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COVID-19

A Second Wave?

Mercy Medical Center is maintaining its COVID-19 protocols

Dr. Robert Roose says Mercy Medical Center is maintaining its COVID-19 protocols — and hopes the public does so as well.

Dr. Robert Roose knows we’re all sick of this — the mask wearing, the working and learning from home, the lack of fun places to visit … all of it. He gets it. Really.

But here’s the thing.

“The virus has not grown weary of transmitting itself,” said Roose, chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center. “And it has not waned in the summer months with the hot weather, and it will not wane in the colder months. Our practices need to be just as vigilant as they were in the spring and summer in order to be effective. And we need to continue to be clear, consistent, and fact-based in our messaging.”

We spoke to a few local medical leaders who all cautioned against letting ‘pandemic fatigue’ change behaviors, especially when a vaccine is still not available, infections are rising in many states (the positive-test rate has crept up in Massachusetts, too), and no one knows how the looming flu season will intersect with a still-prevalent coronavirus.

“We aren’t seeing an influx of hospitalized patients like we saw here in the Northeast in March, April, and into May, but we see the data, and it gives all of us some reason for caution, if not broader concern regarding what the colder season might bring. There’s a lot for us still to be cautious about,” Roose told BusinessWest.

That said, local hospitals have learned a lot since the spring as well, he added. “We gained a lot of knowledge we can use to directly improve the health and safety of patients and our colleagues in the community. We have also implemented ways to ensure that care can remain accessible, timely, and safer throughout the pandemic.”

“The virus has not grown weary of transmitting itself. And it has not waned in the summer months with the hot weather, and it will not wane in the colder months.”

Dr. Simon Ahtaridis, chief medical officer at Holyoke Medical Center, said shortages of key supplies in the spring — not just personal protective equipment (PPE), but reagent and transport medium for test kits — led to reviews of processes that will leave hospitals more prepared if a second wave does ensue.

“This virus is unpredictable, and a lot of our early conclusions didn’t bear out,” he said. “We didn’t have lot of experience with this particular virus — how it behaves, how it’s contracted. There was a lot of back and forth in the scientific community on how to best handle it.”

While the medical community saw a great deal of variability in protocols, the goal was always to keep patients — and the community at large — safe. That’s still the case, Ahtaridis said, but part of the challenge is encouraging them to do their part.

Dr. Estevan Garcia

Dr. Estevan Garcia

“It’s clear to me that folks are all tired of all the precautions. Until a vaccine is proven effective against COVID, we can’t let our guard down.”

“In terms of thinking about a second wave, a lot of it will depend on the behavior of the public and that virus fatigue. We thought it would be a few weeks, and we’ve seen it drag on and on,” he noted. “The risk is the public starts to lose that caution they’ve been displaying, where they’re not wearing masks, they start to let their guard down. That can lead to a second wave in and of itself.”

Mercy is certainly not letting its guard down, Roose said.

“It’s important to recognize we will continue to maintain the safety protocols in our care that have managed to keep infections much lower than they otherwise would have,” he said. “We’ve managed to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate clusters of infection in hospitals and other settings.”

Local medical leaders hope that trend continues — and they’re doing much more than hoping.

 

Virus, Meet Virus

That’s because there’s always a new wrinkle — the latest being flu season, which is right around the corner.

“There’s concern about the cooler weather driving everyone indoors, and concern with the flu as well,” said Dr. Estevan Garcia, chief medical officer for Cooley Dickinson Health Care. “We’re beginning to see upper respiratory infections, which are concerns as we move into the fall and winter timeframe. But is it COVID? Is it a cold? Is it the flu? We treat them differently, and we need to make sure we’re isolating the COVID cases.”

Garcia said area hospitals have engaged in a remarkable show of cooperation over the past eight months, communicating with each other on a regular basis and making sure sufficient testing is available. With testing more widely available than it was in the spring, he encouraged not only symptomatic people to be tested, but healthy individuals planning on visiting a grandparent.

He and Ahtaridis both noted that some countries — Australia being the most-cited example — saw much less severe flu seasons than usual earlier this year, and experts credit the widespread use of masks and social-distancing protocols.

“My suspicion is it might be a light influenza season,” Ahtaridis said. “But we are still actively vaccinating patients and making sure patients have information about the flu vaccine, so they’re ready for the season. It might be less severe than last season, but there won’t be zero cases.”

Garcia agreed. “Because of the protections they’ve been taking for COVID, some countries have seen a less severe flu season. But that shouldn’t give people a false sense of security; you should still get a flu shot, use physical distancing, mask wearing, hand washing … all those things are good against the flu.”

He worries, however, that not everyone will recognize the value in continuing COVID protocols.

Dr. Simon Ahtaridis

Dr. Simon Ahtaridis

“My suspicion is it might be a light influenza season. But we are still actively vaccinating patients and making sure patients have information about the flu vaccine, so they’re ready for the season. It might be less severe than last season, but there won’t be zero cases.”

“It’s clear to me that folks are all tired of all the precautions,” he said. “Until a vaccine is proven effective against COVID, we can’t let our guard down. That’s how we have clusters and multiple people getting infected. If we want to get kids back to school and open up businesses again, we’ve got to get through the next wave of late fall and winter and into spring, when, hopefully, there may be some availability of a vaccine.”

The colder weather will pose a challenge, he added, driving people into enclosed spaces for longer periods.

“The fatigue factor is real, but we’ve got to double our efforts to protect ourselves, so masks, hand hygiene, and social distancing are all super important as we move forward,” Garcia said. “One challenge, as we move indoors, will be social distancing at restaurants — these are places we want to continue to stay open, but let’s make sure we’re on top of it and people don’t let their guard down. We need to hold on for the next probably four to six months.”

Roose agreed that pandemic fatigue is a real phenomenon and tough to combat, especially heading into a time of the year usually packed with holiday gatherings. Where people must gather, he said, they need to remember what’s been working in Massachusetts so far.

“We can appeal to people’s sense of generosity and responsibility, their care and love for others — this is something we can do that ultimately can help protect the safety and health of others,” he said. “When you can connect it to something personal or to somebody’s values, that can be a much more effective way to understand the why behind what we’re doing.”

 

Taking the Long View

These protocols contributed to Massachusetts seeing a relaxation of its infection numbers throughout the summer, but Ahtaridis noted that the positive test rate rose from 2% to 4% recently. “It’s not a huge number, but it’s a doubling of cases, and that probably does reflect changes in behavior and risk tolerance.”

The solution? Do your part.

“Until we have a vaccine, I suspect we’re going to continue with some level of precautions and attention to safety,” he said — and perhaps some of those precautions will never go completely away. He suggested people will look at photos of crowds years from now and be able to tell, by the presence or absence of masks, whether a picture was taken before 2020 or not.

“Even if COVID goes away, even with a vaccine and the advent of better treatments for COVID, I think the public has become more aware of personal space, shared air, and hygiene,” he added. “We’ll probably see some long-term changes.”

With infection numbers still low when compared to some other states, it’s a good time to get vaccinated against the flu, Garcia said — or to get that procedure that was put off in the spring.

“During the spring, people were putting off needed care,” he said, due to both their own concerns and hospitals and other medical facilities shutting down certain treatments to make room for COVID patients. “We’re doing our best to get the message out, make sure people know it’s safe to get care. You shouldn’t put off your care. You don’t want to shut everything down moving forward.”

Roose agreed. “We have processes and procedures in place where we can continue to provide routine, elective, and necessary care while also handling people with COVID,” he said, noting that hospitals, including Mercy, have done a good job of creating separation between patients possibly exposed to coronavirus and those haven’t been exposed. “That’s an important message for the community to hear — that this system has the ability to treat you, even if there’s a second wave of infections.”

