U.S. Attorney Lelling Launches Third Investigation of Soldiers’ Home Where at Least 25 Died

Federal prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether the state-run Holyoke Soldiers Home failed to provide the veterans who live there adequate care—both during the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a dozen and generally. U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling announced Friday that his office and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division have opened an investigation into the Holyoke facility “to examine whether the Soldiers’ Home violated the rights of residents by failing to provide them adequate medical care generally, and during the coronavirus pandemic.”

At least 25 veterans who lived at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home died in recent weeks amid an outbreak of the coronavirus. It’s unclear exactly how many of the deaths are attributable to COVID-19—the Baker administration did not respond to requests for updated numbers on Wednesday or Thursday. “It would be difficult to overstate our obligation to the health and well-being of elderly and disabled military veterans and, by extension, to their families. The federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act specifically protects the rights of those confined in state facilities like the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home,” Lelling said.

State’s Congressional Delegation Blasts Washington for Lack of Medical Supplies

One day after Gov. Charlie Baker revealed Massachusetts has received only a fraction of the ventilators it requested from the national stockpile, the state’s congressional delegation slammed the federal response as “grossly insufficient.”

Both senators and all nine representatives urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fulfill the Baker administration’s request for about 1,700 ventilators, warning in a letter that hospitals in Massachusetts are on the verge of exhausting the life-saving equipment they have available. “We have heard from hospitals in the state that they will run out of invasive ventilators in a matter of days and will run out of other ventilators that can be adapted for use for COVID-19 patients within a week,” lawmakers wrote. “Given the growing need in Massachusetts, approving and sending only 100 ventilators to Massachusetts is grossly insufficient, and FEMA can and must do more to help Massachusetts during this crisis,” they continued. Many state leaders across the country have been at odds with Washington over the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, voicing frustration with the amount of resources that have flowed from the Strategic National Stockpile and — as Baker did — with being outbid in their efforts to purchase protective equipment. One week ago, Baker announced Massachusetts would receive more than 1,000 ventilators from the stockpile by the end of the first week in April, which he described as “a big positive step forward in the right direction.” However, on Sunday, the governor said only 100 ventilators had arrived so far.

Massachusetts COVID-19 Cases Cross 5,000 Mark; Deaths Rise to 56

The number of COVID-19 fatalities in Massachusetts continued its climb Monday when the state reported another eight deaths, bringing the state’s total number of deaths linked to the disease to 56. The overall number of cases here crossed the 5,000 mark Monday and rose to 5,752, up almost 800 from Sunday, the Department of Public Health reported Monday. Haverhill reported three new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 45. Massachusetts has continued to ramp up its testing capacity, with the number of people tested landing at almost 43,000 Monday, an increase of more than 3,700 over Sunday. In a video update posted after three consecutive overnight shifts, emergency physician and Boston state Rep. Jon Santiago said the state’s testing numbers are “fantastic” and said it’s time to focus now on contact tracing.

Baker Frustrated as Death, Infection Numbers Rise, Says ‘Messy Thicket’ Impedes State

As COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts rose to 25, a visibly frustrated Gov. Charlie Baker lobbed criticism Thursday at the federal government for the challenges states face in acquiring protective equipment and insisted that schools could return to session this spring if the coronavirus outbreak tails off. In his daily press conference, just before the state announced 579 new cases, Baker also announced several health and human service policy reforms aimed at increasing access to aid for the state’s most vulnerable residents and a request that the federal government declare a major disaster in Massachusetts. Baker grew animated as he fielded questions about keeping doctors, nurses and other front-line workers safe from the infectious disease. He said governors around the country are “killing ourselves” trying to purchase personal protective equipment only to watch their efforts fall apart when they are outbid by Washington. “We are doing everything we can through an incredibly messy thicket that is enormously frustrating for all of us to try to get them the gear they deserve and they need,” Baker said when asked for his message to concerned health care employees.

Baker Administration Proposes To-Go Beer and Wine, Cutting Local Red Tape and MCAS Test Relief

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday outlined the administration’s latest legislative response to COVID-19. (Photograph by Matt Stone/Boston Herald/Pool.)

Restaurants would be able to sell beer and wine with to-go orders, requirements around MCAS tests could be changed and local governments could give residents more time to make tax payments, under a new bill Gov. Charlie Baker filed Tuesday to create flexibility in local responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito introduced the bill during their daily coronavirus update, with the governor saying it “cuts red tape for cities and towns” and aims to make it easier for municipalities to meet their residents’ needs and keep their governments running. “It’s clear that we have to stick together, but stick together in a time where social distancing is becoming and is very much a real part of our lives,” Polito said, voicing appreciation for local governments offering services via remote workforces, boards of health ramping up their efforts, and first responders who continue to deal with emergencies like house fires. Filed the same day that an emergency order closed most of the state’s businesses—except for essential operations like grocery stores and medical facilities—and with the Department of Public Health advising residents to stay home, the bill contains a number of provisions.

Updated: Gov. Baker Orders Non-Essential Businesses to Close Tuesday; Advises Residents to Stay Home

Joining states like California, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday ordered all non-essential businesses to close their physical operations to workers and customers beginning Tuesday at noon, taking a step he has resisted for days while at the same time telling residents they would not be confined to their homes. The order from the governor also further restricts public gathering to no more than 10 people, down from the previous 25, and the Department of Public Health is newly advising people to stay home and “avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities” for two weeks. The steps outlined by Baker at a Monday morning press conference were the most aggressive taken yet by the administration to try to enforce social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. They were taken as calls were mounting from legislators for such an action, and local communities were beginning to do it on their own. “It’s not lost on me or anybody else in our administration that many businesses, locally grown and owned by our neighbors and friends are the business most unlikely to be able to put in place remote or telework policies,” Baker said.

Baker to Close Early Education, Child Care Centers Monday; State to Open Priority Programs

All early education and child care centers in Massachusetts must close in five days, and the state will instead open emergency child care programs with priority access set aside for workers “critical” to fighting the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday. Emergency personnel, medical professionals and others on the front line of the response to the pandemic will be placed at the top of the list to get child care coverage from the state-run centers. Officials will also prioritize vulnerable children and will work to make space for employees who do not hold critical roles but cannot get time off from work. Existing child care operations must close by Monday, March 23, and Baker said providers impacted by the mandatory shutdowns will receive their regular subsidies to ensure they can reopen at the end of the state of emergency. Under two public health orders issued Wednesday, the state will relax administrative requirements to allow physician assistants to work on more health care needs, including COVID-19, and allow pharmacists to administer some medications to lessen the burden on nurses.

Gov. Baker Declares State of Emergency as Suspected Coronavirus Cases Double to 92

Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency Tuesday after the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts more than doubled to 92 overnight, joining about a dozen other states with a formal emergency declaration as the coronavirus-caused illness continues to spread in the United States. Baker was originally scheduled to remain on family vacation in Utah until Thursday, but he cut his trip short and returned for a Tuesday press conference where he announced the new numbers, implemented the emergency status, and instructed tens of thousands of executive branch employees to discontinue all work-related travel and work remotely when possible. Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said Massachusetts is at “a critical point in this outbreak,” noting that community spread—in which multiple people in an area are infected, some of whom are unable to trace it back to a sourc—has begun in western Massachusetts. All but one of the cases are presumptive positive and have not yet been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Seven are in Berkshire County, one is in Essex County, 41 are in Middlesex County, 22 are in Norfolk County, 20 are in Suffolk County and one is in Worcester County.