Mass. COVID-19 deaths top 3,500; Contact tracing program ramps up

Coronavirus

BOSTON (AP) — The number of COVID-19-related deaths in Massachusetts topped 3,500 on Thursday as the state works to reign in the spread of the coronavirus.

The state reported 157 new deaths — a drop from the 252 reported on Wednesday, the state’s highest single-day death tally. The new tally brought to 3,562 the total number of COVID-19-related deaths recorded in Massachusetts since the start of the pandemic.

The number of deaths that occurred at long-term care facilities topped 2,100, accounting for more than half of all deaths.

The state also reported more than 1,900 new cases of the coronavirus for a total of more than 62,200 confirmed cases since the pandemic’s start.

More than 1,100 COVID-19 patients are currently in intensive care units.

Full breakdown of COVID-19 data (Mass.gov) »

The state also recorded another small decline in the number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 — down to about 3,800. Gov. Charlie Baker has said a significant decline in the hospitalization number is key to reopening the state’s economy, now planned to begin May 18.

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Contact Tracing

A contact tracing initiative launched by Massachusetts to help slow the spread of the coronavirus has already reached out to about 5,000 individuals, Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference Thursday.

The state has hired about 1,000 workers to make the contacts. The goal of the program is to call individuals who are confirmed to have COVID-19 and then reach out to individuals with whom they have had recent close contact.

At first public health officials were expecting that the list of contacts would average about 10. Instead, the average number of contacts is closer to two — a tribute to the effort by the state’s residents to maintain social distancing, Baker said.

The calls, which also offer help in self-isolating, tend to be longer than initially anticipated.

“It is not a clinical conversation per se, it is a trust conversation. People are asking questions. People are looking for information,” Baker said. “It is a much more free flowing and open dialogue than I think a lot of the people who are doing this were expecting.”

Baker said calls from the contact tracing team will come with an 833 or 857 area code to show up as MACOVID Team on caller ID.

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University Closings Lawsuit

A Boston University student has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking reimbursement for tuition, fees and housing costs after the university, like other schools, abruptly shuttered its campus before the end of the semester to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, switching to online classes.

The class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Julia Dutra and other students doesn’t argue the schools should have remained open, but argues the closures still deprived students of key elements of their education, including in-class learning, access to laboratories and libraries and extracurricular activities like sports and cultural activities.

Roy Willey, a lawyer representing Dutra, said in a press release Thursday that universities “are not any more entitled to keep money for services they are not delivering than the mom and pop bakery on Main Street.”

A spokesman for Boston University didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Deficient Face Masks

Many of the protective face masks distributed by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in the battle against the coronavirus were deficient, according to a published report.

The state last week began notifying police departments, nursing homes, and other recipients that recent tests by Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists revealed that some of the masks provide little protection, The Boston Globe reported Thursday.

While the tests showed some of the masks filtered out more than 90% of airborne particles, none performed as well as the U.S. industry standard N95 mask, which filters out at least 95% of airborne particles, according to the publicly posted results.

One type of mask distributed by the state filtered only about 28% of airborne particles, according to the results.

According to state data, all of the respirator masks distributed to public safety entities were from China and flown to the U.S. on the New England Patriots plane in early April.

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Walmart Closed

A Massachusetts Walmart store has been shut down after 23 employees tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Dr. Michael Hirsh, Worcester’s medical director, issued the shutdown order on Wednesday, a day after local health authorities inspected the store and found employees and customers not having or wearing proper personal protective equipment.

The store will be allowed to reopen only after it is cleaned and all 400 employees are tested, Hirsh said.

Walmart in a statement said it is “working with local officials to ensure we take all the necessary steps before reopening the store.”

For more information on COVID-19 in Massachusetts, visit Mass.gov, call 211 or text COVIDMA or COVIDMAESP (Spanish) to 888-777 to receive text notifications.

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