While some procedures fall into the cosmetic category, Ahtaridis added, most medical care is not purely elective, which is why hospitals, Holyoke included, have put plenty of thought and resources into making sure they’re safe spaces.

“While the risk never goes down to zero, from a risk-benefit perspective, if you have a medical need, getting it addressed is very important because unmet needs can cause bigger problems down the road,” he said.

“Hospitals tend not to be where people are getting COVID — it tends to be out in the community,” he added. “While not everything is an emergency, most of the things we do are time-sensitive, and if we let medical issues go unaddressed, the consequences can be somewhat dire. We encourage everyone to seek care as appropriate, and do it with confidence.”

And, of course, keep wearing a mask.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

COVID-19

Glass Half Full

By Mark Morris

many people with a history of alcohol abuse have relapsed

Edna Rodriguez says many people with a history of alcohol abuse have relapsed during the pandemic due partly to boredom and disconnection.

Each October, as the weather becomes colder and the days get shorter, it’s not unusual to see an increase in demand for substance-abuse services due to seasonal depression. This fall, however, counselors are expecting an even larger spike in the need for their services because of COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, treatment centers in Massachusetts have seen an increase in opioid-related overdoses in the patients they treat — a problem exacerbated by the fact that the drugs have become more dangerous, said Steve Winn, president and CEO of Behavioral Health Network (BHN).

Health professionals believe the problem stems from interruptions in the worldwide supply chain of illegal drugs, making it harder to get heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. As a result, what is being sold as pure heroin is often mixed with a more lethal type of fentanyl, causing the increase in overdoses and deaths.

“We don’t know if use is up, but we know the repercussions of use are more serious now than they were a year ago,” Winn told BusinessWest. “In 2018 and 2019, Massachusetts had begun to flatten the curve on opioid overdoses, but now that curve has accelerated up.”

It’s not a regional problem, he added, as the most recent data shows opioid deaths up in every county in the state.

People with substance-use disorders often have a co-occurring mental-health diagnosis, a situation that may increase their COVID-19 risk, said Millie Rivas, clinical supervisor for Outpatient Behavioral Health at Center for Human Development (CHD), adding that several factors can make people with substance-use disorders more vulnerable to coronavirus.

“Patients with a co-occurring diagnosis usually have a history of poor healthcare and poor nutrition,” she noted. “Add substance use to that, and they become a magnet for COVID-19.”

In short, the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic — and the economic turmoil that has followed in its wake — aren’t the only COVID-related factors making things tougher for those struggling with substance abuse and those striving to help them. Not by a longshot.

 

From a Distance

Even treating people with substance-use issues became more complicated when the pandemic first hit. By following CDC guidelines to keep everyone safe, one-on-one support was severely reduced, resulting in more isolation for vulnerable people who needed help.

While support has largely shifted to virtual appointments, Rivas and her staff have had to provide technical guidance, as well as their normal counsel to their clients.

“We’re doing things we aren’t accustomed to, such as training people how to use Zoom platforms and how to use their phone beyond Facebook so they can reach services and telehealth,” she said.

Working on virtual platforms allows CHD staff to interact in a more normal way with clients and observe their behavior. Rivas noted that meeting one-on-one would require clients to wear masks, making it more difficult to hear them or see their facial expressions. When clients use virtual platforms, they are also able to increase their engagement in the world.

Steven Winn

“We don’t know if use is up, but we know the repercussions of use are more serious now than they were a year ago. In 2018 and 2019, Massachusetts had begun to flatten the curve on opioid overdoses, but now that curve has accelerated up.”

“At times, going virtual has been frustrating for the client, but overall, it’s nice to have them experience an achievement like that,” Rivas said, adding that clients can now more easily connect with healthcare providers as well as family and friends, and hopefully become more engaged and feel less isolated.

While it’s not surprising that those with a history of substance abuse would be more vulnerable during a pandemic, Rivas has observed an increase in substance use among people with no diagnosed substance-use disorders. The myriad factors include health concerns, increased isolation from not going out and socializing, and anxiety about finances. “It’s not unusual for people to manage stress with one too many beers or one too many glasses of wine.”

Winn noted that clinicians at BHN have observed an increase in people coming in to talk about alcohol use and overuse. “They are self-medicating because they feel more stressed, more unhappy, and more isolated.”

Edna Rodriguez, director of Clinical Assessment and Clinical Ambulatory Programs at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, has noticed a trend during the pandemic of people having relapses and abusing alcohol after years of being clean and sober. She cited one example of a person who relapsed after five years of sobriety. Clients tell her they start drinking again out of boredom and being stuck at home.

“In my opinion, since COVID hit, we’ve seen an increase in the glorifying of alcohol use,” Rodriguez said, noting social-media memes about people day drinking and taking Zoom calls with a drink in hand. While meant to be humorous, she explained, these messages are dangerous for people with substance-use disorders, especially when so many are feeling less connected to the community.

“Distractions that were healthy, like going to the gym, going to church, or programs that encourage people to live healthy lifestyles, have all been reduced or eliminated,” she said. “We’re in a moment of depleted connections.”

Because the pandemic creates uncertainty for everyone, Winn encourages anyone who has a question about their substance use to reach out to BHN or one of the other local agencies.

“If you’re struggling with something, reach out and ask for help. We’re all doing telehealth, so it’s safe in terms of social distancing.”

 

Heal Thyself

Providers face a dilemma of trying to help people while at the same time feeling their own stress and uncertainty about the coronavirus. Rodriguez said many of her colleagues are experiencing ‘pandemic fatigue.’

“I wish there was a book on my shelf titled ‘How to Treat Substance Use Disorders During a Pandemic,’ but we don’t have that book; we’re all new to this, and we’re still learning.”

Rodriguez and her colleagues are supporting each other by having conversations about how to stay grounded. She mentioned a ‘comfort cart’ that goes around to staff with bottles of water, soda, and treats like chocolate and candy.

“It’s a way of recognizing that everyone is stressed and needs something to comfort themselves,” she said. “The more we take care of each other, the better resource we’re going to be for our patients.”

Rivas said she often reminds her staff about the importance of self-care.

“It’s easy to forget about yourself when you’re trying to take care of someone else,” she noted, adding that, among other changes since COVID-19, staff can no longer use their offices for one-on-one meetings because they are too small to accommodate proper social distancing.

As everyone is still trying to figure out how to stay safe from a virus that just won’t fade away, Rodriguez said her normal work process now includes thinking about how to take care of herself as a provider.

Yet, she remains hopeful the scientific and therapeutic communities will use their creativity to develop new ways for everyone to deal with coronavirus. “These times are calling for an honest and humble review of how we administer treatment, how we approach our patients, and how we approach ourselves as providers.”

COVID-19

PPP Loan Forgiveness 101

By Jeff Laboe, CPA

Please realize that the information available today is different than it was a four months ago, and will most likely look different two months from now, so keep that in mind while reading this article.

With all the uncertainty these days, the last thing taxpayers should be worrying about is how to complete the application for your Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness. The intent of this article is to give taxpayers an idea of the application process and forms that need to be submitted for forgiveness of the PPP loan the business received.

Jeff Laboe

Jeff Laboe

A business of any type (LLC, S-corp, sole proprietor, etc.) that received funds via a PPP loan in 2020 may apply for the forgiveness of repayment of this loan. Taxpayers who received a loan, maintained proper records, followed the Small Business Administration rules and guidelines with respect as to how the loan proceeds were spent, and performed all necessary calculations should qualify for forgiveness on the repayment of the loan or the portion of the loan that qualifies.

