Virus notes: Concerns rise at long-term care facilities

Positive tests in Suffolk County more than double in 6 days

RESIDENTS OF LONG-TERM CARE facilities across the state are testing positive for COVID-19 in growing numbers, raising concerns that the highly contagious virus could sweep through a very vulnerable population.

Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said on Thursday that there are 78 clusters of COVID-19 among the state’s 700 long-term care facilities. Data released by the Department of Public Health indicated a total of 197 residents at long-term care facilities have tested positive and there was at least one case at 85 facilities.

The state on March 16 advised long-term care facilities to limit access to their buildings, to suspend communal dining and group activities, and to take the temperature of employees every day as they enter.

The state on Tuesday created a mobile team of National Guardsmen to test residents at long-term care facilities. So far, 280 individuals have been tested, and 14 facilities with known COVID-19 cases were conducting testing on Thursday.

At the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where the superintendent was placed on leave and an independent investigator is looking into a COVID-19 outbreak, 18 veterans have died since last Wednesday. Of those, 12 tested positive for COVID-19, two tested negative, and three tests are pending. Another 23 veterans and seven staff tested positive.

At the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, two residents who tested positive have died, while nine additional veterans and two staff have tested positive.

“This is a critical health situation for our veterans, and the Commonwealth will continue to make all resources available to the leadership of the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes to contain the spread of the virus,” said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Brooke Karanovich.

The Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said staff are facing a lack of personal protective equipment and could soon run out of masks, gloves, and other equipment. The association is asking state officials to provide more equipment and relax testing standards so more staff can get tested and return to work quickly if they do not have COVID-19.

Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, estimated the pandemic could cost nursing homes $287 million, mostly to cover overtime pay and contracted nurses as staff are home sick.

Positive tests in Suffolk County soar 

The number of positive tests for COVID-19 has risen rapidly this week in Suffolk County, jumping from 843 on Saturday to 1,896 on Thursday.

The number of deaths in Suffolk Couknty is also rising, hitting 21 on Thursday. But the increase in fatalities is lagging behind the Baker administration’s rule-of-thumb estimate that 1.5 percent of those who test positive end up dying.

Positive tests for COVID-19 across the state continued to rise on Thursday at the same 15 to 17 percent pace they have for the last several days. The total number of tests for the virus increased by 4,870, well ahead of the Baker administration’s target of 3,500 a day.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 across the state increased 26 percent to 154 on Thursday, and deaths in the low-population counties of Franklin and Berkshire continued to rise.

Franklin County, with another death bringing its total to 8, has far more deaths than you would expect in a county of nearly 71,000 people. Using the Baker administration’s estimate of fatalities, one would expect just 1.3 deaths in a county where just 85 people have tested positive. Franklin County has over .1 deaths per 1,000 residents, the highest level in the state. Berkshire County is second at .055 deaths per 1,000 residents.

Over the last week, the number of women infected has risen faster than the number of men. On Thursday, a total of 4,612 women and 4,297 men had been infected, with the sex of 57 others unknown. That’s a turnaround from earlier in the pandemic and other outbreaks around the world – that men tend to be infected slightly more than women.

T says 24 employees tested positive

The MBTA said on Thursday that 24 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 amid reports that a transit authority employee died of the virus.

The T confirmed an employee passed away over the weekend but, citing privacy laws, declined to comment on the cause of death.

The T also announced a series of schedule changes that will take effect on Monday. While most bus routes will continue to operate at Saturday levels, the T said the 710, 19, and 245 buses would operate at regular weekday levels to serve employees who work at Lawrence Memorial in Medford, the Steward satellite emergency facility in Quincy, and the Longwood medical area.

Most other services will continue to operate at Saturday levels, but the T said Routes 325, 326, 351, and 501 will be suspended due to lack of ridership.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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.

Historic unemployment claims

Officials said 181,062 Massachusetts residents filed unemployment claims during the week ending March 28, up 22 percent over the previous week. Nationally, 6.6 million claims were filed, double the previous week’s total.