Virus notes: Franklin emerges as hotspot

To release or not release; Boston councilors ask for time

NEW NUMBERS RELEASED on Tuesday show just how quickly the coronavirus situation can change, as confirmed cases continued a steady rise, deaths jumped dramatically, and two of the state’s smallest counties emerged as hotspots based on deaths per 1,000 people.

The Department of Public Health reported that deaths statewide from COVID-19 rose 59 percent to 89. The biggest jump was in Middlesex County, where deaths doubled from 9 to 18. Seven new deaths were reported in Hampden County, bringing the total there to 12. That number is likely to rise even more in the coming days as officials say 13 people have died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, at least six and probably more of them from coronavirus.

Franklin County reported its deaths doubled from 2 to 4, and Berkshire County reported another death, bringing its total to six. While those numbers are not as big as in other counties, the population of Franklin and Berkshire counties is small, so the relative number of deaths is high.

Franklin now has .06 deaths per 1,000 people, while Berkshire has .05 deaths and Hampden has .03 deaths.

Middlesex, Worcester, and Suffolk counties have more deaths overall – 18, 8, and 8, respectively – but their deaths per 1,000 people are all .01.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased 15 percent over Monday, which is in line with the growth over the last couple days and about half the rate the three previous days. The pace of testing also remained strong, rising 4,142, well ahead of the 3,500 target set by the Baker administration.

Baker pushes back against prisoner releases

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday pushed back against the idea that the Supreme Judicial Court should order prisoners to be released to reduce the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in state prison facilities.

Baker said the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater is the only state prison facility where inmates have tested positive. He said those inmates have been isolated, which he depicted as the proper response. He said he opposed releasing inmates on medical parole or regular parole unless they had a safe place to go and remain isolated.

“This is a very difficult time to be putting people into the community unless you really believe that’s going to be better for them and better for the community,” Baker said. “Our view is we don’t buy as a matter of law, fact, or policy that the argument being made before the court is the correct one.”

Audio of the court hearing before the SJC was supposed to be made available, but the court’s website did not appear to be working properly.

Rebecca Jacobstein and Benjamin Keehn, who are representing the Committee for Public Counsel Services in the SJC appeal, issued a joint statement after the hearing urging the court to move quickly.

“We learned today that the rate of infection within the Massachusetts Treatment Center has increased almost five-fold in the week since we filed this petition,” they said. “Time is of the essence. The court clearly understands the urgency. We look forward to the issuance of an order that will begin to ameliorate the danger we all face.”

Boston councilors seek state ed delay

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

A trio of Boston city councilors asked state education officials to hold off on a new partnership with their city’s school district to improve underperforming schools, saying students, educators, and families need to focus on adapting to the new realities of the COVID-19 crisis.

Council President Kim Janey and councilors Annissa Essaibi-George and Lydia Edwards called in to the Board of Secondary Elementary Education’s remote meeting and asked for a pause on a recently announced agreement between the Boston schools and the state education department that calls for the city to make improvements at its 33 lowest performing schools, including increased support for students with disabilities and improved transportation options.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced the three-year memorandum of understanding on March 13, the same day Mayor Martin Walsh and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced the Boston schools would close for more than a month to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Right now, this is not the time for an MOU,” Edwards said. “It’s almost offensive that that would be the focus at all in terms of making sure that our kids are somewhat being educated. If you truly are concerned about that, then please allow for this virus to get through, allow us to assess where we are after that, and then we can talk about issues that we are not unfamiliar with.”

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

Katie Lannan

State House News Service
“We know that there needs to be work done, and after years of being underfunded by the state, for the state to come in with a sense of urgency that is false and unnecessary is insulting to a lot of my constituents. I also want to note that it does smack of racism, it smacks of classism, it smacks of being completely out of tune with what people of color and low-income individuals need in terms of education,” Edwards continued.

Edwards said parents want to be at the table, and asked education officials to wait to see the impact of a $1.5 billion school funding reform passed into law last year.