There are three different application forms that may have to be completed based upon your individual PPP loan program. You have 10 months from the completion of your loan period to file one of these forgiveness applications. The three forms to be used are Form 3508S, 3508EZ, and Form 3508, or the equivalent forms offered by your bank.

The first is Form 3508S, which can be used only by those who received $50,000 or less in PPP loan proceeds. The application asks taxpayers to provide the forgiveness amount requested and to certify with signatures that all the conditions were met. There are no calculations required on the application and no reductions in forgiveness due to reduced head count or salaries or wages. This form is the most straightforward.

Form 3508EZ may be used by self-employed individuals, independent contractors, or sole proprietors that have no employees and/or wages at the time of the loan-application process.

A business also qualifies to use this form if it received more than $50,000 but less than $150,000 in PPP funds, and met one of two additional scenarios:

• Salary and wages were not reduced by more than 25% during the loan period, and the employee head count was restored by the end of the chosen loan period — essentially, the net head count wasn’t affected; or

• Salary and wages were not reduced by more than 25% during the loan period and you were unable to operate the same level of business due to compliance with requirements to any work or customer safety requirements related to COVID-19. Similar to the 3508S application, there are no calculations required. Taxpayers instead need to confirm and provide support that the loan proceeds were used for eligible costs.

The last form is the standard Form 3508. This application is for all taxpayers who do not meet the thresholds to file one of the previously discussed forms. This standard application is much more detailed and complex, and may require some additional time and supporting documents. Taxpayers might want to seek assistance from their professional advisors.

“With all the uncertainty these days, the last thing taxpayers should be worrying about is how to complete the application for your Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness.”

Additionally, if your business also obtained an EIDL advance, that amount needs to be subtracted from the amount of loan proceeds that would otherwise be eligible for forgiveness. This applies for all three loan-forgiveness forms. Legislation has also been introduced (U.S. Senate Bill 4321) that details potential automatic forgiveness for any PPP loan under $150,000 if the debtee “signs and submits to the lender an attestation that the eligible recipient made a good-faith effort to comply with the requirements under section 7(a)(36) of the Small Business Act.” The status of the bill is uncertain at this time.

Once you have submitted your application, the loan provider has 60 days from the date the application was received to issue a decision to the SBA. The SBA then has 90 days to review the application and remit the forgiveness amount to the lender.

When it comes to PPP loan-forgiveness applications, remember the three different levels: less than $50,000, between $50,000 and $150,000, and above $150,000. As of now, taxpayers have to apply for forgiveness within 10 months of the end of the loan period. Be sure you complied with all the rules and guidelines on what the qualified expenses are and kept accurate and complete records. And don’t be overwhelmed by the applications. If you need assistance, there are resources for you.

 

Jeff Laboe is a senior tax associate with MP CPAs; www.thempgroupcpa.com

COVID-19

A Temporary Setback

Several weeks of good news about COVID-19 infections in Massachusetts were no reason to party. In fact, parties were probably a bad idea.

Citing a proliferation of large parties as one likely factor in Massachusetts’ recent uptick in infections, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a temporary pullback of the state’s reopening efforts.

On Aug. 7, the governor not only postponed the second stage of phase 3 — affecting a range of businesses that cater to groups of people — but called for increased enforcement efforts to crack down on violations of the state’s COVID-19 regulations.

Postponing the second stage of phase 3 means theaters and performance venues still can’t hold indoor shows, and activities like laser tag, roller skating, trampolining, and obstacle courses remain on hold as well. Businesses expecting to reopen in phase 4, such as bars, overnight camps, and arcades, will obviously remain closed as well.

Baker also signed an order reducing the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people, while the limit on indoor gatherings remains at 25 people. Face coverings are required at gatherings where more than 10 people from different households will interact.

On Aug. 7, the governor not only postponed the second stage of phase 3 — affecting a range of businesses that cater to groups of people — but called for increased enforcement efforts to crack down on violations of the state’s COVID-19 regulations.

The local chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business called Baker’s decision to pause the state’s reopening “extremely disappointing,” adding that, “instead of delaying the opening of certain businesses, many taking every step imaginable to keep workers and customers safe, the administration should pursue the private gatherings that are causing the problems.”

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts rose nearly 25% between July 29 and Aug. 5, and new COVID-19 infections are once again outpacing recoveries. As of last week, there have been 8,519 deaths and 112,673 cases reported by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive, on average, is down slightly at 1.8%.

In other guidance, Baker reiterated that restaurants may serve alcoholic beverages only for on-site consumption if accompanied by orders for food prepared on site. The administration will take measures to ensure that bars masquerading as restaurants will be closed.

The administration also announced a targeted, cross-agency team responsible for ramping up enforcement statewide and coordinating local intervention efforts at the local level in higher-risk COVID-19 communities. Those supports will include:

• Targeted interventions and inspections by a range of member agencies;

• Cease-and-desist orders for businesses and organizations in violation of the COVID-19 orders;

• Support for local and state officials in exercising their authority to fine restaurants or suspend or cancel liquor licenses when restaurants do not comply with required safety measures;

• Targeted public messaging (like road signs and PSAs) to alert residents of higher-risk COVID communities;

• Technical support to local government officials to support enhanced local COVID-19 prevention efforts, such as assistance in accessing CARES Act funding;

• Potential restrictions or shutdowns for parks, playgrounds, businesses, or other entities believed to be contributing to COVID-19 spread in higher-risk communities; and

• Additional public-health support, such as testing, tracing, and quarantining.

Additionally, previously announced free COVID-19 testing in 17 communities, including Springfield and Agawam, has been extended through Sept. 12.

Finally, a travel order, which went into effect Aug. 1, stipulates that all visitors and residents returning to Massachusetts from high-risk areas must either quarantine for 14 days or produce negative COVID-19 test results upon return into the state.

Individuals who have not received test results prior to arrival are required to quarantine until they receive a negative test result. Violators may face a $500 fine per day.

States considered lower-risk, and thus exempt from the travel order, include Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii. Other exemptions to the travel rules include people passing through, people who commute across state lines for work or school, and people coming to the state for medical treatment or military purposes.

Rhode Island was initially exempt from the travel order, but is now considered a higher-risk state. Still, Baker said people on either side of the border may make trips back and forth for errands or work.

— Joseph Bednar

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration has released additional data on community-level spread of COVID-19 in order to target additional resources and implement community-specific strategies to stop the spread of the virus.

Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new set of initiatives aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, especially in higher-risk communities that have seen a recent uptick in cases. While Massachusetts has seen an overall decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since May, there has been a slight uptick in certain communities in recent days.

The administration has released data on the average daily cases per 100,000 residents, average percent positivity, and positive tests for all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns over the last two weeks. Based on the average daily cases per 100,000 residents, each city or town has been designated as a higher-risk, moderate-risk, or lower-risk community. Going forward, this information will be updated and included in the Department of Public Health’s weekly public-health dashboard, which is published each Wednesday. Click here to view a map with these designations by community.

Any city or town designated higher-risk is considered to have a high level of COVID-19 infection, and will receive additional support from the Commonwealth to address the spread of the virus.

