It’s COVID-19 crunch time

THE SAME DAY President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden debated for a final time, the US set a record for the number of daily new coronavirus cases — 77,640 — topping a previous record set in July. For nearly 75 percent of the country, case numbers are increasing.

NBC News’s Kristen Welker asked the candidates something that is on the minds of millions of Americans, even when increased human contact brings about higher infection rates: “What do you say to Americans who fear the cost on the economy, depression, domestic and substance abuse outweighs exposure to the virus?”

Trump didn’t answer the question but drew a sharp contrast with his rival, telling viewers that “all Biden talks about is shutdowns.” He also downplayed the severity of COVID-19, saying that his son Barron became infected and by the time Trump spoke with his doctor “it went away.”

Biden took a different tone, saying he would “shut down the virus, not the country,” and said the president’s ineptitude in responding to the virus early on is what caused the pandemic to become so severe that the shutdown of businesses and schools was necessary. He said he isn’t ruling out more shutdowns but they “need standards,” including a constant look at reproduction rates of the virus, and a plan in place for rapid testing, social distancing, and protective equipment for employees and customers.

The debate over reopening and closures resonates locally. In Massachusetts, 986 more cases were confirmed Thursday, a five-month high, with over 20 percent of the state’s municipalities designated as high-risk zones for the infection.

“It’s the trend that we’ve been worried about,” said Dr. Nahid R. Bhadelia, medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston Medical Center, to The Boston Globe, noting that some parts of reopening may need to be rolled back, including indoor dining.

Salem has canceled Halloween activities and is trying to deter visitors. Boston announced its students would all be returning to remote learning as the city’s infection rate spiked. The Department of Public Health put a two-week pause on ice rinks after at least 30 clusters of COVID-19 were associated with organized ice hockey activities involving residents from more than 60 municipalities in the state.

It was widely anticipated that the return of students to some college campuses would cause a small increase in COVID-19 cases. But more specifically, it’s been the house parties and indoor gatherings people, mostly under 40, have held during their “Covid fatigue” that has set up the state for its second wave.

As much of the state moved into Part 2 of Phase 3 in early October, reports of house parties increased, as people began to take a lax attitude, not necessarily to frequenting businesses without proper coronavirus precautions, but to the virus itself.

Amid calls to roll back indoor dining and even shift back to earlier phases, Gov. Charlie Baker remains unfazed.

“Household transmission, intergenerational transmission is where we are seeing a lot of new case growth,” Baker said on Thursday. “People are doing the right things in formal settings — downtowns, supermarkets. That’s not where we’re seeing most of the growth in cases.”

He said a “huge portion” of the increase is from people between 19 to 39, and most of that is related to personal contact. “In many cases with groups of friends and people they know without any of the guidance we’ve talked about with respect to distance or masks being applied,’ he said. He also joined Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley in saying that there is “very little evidence” that schools are spreaders of the infection.

But schools are not silos. The number of communities in the red zone – those with 8 or more cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks – hit 77 this week, up by 14. While local officials, like Mayor Dan Rivera in Lawrence, may entreat residents to social distance and not hold indoor gatherings, those pleas may end up falling on deaf ears, creating a need for the state to step in again.

SARAH BETANCOURT

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

The families of vets at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home say the new leadership team has managed to bring the coronavirus under control. But a host of other issues, including poor communication, staffing problems, and mismanagement, remain.

Getting out the prisoner vote in Massachusetts seems to be doable this year with advocates joining forces with Attorney General Maura Healey and the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association.

Lawrence leads the way as the COVID-19 red spread grows across Massachusetts.

Opinion: If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed for the US Supreme Court, US Sen. Ed Markey and Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards say they would back court packing.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker officially launches a $115 million program to boost small businesses. (State House News Service)

The Legislature rejects a last-ditch effort to suspend the ban on menthol cigarettes. (The Salem News)

“Laura’s Law,” requiring hospitals to have signage, lighting, doorbells and video surveillance to help people find the emergency room, passes the state Senate. The bill is named after a woman who died of an asthma attack outside a Somerville hospital, trying to reach the ER. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Brockton is now a majority black city for the first time in its history. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

COVID-19 cases in the state have hit a five-month high. (Boston Globe)

COVID-19 hit Massachusetts nursing homes hard, but the hardest hit were homes serving people of color. (WBUR)

