Virus notes: Baker traces origins of crisis
Candidates petition SJC on signature requirements
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Thursday traced in broad terms the origins of the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts and suggested the state’s recovery will be a long, slow process.
With the state entering a period when COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to surge, Baker said he had no inside knowledge on what exactly will happen over the next 10 to 14 days.
“I don’t have a crystal ball with how long it’s going to last or how high it’s going to go,” he said at a press conference at the State House.
The latest data from the state indicate 503 Massachusetts residents have now died from the disease, up 70 from the day before. The state also reported 2,151 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 18,941. Franklin County remains the hotspot in terms of deaths per 1,000 people, but Hampden County is emerging as perhaps the most heavily affected area, with 82 total deaths (second only to Middlesex County with 93) and second in deaths per 1,000 residents.
He blamed the outbreak in western Massachusetts on a visitor from some other state, but he indicated efforts to trace the origin were unsuccessful. “We just don’t know where” the person came from, he said.
Baker also cautioned people not to think the COVID-19 crisis will be over once the surge subsides. He said there will be a long, slow recovery.
“We are going to think about what life could be like once we get passed this, but I will be incredibly careful about not permitting this insidious, awful, and horribly dangerous contagious virus from coming back anytime soon,” he said.
Candidates seek SJC relief from signature requirement
A petition filed with the Supreme Judicial Court to eliminate the signature requirement for various elected offices amid the COVID-19 outbreak appears to be spurring officials on Beacon Hill to confront the problem themselves.
The petition, filed by three candidates running for office, argues the signature-gathering requirements under current law should be declared unconstitutional because they effectively require candidates to violate social distancing guidelines.
The three candidates – Republican Kevin O’Connor, whose parents contracted COVID-19 while trying to gather signatures for his US Senate run; Melissa Bower Smith, a Democratic state rep candidate with a respiratory illness; and Robert Goldstein, an infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital running for Congress as a Democrat – ask the court to intervene and either reduce the number of signatures needed or grant some other form of relief.
US Sen. Ed Markey, an incumbent, is reportedly having difficulty gathering the signatures he needs to run for office.
Both Gov. Charlie Baker and Senate President Karen Spilka indicated through representatives on Thursday that they would support reducing the signature requirements for various offices. “I have been working, and continue to work, with the members of the Senate, to reach consensus on this issue,” Spilka said in a statement. “ We must find a way to ensure that those who decide to run for public office can demonstrate the necessary support they have in their communities without endangering their health or the health of others.”
Legislature faces first disagreement of COVID-19 era
The Massachusetts Legislature is about to have its first conference committee of the COVID-19 era.
Unable to agree on emergency eviction and foreclosure protections for people at risk, the House and Senate on Thursday formed a six-member conference to try to hammer out a consensus approach.
The two bills (H 4615 and S 2631) will be negotiated by Sens. Brendan Crighton, Michael Rodrigues, and Bruce Tarr and by Reps. Kevin Honan, Aaron Michlewitz, and Peter Durant.
Under another bill that the House and Senate sent to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk on Thursday, State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley would be required to waive MCAS requirements for the current academic year. The bill also permits the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive high school graduation competency requirements to address the disruptions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has forced schools to close.The legislation also contains measures aimed at giving the MBTA relief from budgetary deadlines and enabling applicants for housing assistance to obtain benefits without in-person verification. At the MBTA, the bill would give the authority’s board until May 15, rather than March 15, to approve a preliminary budget, and give the T until June 15 to submit a final budget to its advisory board, rather than April 15.
The House and Senate are off for the weekend, with the next sessions scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m. (State House News Service)