Last week, Baker also announced a targeted cross-agency COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team that will be responsible for ramping up enforcement statewide and coordinating intervention efforts at the local level in these higher-risk COVID-19 communities. Those efforts will include:

• Targeted interventions and inspections by a range of member agencies;

• Cease-and-desist orders for businesses and organizations in violation of the COVID-19 orders;

• Support for local and state officials in exercising their authority to fine restaurants or suspend or cancel liquor licenses when restaurants do not comply with required safety measures;

• Targeted public messaging (like road signs and PSAs) to alert residents of higher-risk COVID communities;

• Technical support to local government officials to support enhanced local COVID-19 prevention efforts, such as assistance in accessing CARES Act funding;

• Potential restrictions or shutdowns for parks, playgrounds, businesses, or other entities believed to be contributing to COVID-19 spread in higher-risk communities; and

• Additional public-health support, such as testing, tracing, and quarantining.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new set of initiatives aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, especially in higher-risk communities that have seen a recent uptick in cases. While Massachusetts has seen a decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since May, there has been a slight uptick in certain communities in recent days.

The administration announced a set of initiatives, including stricter statewide rules for public and private gatherings and targeted community guidance. The administration also announced that, starting this week, additional reporting for town-by-town data will be published weekly to show the spread of COVID-19 at a community level. Additionally, previously announced free COVID-19 testing in 17 communities has been extended through Sept. 12.

Baker also signed an updated gatherings order, effective Tuesday, Aug. 11, which will reduce the limit on outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50 people (indoor gatherings limit will remain at 25 people); apply these limits to all types of gatherings, on both public and private property; and require face coverings where more than 10 people from different households will be mixing.

Due to the recent increase in positive cases, the second step of phase 3 of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan has been postponed indefinitely.

Restaurant rules have been updated to state that alcoholic beverages may be served only for on-site consumption if accompanied by orders for food prepared on-site. The administration will be taking measures to ensure that bars masquerading as restaurants will be closed. Public-safety officials, including state and local law enforcement, have the jurisdiction to enforce these orders, and event hosts in violation of these orders will be subject to fines or cease-and-desist orders.

The administration also announced a targeted cross-agency COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team that will be responsible for ramping up enforcement statewide and coordinating local intervention efforts at the local level in higher-risk COVID-19 communities.

Communities will be designated as higher-risk COVID-19 communities based on public-health data, including but not limited to rising trends for new cases and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker announced that, effective Saturday, Aug. 1, all travelers entering the Commonwealth, including both out-of-state residents and Massachusetts residents returning home, will be required to comply with a new travel order. The full order and other information is available at www.mass.gov/matraveler.

Starting Aug. 1, all visitors and Massachusetts residents returning home, including students returning to campuses for the fall semester, must fill out a Massachusetts Travel Form and quarantine for 14 days unless they are coming from a COVID-19 lower-risk state or they can produce a negative COVID-19 test result administered no more than 72 hours prior to arriving in Massachusetts, or they are included in one of the other, limited exemptions.

Individuals who get a test must remain in quarantine until they receive their negative test results. Failure to comply may result in a $500 fine per day.

Travelers are exempt from this requirement if they are coming from a state that has been designated by the Department of Public Health as a lower-risk COVID-19 state or fall into another narrow exemption category. Based on current public-health data, those lower-risk states currently include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Hawaii.

Traveler exemptions include people passing through the state, people commuting across state lines for work, people traveling to Massachusetts for medical treatment, people complying with military orders, or people traveling to work in federally designated critical infrastructure sectors (essential services).

Prior to travel, people should visit www.mass.gov/matraveler to fill out the Massachusetts Travel For or text ‘MATraveler’ to 888-777.

The list of lower-risk states is subject to change based on public-health data, and states may be added or taken off the list at any time.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Certain methods of decontaminating medical face masks for repeated use during the COVID-19 pandemic appear to damage the masks’ integrity and protective function, according to research by a UMass Amherst environmental-health scientist.

“Some treatments for decontamination had no impact on respirator performance, while other treatments resulted in substantial damage to masks,” writes Richard Peltier, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and lead author of the paper published July 16 in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

Peltier received a fast-track grant from the National Science Foundation in May to study the impact of various sterilization techniques authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in light of the shortage of medical face masks, also known as N95 respirators.

“Given the global N95 shortages, clinicians face a choice: wearing a used, and potentially infected, respirator, or wearing one that was decontaminated through a process that may affect the integrity of the respirator,” added Peltier, whose co-authors include doctors and researchers at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston and UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

Peltier uses state-of-the-art pollution detection instruments and a mannequin head in his lab to measure whether microscopic particles can pass through the masks after they are sterilized. “Respirators must be effective across a range of potential conditions to provide protection since droplets that contain virus particles immediately start to evaporate and shrink,” he explained.

While the testing was limited by the availability of processed masks provided by hospitals in Massachusetts, the study draws several generalizable conclusions, he noted.

Respirators that were treated between one and 10 times with specific vaporized hydrogen peroxide sterilizers or up to five times with shorter decontamination cycles of gas plasma hydrogen peroxide (gpHP) retain their original filtration capabilities. A decontamination process using ultraviolent germicidal irradiance slowly diminishes filtration efficiency, reaching a level that warrants caution after nine repeated treatments, the research found. “However, there are still a number of sterilizer systems that are being used on these masks which we don’t have information about and therefore can’t determine if they keep workers safe,” Peltier said.

Treatments with high concentrations of gpHP or longer processing times degraded filtration performance below the requirement for N95 masks, which should be capable of filtering 95% of 300-nanometer particles.

For comparison, Peltier also tested a KN95 mask, some brands of which have been removed from the FDA’s emergency-use list due to poor performance, and a four-ply polyester bandanna. Neither had been treated with any decontamination technique, and both performed below N95 standards. Peltier also found that immersing an N95 mask in a 10% bleach solution degraded its performance.

Peltier noted that his study did not address the masks’ fit or general integrity, including elastic function, corrosion on staples and compression of the respirator, all of which are important for proper functioning. His research highlights the importance of using decontamination techniques shown to be safe for the reuse of N95 masks.

“We hope this work supports good decision making that protects those who are on the front lines of this pandemic keeping us all safe,” he said. “Without them, none of us are safe.”

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — State Sen. Eric Lesser and state Rep. Jon Santiago have filed “An Act Establishing the Commission of Inquiry on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Response to and Recovery from the COVID-19 Crisis.” The legislation would task a commission with reviewing the Commonwealth’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and make recommendations on how Massachusetts can better prepare in the future.

Lesser is Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies as well as a member of the Senate’s COVID-19 task force. Santiago is a member of the Joint Committee on Public Health as well as an emergency-room physician at Boston Medical Center.

“As we gain more insight into the spread of the coronavirus outbreak and its impacts on Massachusetts, it is vital that we establish a dedicated, non-partisan commission to evaluate the response to the crisis and ensure future preparedness,” Lesser said. “The unprecedented nature of COVID-19 has upended our way of life and has revealed pre-existing inequities in our system that needs to be evaluated and improved upon, especially as the threat of resurgence lingers.”

Added Santiago, “ensuring that we fully understand our response to COVID-19 is critical, particularly as we prepare for a potential second surge. The Commonwealth deserves a thorough, deliberate, and reflective inquiry of the actions taken to date. We owe it to the countless number of families who lost loved ones and to the many healthcare and essential workers who continue to risk their lives.”

Members of the commission must have expertise in professions such as economics; labor and workforce development; business and finance; public health; medicine, including epidemiology; healthcare; civil rights; law and governmental service; and emergency preparedness. The commission must be non-partisan and cannot include a current elected official, an employee of state or local government, a registered lobbyist, or an employee of a trade association or special-interest group. The chair of the commission will be appointed by a majority vote of the members. The commission will be required to hold public hearings and be given subpoena power to compel witnesses and produce documents during its investigation.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced that phase 3 of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan will begin on Monday, July 6, and updates on gatherings will be in effect. For the city of Boston, phase 3 and the gatherings order will take effect on Monday, July 13.

