community and the local economy. The DECD will assist small businesses to get the federal SBA loans, Lamont said. Businesses can also apply directly to the SBA for the loans.

Many western Mass. municipal buildings close to the public

Cities and towns are largely advising people needing to do business with them to call or go online — and it goes beyond just city halls. In Springfield, the police department has limited access to its headquarters.

Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said services have been suspended, including the processing of applications to carry firearms and fingerprinting. She said at a press conference Monday they remain open for some things. “We are certainly open and certainly willing to take in anyone who may need an emergency 209A restraining order, or harassment protection order,” she said. “You can come into the front window, and we will assist you.”

Police in Pittsfield have taken similar measures. In southern Berkshire County, municipal offices in Lee and Lenox are open by appointment only.

Many restaurants, bars ordered closed for eat-in patrons

Baker’s ban on on-premises consumption in Massachusetts took effect Tuesday. A webpage with information and resources for restaurants is available from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

Governors of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey ordered bars, restaurants, movie theaters and casinos closed starting at 8 p.m. Monday, thought they will be able to offer takeout and delivery. The governors said essential businesses like supermarkets and gas stations will be able to stay open, and all nonessential businesses must close in New Jersey and Connecticut. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he is "strongly encouraging" nonessential businesses to close in New York. 

In New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu said he's prohibiting dine-in eating and gatherings of more than 50 people until April 7. Public schools are closed until April 3, nearly all court proceedings are halted, and several hospitals are delaying elective medical procedures to conserve supplies.

In Vermont, all bars and restaurants across the state must close by 2 p.m. Tuesday, although takeout and delivery are available.

Crisis raises questions about March 31 special elections 

People in four Massachusetts legislative districts are wading through the coronavirus crisis with diminished representation, and schools and public places where voters in two weeks are scheduled to elect new representatives and senators are now closed for three weeks. March 3 primary elections narrowed the fields of candidates for the seats given up by former Sens. Don Humason of Westfield and Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth, and by Reps. Jennifer Benson of Lunenburg and Shaunna O'Connell of Taunton. All four seats are set to be decided in March 31 general elections.

Massachusetts courts restricting appearances to emergency matters only

The Supreme Judicial Court is restricting appearances at Massachusetts state courthouses to emergency matters only amid the coronavirus epidemic. Tuesday's order bars all in-person appearances except those in emergency matters that cannot be held by video conference or telephone. 

Two hundred health care workers in Connecticut possibly exposed to virus stay home

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said 200 employees of a health care system that includes seven hospitals in Connecticut and New York are staying home because they may have come into contact with the coronavirus disease. Lamont said late Monday that the workers are with Nuvance Health, whose system includes Danbury Hospital, where the first Connecticut resident who tested positive for COVID-19 was treated. Lamont said the situation shows the need for a large increase in testing. Nuvance Health officials said some employees who were among the earliest to be sent home have returned to work after being deemed safe to do so.  

Hospital: 1st Vermont COVID-19 patient improving

The first Vermont patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19 has improved to stable. In a statement issued by the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Chief Nursing Officer Pamela Duchene calls the patient's condition an improvement. The Bennington hospital is now treating three cases of COVID-19. The hospital is also offering drive-up testing for the disease caused by the coronavirus. Duchene said the hospital has been conducting about 20 tests a day. 

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