Virus notes: Franklin Cty. reports 3 more deaths

10% unemployment; the Ocean State surcharge

THREE MORE COVID-19 deaths were reported on Wednesday in tiny Franklin County, bringing its total to seven and solidifying its position as the Massachusetts county with the most deaths per 1,000 people.

Franklin ranks seventh out of the 13 counties in terms of total deaths, but its small population of nearly 71,000 people means those deaths represent a greater share of the population. Franklin has nearly 0.1 deaths per 1,000 people, more than Berkshire County (.05 deaths) and Hampden County (.04 deaths).

For comparison purposes, New York City, which is widely consider the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, had .16 deaths per 1,000 people as of Wednesday.

Middlesex County, which is the county with the most deaths overall in Massachusetts, had just .01 deaths per 1,000 people.

The number of deaths overall in Massachusetts increased by 33 to 122. The new deaths generally fit the expected profile of people 60 or older, typically with pre-existing health conditions. There were three exceptions – two women in their 50s who died with the existence of pre-existing conditions unknown and a man in his 30s who died with pre-existing conditions.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts rose 17 percent to 7,738, which is about the same rate of growth that has occurred over the last several days. The total number of tests performed increased by 4,803 (1,303 more than the target level of 1500) to 51,738.

Boston Fed president predicts 10 percent unemployment

Eric Rosengren, the president and CEO of the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, predicted the nation is headed for 10 percent unemployment.

In an online presentation to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Rosengren said the societal shutdown caused by COVID-19 is putting a lot of people out of work, wreaking havoc in financial markets, and probably spurring structural changes in the US economy.

Rosengren predicted an unemployment rate of 10 percent, which is very high (the rate was 3.5 percent in February)  but nowhere near the projections of more than 32 percent made by economists at the St. Louis Fed.

Rosengren described what the Federal Reserve Bank is doing to keep financial markets functioning, but said the key to keeping the economy alive is infusions of cash from the federal government. He said much more needs to be done in that area. “I think we’re going to have to do more than was in the CARES Act,” he said.

Rosengren said this economic downturn is very unusual in that it is tied to COVID-19, so any predictions about a recovery are contingent on ending the pandemic. But he said the work-from-home changes wrought by COVID-19 may have a lasting impact on workplaces and commercial real estate markets.

“When we come back, the question is whether we need as much office space as we did before,” he said.

Gun shops, ranges eventually remain non-essential

Gun shops and shooting ranges will not be allowed to open under Gov. Charlie Baker’s latest order to keep all non-essential businesses closed through May 4, but for a brief period on Tuesday the gun industry thought things might be different.

Baker on Tuesday announced that he was extending his executive order closing all non-essential businesses for another month, and updating the list of businesses and workers that would be allowed to continue to physically operate.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, saw the updated list of essential businesses posted to the state’s website, and prepared a memo for his members. The new list, Wallace told them, mirrored the guidance released over the weekend by the federal government allowing gun shops to open their doors.

Until it didn’t.

“It wasn’t an hour after we put that out that they had edited it [the essential list] to remove firearm retailers and shooting ranges,” Wallace said in an interview.

Baker’s administration, according to interviews with lawmakers and gun rights advocates, abruptly changed course and amended its list of essential businesses to exclude gun retailers and shooting ranges from its newest order after receiving pushback, including a call from House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office.

Wallace said he also called the administration and it was confirmed to him that the initial order had been amended. For him, it was the final straw.

“There are a few things going on between the administration and our community that we are now just calling discrimination,” Wallace said. “We understand what everybody needs to do, but I can get a latte and a pizza, but I can’t exercise a civil right?” (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE)

WORCESTER, MA: April 1, 2020: Members of the Massachusetts National Guard erect a medical field hospital at the DCU Center in Worcester for the expected influx of patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A similar facility is planned at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. A(Staff photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

New surcharge benefitting employees at Ocean State Job Lot

Many retailers are going the extra mile to help their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, but closeout retailer Ocean State Job Lot has come up with a novel way to do that

The company is automatically imposing a 2 percent surcharge on all customer purchases, with 100 percent of the proceeds being handed out to its store and distribution workers as a bonus.

According to a company representative answering the phone at Ocean State customer service, signs are posted in the store telling customers of the 2 percent charge.  If the customer doesn’t want to pay the surcharge, he or she has to tell the cashier, who then returns the 2 percent charge back in cash.

“While I applaud the many generous contributions that Ocean State Job Lot has been making to veterans, hospitals, and other charities, tacking on an automatic surcharge to customers’ bills is not the way to give their employees a bonus,” says Edgar Dworsky, the founder of ConsumerWorld.org.  “Customers may not see or read the signs.  And if they understand the surcharge and want to opt-out, they are being put in the awkward and embarrassing position to decline the contribution right to the face of one of the people it is designed to help.”

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.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Meet the Author
Ocean State is also giving their workers a $2-an-hour increase in pay and 30 percent off on all merchandise in the store until further notice.

With 10 stores in Massachusetts, Ocean State Job Lot is a privately-held, family-run business with headquarters in Rhode Island.  In 2017, Forbes named Ocean State one of America’s best mid-sized employers.