The following businesses will be eligible to reopen in the first stage of phase 3, subject to industry-specific rules concerning capacity and operations: movie theaters and outdoor performance venues; museums and cultural and historical sites; fitness centers and health clubs; certain indoor recreational activities with low potential for contact; and professional sports teams, which, under the authority of league-wide rules, may hold games without spectators.

The full guidance and list of businesses eligible to reopen can be found at www.mass.gov/reopening. Businesses and sectors set to begin opening in phase 3 are subject to compliance with all mandatory safety standards.

Under the updated gatherings order, indoor gatherings are limited to eight people per 1,000 square feet, but should not exceed 25 people in a single enclosed, indoor space.

Outdoor gatherings in enclosed spaces are limited to 25% of the facility’s maximum permitted occupancy, with a maximum of 100 people in a single enclosed outdoor space. This includes community events, civic events, sporting events, concerts, conventions, and more. This order does not apply to outdoor, unenclosed gatherings if proper social-distancing measures are possible.

In phase 3, healthcare providers may continue to provide in-person procedures and services as allowed in phase 2, with the addition of certain group treatment programs and day programs. These programs include adult day health, day habilitation programs, and substance-abuse services, including day treatment and outpatient services. Certain human-services programs can reopen, including community-based day services for adults with intellectual and cognitive disabilities and psychosocial rehabilitation clubhouses.

Healthcare providers are subject to compliance with all mandatory safety standards, and must continue to utilize prioritization policies established in phase 2 for care delivery and scheduling, as well as monitor patient volume for non-essential, elective procedures and services.

In phase 3, visitation guidelines have been updated for 24/7 congregate care facilities and programs overseen by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, including the departments of Developmental Services, Youth Services, Children and Families, Public Health, Mental Health, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. Offsite visits, including overnight visits, will be allowed under specific guidelines. Other updated guidelines, including visitation for long-term-care facilities, will be released shortly. Complete visitation guidance is available at www.mass.gov/hhs/reopening

MassHealth will also extend its current telehealth flexibility through at least the end of the year to ensure member access to critical healthcare services and encourage continued adherence to preventive public-health precautions.

On May 18, the Baker-Polito administration released a four-phase plan to reopen the economy based on public-health data, spending at least three weeks in each phase. Key public-health data, such as new cases and hospitalizations, have been closely monitored and shown a decline, allowing for phase 3 to begin.

Since mid-April, the seven-day average for the positive COVID-19 test rate is down 94%, the three-day average of hospitalized patients is down 79%, and the number of hospitals in surge is down 86%. More than 1,000,000 total COVID-19 tests have been administered, and testing continues throughout the state.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced new COVID-19 public health guidelines on travel and transportation.

Effective today, July 1, all travelers arriving to Massachusetts, including residents returning home, are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. This guidance does not apply to travelers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, or New Jersey. Additionally, workers designated by the federal government as essential critical infrastructure workers are also exempt from this directive.

Travelers who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 are instructed to not travel to Massachusetts.

All visitors and residents of Massachusetts are also reminded that the use of masks or face coverings in public places where individuals cannot socially distance from others remains required.

These new guidelines replace previously announced Massachusetts travel guidance. For national travel information, visit www.travel.state.gov.

COVID-19 Daily News

HOLYOKE — A long-awaited independent report investigating the COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, released Wednesday, identifies a number of poor decisions made by suspended Superintendent Bennett Walsh that ultimately led to what the author of the report called “the opposite of infection control.”

The report also levels criticism at the Department of Veterans’ Services for putting Walsh in that position when he had no experience managing a long-term-care facility, and for lack of oversight.

“While the home’s leadership team bears principal responsibility for the events described in this report, Mr. Walsh was not qualified to manage a long-term-care facility, and his shortcomings were well known to the Department of Veterans’ Services — yet the agency failed to effectively oversee the home during his tenure,” the report states. Walsh was suspended with pay at the start of the outbreak.

On Tuesday evening, Veterans’ Services Secretary Francisco Urena confirmed he had been asked to resign ahead of the report’s release and complied.

The 176-page report, authored by Boston attorney Mark Pearlstein, was commissioned by Gov. Charlie Baker in early April as the death toll from the outbreak rose. The report reviews actions taken over a several-day period, but zeroes in on critical decisions made on March 27 to herd dozens of men into one unit that was staffed by employees who did not use proper personal protective equipment.

“Mr. Walsh and his team created close to an optimal environment for the spread of COVID-19,” the report states.

The outbreak ultimately left 76 veterans dead and 80 others sickened, along with many staff members.

“The Soldiers’ Home leadership team made substantial errors in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the report notes. “Even the best preparations and most careful response cannot eliminate the threat of COVID-19. But this does not excuse a failure to plan and execute on long-standing infection control principles and to seek outside help when it is required to keep patients safe — indeed, the extraordinary danger of COVID-19 makes these steps all the more important.”

In addition, “the worst decision made during the Soldiers’ Home’s response to COVID-19 occurred on the afternoon of Friday, March 27, 2020. On that afternoon, a number of staff members had called in sick for the evening shift that was about to begin. Because of the looming staff shortage, the chief Nursing officer, with Mr. Walsh’s approval, decided that one of the home’s two locked dementia units (2-North) would be closed and consolidated with the other (1-North). One social worker recalled raising concerns with the chief Nursing officer about the risk of COVID-19 spreading, and the chief Nursing officer responded that “it didn’t matter because [the veterans] were all exposed anyway, and there was not enough staff to cover both units.

“This decision was a catastrophe,” the report continues. “Staff describe the move as ‘total pandemonium,’ ‘when hell broke loose,’ and ‘a nightmare.’ One staff member stated that she ‘will never get those images out of my mind — what we did, what was done to those veterans,’ and ‘thought, my God, where is the respect and dignity for these men?’ Other witnesses, including a command-response leader brought in three days later to stabilize the situation, reported that this ‘hot’ unit had veterans ‘crammed in on top of each other,’ some of whom ‘were clearly dying.’”

In a statement Wednesday announcing the report’s release, the governor pledged to take “immediate action to deliver the level of care that our veterans deserve.”

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced that the second step of phase 2 of the Commonwealth’s four-phase reopening plan will begin today, June 22, to allow additional industries to resume operations under sector-specific guidelines.

The following will be eligible to reopen today: indoor table service at restaurants; close-contact personal services, with restrictions; retail dressing rooms, by appointment only; and offices, at 50% capacity.

In order to give those businesses time to prepare, the administration had previously released sector-specific guidance in advance of phase 2 for industries including restaurants, close-contact personal services, and sectors not otherwise addressed.

Before these sectors can resume operations under the guidelines, businesses must meet all safety standards, create a COVID-19 control plan, and complete a self-certification.

On May 18, the administration released a four-phase plan to reopen the economy based on public-health data, spending at least three weeks in each phase. Key public-health data, such as new cases and hospitalizations, have been closely monitored and shown a significant decline, allowing for the second step of phase 2 to begin.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) received a $35,000 grant to help students affected by the COVID-19 health crisis.

The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts awarded the grant through the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley. STCC was one of several organizations to receive financial help in the latest round of awards through the COVID-19 Response Fund.

The Community Foundation, which announced the grant on June 16, said the award is made possible in part through funding from the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund, which works in concert with regional community foundations and nonprofit leaders to support those across the state most impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis.

The grants are designed to address immediate needs for families, mental health, and food justice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

STCC President John Cook said the financial help is much-needed and appreciated during the pandemic, which has had a significant impact on populations served by STCC, including students of color.