After a number of COVID-19 clusters are tied to ice hockey, Massachusetts pauses the operation of ice rinks for two weeks. (Telegram & Gazette)

Almost all COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts were of people with underlying health conditions, but Massachusetts will not release information about what those conditions are. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump’s commitment to curtailing abortion rights has exceeded the early expectations of abortion opponents who had been dubious of the strength of his pro-life stand. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden traded charges and offered contrasting visions for the country in their second and final debate, a face-off that was markedly more restrained than their first encounter. (Washington Post) There were no breakout moments that seem likely to reshape the race, writes the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, and that is good news for Biden, who has had a consistent lead in polls.

Biden says that if elected, he will convene a national commission to study the court system, his latest answer to questions about whether he would seek to add justices to the US Supreme Court. (NPR)

The Scope, an independent digital magazine published by Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, contacted all 257 candidates on the November ballot for legislative seats to ask whether they favor ending the Legislature’s exemption from the public records law. Only 29 percent — or 75 candidates — responded to repeated outreach efforts. Of those, 68 percent said they favored ending the exemption.

The state GOP is seeking “watchdogs” to observe the polls, leading Democrats to accuse them of voter intimidation. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Former Republican governor Bill Weld said he cast his ballot for Joe Biden, tweeting that the race is a choice of “America or Trump.” (Boston Herald)

IMMIGRATION

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office is investigating a Lynn landlord accused of threatening undocumented tenants who complained about conditions at his building. One of the undocumented tenants, Robelio Gonzalez, has been given a special visa by the AG’s office. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked up Gonzalez a couple weeks ago and placed him in a vehicle in front of the building, but neighbors surrounded the vehicle until he was released. (Daily Item)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Some local businesses are turning to GoFundMe to solicit donations in order to keep their doors open. (The Salem News)

New Bedford moves forward with plans for a business park – and the promise of 1,000 jobs – at Whaling City Golf Course. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

The Boston School Committee voted 7-0 to scrap use of a standardized test for fall 2021 admissions to the city’s three exam schools, adopting instead a system that relies on grades and zip codes to allot seats. (Boston Herald)

The school committee’s chairman, Michael Loconto, resigned hours after he was heard on a “hot mic” mocking Asian names during the marathon session of the committee considering the changes to exam school admissions policies. (Boston Globe) The incident is renewing calls for the city to return to an elected panel or a hybrid of elected and appointed members rather than the current structure of a board entirely appointed by the mayor. (Boston Herald)

Berklee College of Music names its first female president, Erica Muhl, who has led music and arts schools at the University of Southern California. (Boston Globe)

As schools open, 129 students and 73 staff tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

A painting by artist Jacob Lawrence that had not been viewed by the public in 60 years — and was represented by an empty frame in an exhibit curated by the Peabody-Essex Museum — is discovered in a private collection in New York. (Associated Press)

TRANSPORTATION

Backers of East-West rail are concerned state transportation officials are just going through the motions. (Berkshire Eagle)

A California appeals court rules Uber and Lyft must treat their drivers as employees. The ruling comes as the two companies push a ballot question that would allow the firms to continue treating them as independent contractors. (NPR)

The operator of the MBTA’s commuter rail system had to shut down some systems for a few hours earlier this month after being subject to a computer hack. (Boston Herald)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Brewster Conservation Commission is determining if it has the authority to allow hunting in the town’s Punkhorn Parklands after a former selectman raised questions of jurisdiction. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Racial justice protests and calls to defund the police lead to record gun sales in Massachusetts. (Telegram & Gazette)

Jacyln Marie Coleman and John Almond were arraigned in Fall River District Court on charges in connection with the death of David Almond, a 14-year-old special needs boy, and neglect of his twin brother, Michael, who is at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. (Herald News)

MEDIA

As news coverage has shrunk, a new study finds that coverage of local government has taken a bigger hit than other types of news. (NIeman Journalism Lab)

Geeta Anand, who used to work at the Boston Globe, becomes the first woman (and the first woman of color) to become the dean of the school of journalism at UC Berkeley. In a letter to the Berkeley community, she gives a shout out to Globe columnist Adrian Walker.

The Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror says it is being acquired by local North Media LLC after 30 years of corporate ownership, most recently under Gannett.