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SHNS Coronavirus Tracker (Tuesday PM Update) .: The State House News Service

SHNS Coronavirus Tracker (Tuesday PM Update)

The Latest on COVID-19

JUNE 16, 2020.....Massachusetts continues to make progress on its path down from the COVID-19 peak, even as other states in the South and West show worrying signs of growing outbreaks.

Downward trends continued for fatalities linked to the virus, while they remained close to the status quo for hospitalizations and overall infections. Public health officials reported 195 new cases in Massachusetts on Tuesday and 18 new deaths.

Gov. Charlie Baker could say as soon as the end of the week when the next step will come in the gradual plan to welcome consumers and employees back to brick-and-mortar businesses, and a surge of national retail sales in May offered some encouragement about the prospects of economic recovery.

A key area still experiencing strain is child care, which creates ripple effects for virtually every employer. Both child care facility operators and parents that rely on them voiced their concerns about reopening Tuesday, which Congresswoman Katherine Clark hopes to address with $10 billion in grant funding she proposed in a new bill.

One industry still waiting to come back is horse racing, and Plainridge Park Racecourse said Tuesday that live races could begin as soon as next month.

Looking further down the horizon, an overhaul of voting in the Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 general election in Massachusetts came closer to reality after the Senate unanimously approved a massive vote-by-mail expansion.

The bill, which needs to clear a few more steps in the House and Senate before it can land on Baker's desk, would require the secretary of state to mail every registered voter an application for a mail-in ballot by mid-July and would expand early voting hours in an attempt to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission at polling places. - Chris Lisinski