“On behalf of a grateful college, we would like to express our appreciation for this award,” Cook said. “These are very difficult and complex times for public higher education, and we could not be more thankful for support from the Community Foundation.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — In one of the latest COVID-19 response projects at UMass Amherst, the Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication (ADDFab) laboratory is collaborating with a global network of design, engineering, and manufacturing experts to help develop an open-source N95 face mask.

ADDFab, one of the core facilities at UMass’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences, has been rapidly preparing 3D prints of prototype parts and molds for Cofab Design in Holyoke. Cofab business partner and design engineer Aaron Cantrell is one of the primary leaders of the Open Standard Respirator project, a nonprofit effort to broaden protective equipment supply for COVID-19 and beyond. The other leaders are biomechatronics engineer Matt Carney of the MIT Media Lab Biomechatronics Group and Philip Brown, assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

The project grew out of a grassroots desire to address the critical shortage of N95 masks caused by the pandemic. “There was a huge increase in demand that was beyond the ability of existing manufacturers to keep up with in a quick way,” Cantrell said. “There were no designs for people who wanted to chip in and start to help with this problem.”

Cantrell and Cofab’s two other partners, Mike Stone and Jake Horsey, with whom ADDFab has previously worked, needed a prototyping partner that could produce parts overnight and economically for the modular, reusable, filtering facepiece respirator. ADDFab student workers were able to turn around prototype pieces in both laser-sintered nylon and UV-cured polymer the day after the designs were digitally received in the lab.

“This project is a really good fit for our lab,” ADDFab Director David Follette said. “We can use high-end printers to print molds for silicone parts, which have very demanding requirements for accuracy and surface finish.”

Both Follette and Stone agree that the ongoing, local working relationship between ADDFab and Cofab quickly pushed the project forward. “To get prototypes that quickly from a third party or online service bureau would just be astronomically expensive, and then require overnight shipping,” Follette said.

Added Stone, “there was a huge amount of pressure to do this quickly, and we were sprinting to get things done. We had a trusted relationship with someone within driving distance from us who can deliver high-quality components using world-class materials and processes. This was the best-case scenario.”

Among other parts, ADDFab printed the mold tooling for the silicone face piece, allowing Cofab to test it out before committing to expensive metal tooling necessary for mass production.

“By locally 3D printing the molds and testing them quickly, they could be much more confident in their design when beginning to manufacture at scale,” Follette explained.

Cofab used the prototypes to finalize its design of the mask, which is now being field-tested at sites around the world. “It’s free for people who want to produce it,” Stone said. “At the end of the day, we want safe, reliable PPE to be in the hands of more people.”

A nonprofit will hold the license for the respirator design, and the makers will be responsible for seeking any certifications or approvals, if desired.

“On a bigger-picture front,” Stone said, “this is how open-source medical products might be able to work in the future.”

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Students from the Springfield College health science major have been working on a national project to track the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

Students Yue Li, Ashley Tanner, Alexandra Christine Jones, Brenna Keefe, Dhruvi Patel, and Callie Dowd have been taking part in an internship to assist with this project. Participating students are responsible for tracking historical data and collecting daily data, as well as participating in special-interest team projects that include computer-based automation, data visualization, infectious disease, policy, social media, and fundraising.

This internship is part of BroadStreet’s COVID-19 Data Project, a collaboration of more than 200 students, statisticians, epidemiologists, healthcare experts, and data scientists throughout the country, Springfield College Assistant Professor of Public Health Sofija Zagarins explained.

The project is a collaboration of more than 40 colleges and universities throughout the U.S., bringing together people who are committed to having the most accurate, community-level data about COVID-19 positive tests and fatality rates. Along with Springfield College, colleges and universities also taking part include Harvard University, Yale University, Boston University, Temple University, and Duke University.

Through BroadStreet’s COVID-19 Data Project Internship, healthcare professionals have access to data that can help them to improve how they spend their time and resources on improving community health.

“We have been humbled by the outpouring of support, especially from the collegiate community,” BroadStreet co-founder Tracy Flood said. “We know that, right now, students have a unique set of challenges trying to navigate these difficult times. Despite this, we wanted to recognize students who have graciously donated their time and talent to our project.”

For more information about the project, visit covid19dataproject.org to follow along with information and updates from the participants.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced that phase 2 of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan begins today, June 8. Businesses and sectors set to begin opening in phase 2 are subject to compliance with all mandatory safety standards.

The following businesses will be eligible to reopen immediately, with contingencies:

• Retail, with occupancy limits;

• Childcare facilities and day camps, with detailed guidance;

• Restaurants, outdoor table service only;

• Hotels and other lodgings, but no events, functions, or meetings;

• Warehouses and distribution centers;

• Personal services without close physical contact, such as home cleaning, photography, window washing, career coaching, and education tutoring;

• Post-secondary, higher education, vocational-technical, and occupational schools for the purpose of completing graduation requirements;

• Youth and adult amateur sports, with detailed guidance;

• Outdoor recreation facilities;

• Professional sports practices, but no games or public admissions;

• Non-athletic youth instructional classes in arts, education, or life skills in groups of less than 10;

• Driving and flight schools;

• Outdoor historical spaces, but no functions, gatherings, or guided tours; and

• Funeral homes, with occupancy limits.

The following businesses will be eligible reopen later in phase 2, at a date to be determined:

• Indoor table service at restaurants; and

• Close-contact personal services, with restrictions, including hair removal and replacement, nail care, skin care, massage therapy, makeup salons and makeup-application services, tanning salons, personal training (with restrictions), and tattoo, piercing, and body-art services.

A full list with safety protocols is available at www.mass.gov/reopening.

Healthcare providers may also incrementally resume in-person elective, non-urgent procedures and services, including routine office visits, dental visits, and vision care subject to compliance with public health and safety standards. All other in-person medical, behavioral-health, dental, and vision services may also resume on June 8, except for elective cosmetic procedures and in-person day programs, which will be included in phase 3. Telehealth must continue to be utilized and prioritized to the greatest extent possible, whenever feasible and appropriate.

Limited reopening of visitation will also begin, and all visitation is subject to infection-control protocol, social distancing, and face coverings. Given the diversity of facilities and programs, there are specific timetables for visitation, and congregate-care programs will be reaching out to families with specific details on scheduling visits.

On May 18, the administration released a four-phased plan to reopen the economy based on public health data, spending at least three weeks in each phase. Key public health data, such as new cases and hospitalizations, has been closely monitored and seen a significant decline, allowing for phase 2 to begin.

The public-health dashboard designating the progress of key COVID-19 data metrics has been updated to reflect the number of COVID-19 patients in Massachusetts hospitals to green, indicating a positive trend.

Since mid-April, the seven-day average for the positive COVID-19 test rate is down 82%, the three-day average of hospitalized patients is down 55%, and the number of hospitals in surge is down 76%.

A total of 630,000 viral COVID-19 tests have been completed, and testing continues to increase throughout the state.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, along with presenting sponsor Pearson Wallace Insurance, launched a three-part series for small businesses on the reopening of the economy, featuring local experts.

“Due to the COVID-19 crisis and related health and safety restrictions being lifted with each phase of reopening Massachusetts as laid out by the Baker administration, we are working in concert to provide optimal support for a recovery plan,” said Claudia Pazmany, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber. “As a chamber in the time of COVID-19, we have been working on a theme of ‘response, reopening, recovery.’ Every step we have taken has been in response to the changing health and economic climate due to COVID-19, then putting wheels in motion toward proactively preparing for reopening and recovery, and this program falls in line at the right time.”

The three-part series begins with “The Business of Returning to Work: Reopening with Confidence” today, June 3, from 10 a.m. to noon, presented by Thomas Reidy, Kathryn Crouss, and Meaghan Murphy, attorneys with Bacon Wilson, P.C.

