Virus notes: Unusually high amount of deaths in Franklin Cty

Holyoke vet death toll rises; Dickson, wife donate salaries

DATA FROM THE MASSACHUSETTS Department of Public Health indicate an unusually high number of COVID-19 fatalities are occurring in Franklin County.

Three new deaths were reported in Friday’s report, bringing to 11 the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in Franklin County. That would place Franklin seventh among the state’s 13 counties in terms of total fatalities, but for a county of 70,935 people, that number of deaths is extraordinarily high.

Franklin as of Friday had .16 deaths per 1,000 people, far and away the highest rate of any county in Massachusetts. The next closest is Berkshire at .055. Middlesex County, with 39 deaths overall, had .024 deaths per 1,000 people.

The rule of thumb being used by the Baker administration is that 1.5 percent of those who test positive for COVID-19 will end up dying. In Franklin County, that percentage is currently 12.4 percent.

New York City, widely considered the epicenter of the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic, had .22 deaths per 1,000 people as of Friday.

In Massachusetts as a whole, 192 people have died from COVID-19. That number represents about 1.8 percent of the 10,402 people who have tested positive.

Holyoke Soldiers’ Home death toll hits 21

State officials said three more vets have died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, bringing the total to 21.

All 21 were tested, some of them posthumously. Fifteen tested positive for COVID-19, two tested negative, three have results pending, and one is unknown. Officials said all the residents and staff have been tested, and 59 vets and 18 staff tested positive and 160 vets tested negative.

Gov. Charlie Baker hired attorney David Pearlstein to investigate what happened at the Holyoke facility. Baker said Pearlstein is doing the work pro bono.

Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said what prompted the investigation and the change in management at the facility was the lack of notification of COVID-19 cases to the Department of Public Health.

UMass Memorial top doc and wife donate full salaries

Dr. Eric Dickson, the president and CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care, and his wife, Dr. Cathy Jones, also a physician in the UMass Memorial system, are donating their full salaries to the UMass Memorial Employee Assistance Fund for the duration of the state-declared coronavirus crisis.

March 25, 2020

Dr. Eric Dickson, left, president of UMass Memorial Health Care, meeting on Wednesday — at safe distance — with Neil McDonough, chairman of Flexcon, a Spencer manufacturer that donated 1,000 plastic shields to be used as protection masks. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Berry)

Dickson informed Kathleen Driscoll, senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer for UMass Memorial, of the donation in an email Thursday night. “This commitment will begin today and include today’s payroll distribution,” he wrote. It will continue “until the current state of emergency declared by the governor is over,” Dickson wrote.

Dickson earned $1.97 million in 2017, the latest year for which the health care system’s public filing as a tax exempt organization is posted.

The fund assists UMass Memorial employees in need of help who have exhausted all other available sources of support.

Dickson and Jones are both emergency medicine physicians and have been seeing patients being screened for potential coronavirus infection. With both of them at higher risk for becoming infected themselves, Dickson explained in a recent interview with CommonWealth, he and his wife already designated a home office above their garage as the quarantine location in the event that either of them contracts the virus.

Virus scare closes RMV Boston office

The Registry of Motor Vehicles closed down the Haymarket branch Friday morning after an employee exhibited “flu-like symptoms.”

“MassDOT closed the Boston/Haymarket RMV Service Center today following currently unconfirmed reports of an employee with flu-like symptoms to ensure additional cleaning and disinfecting can take place out of an abundance of caution,” the Department of Transportation said in a statement. “The RMV expects to reopen the Boston/Haymarket location on Monday, and is making accommodations for any customers with cancelled appointments to be served at a nearby location or at a future date next week.”

Late Friday, there was still no word as to the results of any test on the worker.

The Haymarket office is one of eight around the state operating by appointment only for limited transactions, such as road tests, out-of-state license conversions, and car registrations. There are also two walk-in offices in Milford and Wilmington for commercial transactions.

The Registry sent out an email shortly after 11 a.m. telling customers with appointments Friday afternoon at the Haymarket office their appointments were cancelled and they could either go to Brockton for service at the same time or have their appointments rescheduled for next Friday at the same time.

COVID-19 infects Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots

The multistate Powerball and Mega Millions lottery games will cut their starting jackpot in half and drastically reduce incremental increases because of a major drop in sales around the country.

The consortiums overseeing both games said starting with the next drawing after someone wins the current jackpots, the starting annuitized grand prize will be $20 million instead of $40 million. The jackpot for Friday’s Mega Millions is an estimated $121 million while the top prize for Saturday’s Powerball is $180 million. If neither game has a winner, the jackpot will continue to grow until someone picks the winning combination. After that, however, it will start at $20 million.

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

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

“Since last week, more states and cities have asked their residents to stay at home, which has affected normal consumer behaviors and Powerball game sales,” said Gregg Mineo, director of the Maine Lottery and chairman of the Powerball Product Group. “In response to the public health crisis, interest rates have declined. As a result, additional game sales are necessary to fund comparable jackpot amounts.”

In addition to the reduced jackpots, each game will have smaller increases each time a jackpot rolls over. Powerball, which had a minimum increase of $10 million, will now rise by a minimum of $2 million unless sales justify a higher increase. Mega Millions, which had a minimum guarantee increases of $5 million between jackpots, will base the growth on sales and interest rates.