Virus notes: 1st COVID-19 death in Mass.

The shelter-in-place rumor that won’t die -- Part 4

A SUFFOLK COUNTY MAN in his late 80s died Thursday night from COVID-19, becoming the state’s first fatality from the disease.

“Obviously, it’s heartbreaking to say, but this is certainly a day we all knew would come,” said Gov. Charlie Baker at a State House press briefing.

Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said the unidentified man who died had pre-existing conditions that made him vulnerable to the disease. 

Monica Bharel, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said the death is a reminder of why Massachusetts residents need to stop the spread of the disease so the most vulnerable people do not fall prey to it. “This is a new disease and the data and science are evolving,” she said.

The state Department of Public Health included the death in its daily report on the disease, which showed 413 people in Massachusetts have now tested positive for COVID-19, up 85 cases since the report on Thursday. Middlesex County saw the biggest increase, rising 25 cases to 144, followed by Suffolk (86), Norfolk (64), Essex (29), and Berkshire (20).

The Friday report indicated 959 more people had been tested since the issuance of the Thursday report — 531 by private labs and 458 by the state lab. Baker has said he wants 3,500 people being tested a day by next week.

The report indicated 58 of those who tested positive were hospitalized and 199 were not hospitalized. The status of the other 156 was not known. The report also indicates the disease is now spreading and in most instances cannot be traced back to a specific event or travel to a particular part of the world. According to the report, 146 cases can be traced to a Biogen conference in Boston or travel abroad, while 63 arose from “local transmission” and 204 cases were under investigation.

The rumor that won’t die — Part 4

Gov. Charlie Baker once again sought to dispel rampant rumors that he was preparing to issue a shelter-in-place order.

He has made the same statement multiple times this week, but each time the rumor seems to only pick up more speed. Several reporters at the State House briefing pressed the governor on why he wasn’t following the lead of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Baker noted he has already taken a number of drastic measures to curtail larger gatherings, to close schools, and to shut down bars and restaurants. “We have shut down enormous parts of our economy and our communities across the Commonwealth,” Baker said. He added that many have seen the videos of Boston streets. “This once thriving downtown is now a ghost town,” he said.

Baker said the facts on the ground vary dramatically from one state to the next and what works in one state may not be right for another. “I’m not going to do it just because somebody else did,” he said.

Message for tenants and homeowners

Gov. Charlie Baker promised to take action in the coming days to protect homeowners and renters from losing their housing.

“We know you are worried and we are going to do everything we can to ensure that nobody loses their housing because of this crisis,” he said.

He said no eviction cases will be heard until at least April 21 and existing state law gives homeowners 90 days to deal with a delinquent mortgage.

A series of MassHealth initiatives

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The Baker administration steered $200 million to MassHealth to buttress safety-net health care providers and sought a waiver from the federal government that would cut regulatory red tape.

Among the red tape provisions, the state wants more flexibility to use non-traditional treatment locations, such as tents and overflow sites. It also wants to give physician assistants more authority and allow prescriptions to be delivered without requiring a signature from the recipient