“Property and Casualty Insurance Returning to Work Considerations: Reopening with Confidence” will follow on Wednesday, June 10 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., presented by Beth Pearson and Alex Pearson Bennett of Pearson Wallace Insurance.

The series concludes with “New Changes to PPP Forgiveness: How Does This Affect Your Loan Repayments?” on Wednesday, June 17 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., presented by Brandon O’Donnell, CPA with Boisselle, Morton & Wolkowicz, LLP, along with a commercial-loan officer at bankESB.

“This is important for us to host because we know our local businesses are incredibly challenged and are operating without a compass in these uncharted and stormy waters,” Pearson said. “We have brought together a team who can provide legal, accounting, and insurance direction for considerations for opening and keeping their staff and customers safe.”

E-mail Pazmany at [email protected] with any questions.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration released health and safety requirements that apply to the reopening of all childcare programs, recreational camps, and municipal or recreational programs not traditionally licensed as camps as part of the phased reopening of the Commonwealth.

The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) assembled a Health and Safety Working Group and solicited input from thousands of childcare providers from across the Commonwealth, as well as consulting with medical experts at Boston Children’s Hospital, to develop the “Massachusetts Child and Youth Serving Programs Reopen Approach: Minimum Requirements for Health and Safety.” These requirements must be implemented to protect the health and safety of all children, families, and staff and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Childcare programs licensed by EEC will be required to submit plans to the department to be approved once phase-2 reopening begins. The department will provide templates for submission as the process is launched and will utilize an attestation approval process.

Recreational camps and municipal or recreational youth programs not traditionally licensed as camps may open during phase 3. Residential camps and other overnight stays will not be allowed until phase 3.

Prior to reopening, all programs must develop plans for daily health screenings and ways to identify children and staff who are sick, symptomatic, or who become exposed to coronavirus. Programs must also have a plan in place to handle possible closings, staff absences, and gaps in child attendance, as well as determine how to communicate with staff, parents, local boards of health, and others.

Programs must screen all staff and children with a temperature check before they are permitted to enter the childcare space. Programs must establish one entry point to ensure no one is allowed in the building until they pass a health screening.

Parents must wear masks or face coverings when picking up and dropping off their child on a staggered schedule and will be met at the door by staff.

Children over age 2 should be encouraged to wear a face covering, at the discretion of parents or guardians, if they can safely wear, remove, and handle masks. Certain exceptions are detailed in the guidance. Masks do not need to be worn while playing outdoors if children are able to keep six feet apart. Children should not wear masks while eating, drinking, sleeping, or napping.

Staff members are encouraged to wear masks or cloth face coverings at all times when caring for children and interacting with parents and families. If possible, the department recommends staff wear transparent masks to enable children to see facial expressions, which is important for child development.

Programs are asked to make additional changes to their operations, including canceling field trips and not holding activities involving attendance of multiple groups. Non-essential visitors, including parents and volunteers, will be restricted from entering the premises of childcare programs.

Group sizes must be restricted to a maximum of 10 children, with a total of 12 individuals including children and staff in each room. Consistent with pre-pandemic operations, the infant-to-staff ratio is smaller, with seven infants to two staff members and a maximum of group size of nine.

Children must remain with the same group each day and at all times while in care. Siblings should be kept in the same group, when suitable. Groups must not be combined at any time. The same staff must remain with the same group of children each day. Staff should not float between groups either during the day or from day to day, with some limited exceptions.

Group transportation should be provided only during the phased reopening when there is no other option to transport children to and from the program. Programs intending to provide transportation services should follow detailed guidance.

For summer day camps, campers and counselors will need daily health screenings, including temperature and other checks for signs and symptoms of illness. Camps will need plans in place for when a staff member or child becomes sick. Camp spaces will need to be prepared to ensure physical distancing, and camps will need to have at least two health-services staff on site at all times.

Other protocols require campers and counselors to stay together in their groups, and staff will not be able to move between groups either during the day or from day to day, unless needed to provide supervision of specialized activities such as swimming.

Snacks and meals should be brought from home, pre-packaged, or ready to serve in individual portions to minimize handling and preparation. When this is not feasible, staff must prepare and serve meals. No family-style food service is allowed.

Parents must wear face coverings, and camps must develop safe pickup and drop-off procedures to maintain social distancing. Camps may not take campers on field trips or for other off-site travel.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration provided an update on the plan to reopen the Massachusetts economy and preparations for phase 2. The administration will determine the start of phase 2 on June 6.

On Monday, June 1, Gov. Charlie Baker will issue an executive order with a detailed list of sectors that fall into each phase. The order will allow phase 2 businesses to bring back employees in preparation for reopening. Through this order, professional sports teams can begin practicing at their facilities in compliance with the health and safety rules that all the leagues are developing. Facilities remain closed to the public.

The administration today issued workplace safety standards for restaurants and lodging, organized around four distinct categories covering social distancing, hygiene protocols, staffing and operations, and cleaning and disinfecting.

Outdoor dining at restaurants will begin at the start of phase 2. Indoor dining will begin later within phase 2, subject to public-health data. Even when indoor seating is permitted, use of outdoor space will be encouraged for all restaurants.

Social-distancing guidance includes spacing tables six feet apart with a maximum party size of six people. The use of bars, except for spaced table seating, will not be permitted. For hygiene protocols, utensils and menus should be kept clean through single use or with strict sanitation guidelines; reservations or call-ahead seating is recommended; and contactless payment, mobile ordering, or text on arrival for seating will also be encouraged.

Restaurants will be expected to follow cleaning and disinfecting guidelines, in accordance with CDC guidance. This includes closing an establishment temporarily if there is a case of COVID-19 in an establishment.

Hotels, motels, and other lodging businesses will be allowed to expand their operations in phase 2. Lodging safety standards apply to all forms of lodging, including hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and short-term residential rentals including Airbnb and Vrbo.

Event spaces, like ballrooms and meeting rooms, will remain closed. On-site restaurants, pools, gyms, spas, golf courses, and other amenities at lodging sites may operate only as these categories are authorized to operate in accordance with the phased reopening plan. Lodging operators must also inform guests of the Commonwealth’s policy urging travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days when arriving from out of state.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced that Massachusetts residents who are eligible for the federal CARES Act and qualify for having exhausted their regular unemployment compensation may now receive the new Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). The launch of this program marks the third and final benefit available for the Commonwealth through the CARES Act. 

PEUC provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits to an individual who has exhausted all rights to any regular unemployment compensation and who meets other eligibility requirements of the CARES Act. PEUC will automatically begin for individuals who have been receiving regular standard unemployment benefits on an active claim and those benefits are exhausted, and those individuals do not have to take any further action.

If an individual’s standard unemployment claim has expired, they must file a new standard claim. If the individual is monetarily eligible on the new standard claim, regardless of the benefit rate amount, they will receive benefits from that new claim. Otherwise, the individual will be eligible for PEUC on the prior claim, and it will be automatically implemented.

Individuals who exhausted their standard benefits but were receiving benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) must apply to claim weekly benefits. Residents should apply through the standard unemployment-benefits portal available here

Those receiving PEUC will also receive $600 weekly through the week ending July 25, provided by the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program established by the CARES Act. 

The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, established the PEUC, PUA, and FPUC public benefit programs that expand unemployment eligibility, temporarily increase weekly benefits for all claimants, and allow additional categories of people to claim unemployment benefits. This is the largest expansion of assistance for the Commonwealth’s workforce since the Great Depression. 