  • AGs Wary About Contact-Tracing Apps: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 38 of her peers flagged concerns Tuesday that contact-tracing apps developed in response to the pandemic fall short in protecting personal information. In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the attorneys general -- including both Republicans and Democrats --warned that applications already available on Android and Apple devices do not include the same privacy guarantees as versions the two companies are helping develop for public health officials. They asked Google and Apple to remove any app offering contact tracing that is not linked to a government or health official and to take down all versions -- even those made available to public health authorities -- once the national emergency ends. "Massachusetts has built a robust contact tracing program that is a critical tool in tracking COVID-19 and that takes privacy seriously," Healey said in a press release. "As tech companies like Apple and Google take steps to build out contact tracing apps, we need to be sure they are protecting personal information and acting in the best interests of public health." - Chris Lisinski 4:45 PM Tue
  • Tuesday Update from DPH: Tuesday's COVID-19 update from the Department of Public Health was a bit of a mixed bag. The number of new cases reported and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 both increased from Monday, though the number of tests processed also increased and the number of new deaths decreased. DPH announced 195 new cases on Tuesday, up from 87 announced Monday. That brings the state's cumulative total to 105,885 since Feb. 1. DPH also announced the recent COVID-19 deaths of 18 people, raising the virus' death toll here to 7,665 since March 20. The 140 new cases confirmed with a molecular test (the other new cases are "probable" cases based on the presence of antibodies) came from 6,361 tests conducted in the 24-hour reporting period, meaning 2.2 percent of tests came back positive for COVID-19. There were 1,045 people hospitalized in Massachusetts with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, an increase of 19 patients from Monday. The total population of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has dropped all but two days this month. There are 244 COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive care units, a decline of 9 from Monday, and there are 151 patients currently intubated, a drop of 16 from Monday. -- Colin A. Young 4:43 PM Tue
  • Pioneer Institute Tracking Open Meeting Violations: A Boston think tank wants to help members of the public hold government agencies accountable to the state's Open Meeting Law while typical routines are disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pioneer Institute launched an online tool Tuesday allowing individuals to report potential violations of the law, which typically requires state and local boards and bodies to meet in sessions open to the public. Under an executive order Gov. Charlie Baker signed in response to the public health emergency, officials can meet remotely while offering public telephone or video access or post recordings and transcripts online. "We understand that we can't allow the pandemic to halt the day-to-day functioning of government," Mary Connaughton, Pioneer Institute director of government transparency, said in a press release. "But we also think it’s important to provide an outlet for people to log instances in which the spirit of the law may have been violated." Complaints filed through the Pioneer Institute's online portal will be made public. - Chris Lisinski 4:28 PM Tue
  • Suffolk Prof: U.S. Consumers Could Pay More For Vaccine: A Suffolk University professor is warning that the lack of a national health service in the United States to negotiate prices with drug companies could put American consumers at a disadvantage when a safe vaccine becomes available for COVID-19. Suffolk Law School Professor Marc Rodwin said it's not unusual for European countries like Great Britain, France and Germany to pay less for costly drugs to treat cancer and other diseases compared to the U.S. "You have Medicare/Medicaid, the VA system, and a bunch of independent insurers negotiating rates for drugs rather than a single government entity, which makes the U.S., at least thus far, unable to negotiate prices for drugs even close to those of other developed nations," Rodwin said in press release, voicing his concerns. Rodwin said one tool the government could use is the threat of compulsory licensing, which was deployed by President George W. Bush during the anthrax scare after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to force Bayer A.G. to reduce the price of Cipro. Countries, according to Rodwin, can force patent-holding drug companies in times of emergency to allow other manufacturers to produce a drug at a reduced cost for a licensing fee. "Focusing on the cost of the vaccine is one thing," he says. "Another challenge is supply. There’s going to be competition around the world for this vaccine, if and when it works and is safe, and that will help pharmaceutical companies in their bargaining efforts." -- Matt Murphy 4:10 PM Tue
  • Pandemic Tax Prep: Massachusetts Association of Community Action is partnering with the Boston Tax Coalition and Code for America to pilot a virtual tax prep assistance program. Typically, volunteer income tax assistance centers located at community action agencies help people prepare their taxes, access tax credits and more. During the pandemic, those sites have been shuttered, but MASSCAP said they are even more essential since many people are likely trying to access federal stimulus funds. MASSCAP said the virtual VITA program will include "online intake including secure upload of needed documents through their GetYourRefund application, phone interview with taxpayer, free tax preparation by the VITA site volunteer, phone quality review with taxpayer, electronic signature through the secure DocuSign, and electronic submission." More information is available at the program's website. -- Colin A. Young 4:09 PM Tue
  • State Transmission Rate Among Lowest: Massachusetts has the fourth-lowest rate of coronavirus transmission of any state, according to analysis conducted by a website launched by two Instagram co-founders. The current Rt for the coronavirus in Massachusetts -- a measure of a virus's average transmission rate at a given point in time -- is 0.82, according to the website, comfortably below the 1.0 threshold that signifies rapid spread. Only New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut have a lower Rt. The Rt value is essentially the number of people that one infected person transmits the virus to. "The way you really get in trouble with this virus is the reproduction rate -- you know, how fast does one person become two, become four, becomes eight, becomes 16, becomes 32 and the like," Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday. When the Massachusetts High Technology Council rolled out its plan for an economic reopening, it said the Rt value would be critical to track as people venture out to work, stores and restaurants more. On May 1, the MHTC said the state's Rt was roughly 0.90, down from just over 1.50 in mid-March. The highest Rt value in the country belongs to Arizona with 1.11. -- Colin A. Young 3:40 PM Tue
  • Easthampton Plans Park Reopenings: The city of Easthampton plans to reopen its public parks and playgrounds on Monday, June 22, under an order from Mayor Nicole LaChapelle. Leagues and sports teams will also be able to resume no-contact practice drills, and fields must be reserved in advance. Games, scrimmages and tournaments remain prohibited. The city plans to allow picnic site rentals beginning July 6, with gatherings limited to 10 people or less. Easthampton's pool and spray park will "remain closed until further notice," according to the city. The Baker Administration green-lit the reopening of playgrounds, outdoor pools, spray decks and outdoor fitness areas, with precautions, earlier this month when the state proceeded to the second phase of its gradual societal and economic reopening. - Katie Lannan 10:57 AM Tue
  • Alliance Protests "Snail's Pace Reopening": If Connecticut allows indoor dining Wednesday, as expected, Massachusetts will be alone among the New England states with its prohibition, another sign that the state is not moving fast enough to reopen, according to the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. "Once again, Governor Baker's orders are not keeping pace with our neighbors. Countless Massachusetts businesses are struggling with the slow phased re-opening. Our state's restaurants are being 'phased out' while they watch every other state in New England open up but not ours," Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said in a statement Tuesday. "Massachusetts is repeating many of its previous mistakes. Massachusetts was the last state in the country to allow for retailers to perform curbside pickup and for golf, an inherently socially-distant sport, to be reopened." Craney contrasted rising unemployment numbers in Massachusetts with signs that jobs are growing in other parts of the country. While Craney knocked a "snail's pace reopening," the alliance did not make mention of the rising COVID-19 infection numbers in states that opened up commerce earlier than Massachusetts or statistics highlighting a sharp decline in new cases here. Baker suggested Monday that he'll make an announcement by the end of the week on the status of indoor dining. - Michael P. Norton 9:54 AM Tue


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