More information about Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation can be found at mass.gov/peuc.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that the Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) is safe for use in the U.S. under the FDA’s emergency-use authorization, which helps support public health during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

An international team of physicists and engineers, including physicist Andrea Pocar at UMass Amherst, brought a simplified ventilator from concept to approval in just six weeks, from March 19 to May 1. It was conceived by physicist Cristian Galbiati of Princeton University and the Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila, Italy, who was in Italy when the pandemic hit that country.

Galbiati, Pocar’s long-time friend and fellow researcher on the DarkSide-20k project recalls, “the sense of crisis was palpable. It was clear that many patients would need respiratory assistance.”

Moved to help, Galbiati reached out to fellow researchers from the DarkSide-20k dark-matter experiment to develop a ventilator with minimal components that could be quickly produced using commonly available parts. Dark-matter researchers have extensive experience designing and using sophisticated gas-handling systems and complex control systems, the same capabilities required for mechanical ventilators.

Pocar noted that particle physicists “build our own stuff, one-of-a-kind instruments, and we have experience in developing unique electronics and software for our experiments.”

Soon engineers and physicists in nine countries, particularly in Italy, the U.S., and Canada, jumped in to help. Steve Brice, the head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab Neutrino Division, noted that “there’s a huge benefit we’ve gained from the way particle-physics collaborations work. The structure already in place has large, international, multi-disciplinary groups. We can retask that structure to work on something different, and you can move much more quickly.”

The MVM is inspired by the Manley ventilator built in the 1960s. Its design is simple, cheap, compact, and requires only compressed oxygen or medical air and a source of electrical power. The team updated the electronics and control system. Stephen Pordes, a member of DarkSide stationed at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), noted that “we’re concentrating on the software and letting the hardware be as minimal as it can be.”

The team also worked with doctors, medical-device manufacturers, and regulators to make sure they were making something valuable and easy for medical staff to use, with a robust supply chain, and which could be quickly produced. Doctors tested the MVM prototypes on breathing simulators. Anesthesiologists from COVID-19 wards in a hard-hit region in Italy also offered detailed guidance on the design, the MVM team reported.

“MVM demonstrates that international cooperation that advances intellectual and technological innovation is possible not only in the academic arena, but also in areas where basic research impacts society and political decisions,” Pocar said, adding that the next step will be to facilitate the development of devices based on the open-source MVM in other countries, and to “try to facilitate as much as possible the seeding of entrepreneurship around this device. The intellectual property behind it would come for free for whoever wants to use it.”

COVID-19 Daily News

CHICOPEE — Beauty Batlles Lounge is looking to the community to support a virtual fundraiser, the Hero Project. The funds raised from the Hero Project will be used to provide complimentary self-care services at Beauty Batlles Lounge, to treat the healthcare workers and first responders of the community with some self-care once this COVID-19 pandemic ends.

With a goal of thanking those on the front lines for the seemingly endless, emotional, and heartbreaking days they have had to endure during the pandemic, Beauty Batlles Lounge is hopeful the community will show their support by donating and helping raise funds for the Hero Project. The total funds raised will be reserved and used to provide complimentary self-care services for those real-life heroes at Beauty Batlles Lounge, located at 661 Front St., Suite B, in Chicopee. Each service provided from Beauty Batlles Lounge’ special Hero Project menu will be deducted from the balance until the amount is depleted. The funds raised will be available for use by healthcare professionals, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and employees of sheriffs’ departments.

“My husband is a corrections officer who, along with many others, reports into work with the stress of potentially bringing this virus to work or bringing it home,” said Ashley Batlle, founder of Beauty Batlles Lounge and creator of the Hero Project.

Beauty Batlles Lounge is looking to the community to encourage donations to the Hero Project fundraising page and spread the word across social platforms. Fundraising pages are suggested to be made personal, by letting donors know why you’re fundraising and passionate about the Hero Project. Batlle is asking that, along with contributions to the fund, individuals also share their COVID-19 experience as an essential employee or as someone with an essential employee in their life.

The steps to donate and/or share the fundraising page are simple: visit www.beautybatlles.com/about.html, click on ‘the Hero Project’ in the header, and then click on ‘share’ or ‘donate now.’

A common theme across social-media platforms today is a continuous news feed of ‘mask looks,’ stories of COVID-19 experiences, and constant reminders for the general public to stay home and stay away. For many, this pandemic hits close to home as medical professionals, EMTs, police officers, and others are living in a constant state of stress because of this invisible, silent threat.

“We live in a world where self-care is so important,” Batlle said. “If we are not taking care of ourselves, how can we take care of others? I believe that the Hero Project will give our medical professionals and first responders a light at the end of this craziness.

“We all have had to deal with our own life changes during this pandemic,” she added, “but I believe that we should celebrate those that are fighting to keep us alive and safe at this moment.”

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to detail his four-phase plan to begin reopening the state today.

The first phase of the plan will allow places of worship, as well as the construction and manufacturing industries, to resume operations with safety measures in place, according to an e-mail sent to local officials obtained by various media outlets.

While specifics of the reopening plan were still being finalized by the COVID-19 Reopening Advisory Board over the weekend, Baker announced last week that he will take a four-phase approach to reopening the Massachusetts economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to methodically allow certain businesses, services, and activities to resume, while protecting public health and limiting a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases.

• Phase 1 will be ‘start’: limited industries resume operations with severe restrictions.

• Phase 2 will be ‘cautious’: additional industries resume operations with restrictions and capacity limits.

• Phase 3 will be ‘vigilant’: additional industries resume operations with guidance.

• Phase 4 will be the ‘new normal’: development of a vaccine and/or therapy enables careful resumption of full activity.

Businesses and activities that provided ‘COVID-19 essential services,’ per Gov. Charlie Baker’s March 23 order, will continue to operate. Certain businesses and activities with a lower risk of COVID-19 transmission will open in earlier phases. Decisions and timing will be influenced by public-health metrics for when the first phase of reopening begins, as well as when it is safe to move into concurrent phases. If public health metrics worsen, the state may need to return to an earlier phase.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced an expanded COVID-19 testing capacity and strategy. As required to secure COVID-19 testing resources allocated in legislation passed by the U.S. Congress on April 24, the administration will submit its plan to expand testing to the federal government this month.

The plan builds on previously expanded testing criteria, and calls for a boost in overall testing capacity to 45,000 daily tests by the end of July, and 75,000 daily tests by the end of December, with the goal of decreasing positivity rate to less than 5%. Lab processing capacity is also planned to expand, enabling preparedness for a potential testing surge in the fall.

Testing expansion for residents and patients in high-risk congregate settings like state hospitals, group homes, and correctional facilities will continue, and the administration will ensure testing for individuals who are symptomatic, close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and those whose employment places them at a high risk.

The strategy also calls for randomized testing for surveillance purposes to build on the Community Tracing Collaborative’s contact-tracing efforts, and improved testing turnaround time to provide same-day or next-day results.

When implementing the new testing proposed in this plan, communities with low testing availability, hotspots with high positive rates, and high density areas will be the priorities.

The Baker-Polito administration and CVS also announced the expansion of self-swab and send-testing sites at 10 select CVS drive-thru locations throughout the Commonwealth, which will enable on-the-spot COVID-19 testing at no cost, with results available in two to three days.

These sites are located in Bridgewater, Charlton, Carver, Danvers, Northampton, Raynham, Wellesley, Westport, West Springfield, and Worcester. Individuals who meet testing criteria may register in advance at cvs.com to schedule an appointment.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Emergency federal financial-aid grants totaling $8.3 million were distributed to more than 7,700 undergraduate students this week by UMass Amherst, the latest in a number of steps the campus has taken to support students experiencing economic distress due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The funds were allocated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities (CARES) Act. Grants were calculated based upon a number of factors, including financial need and an estimate of additional costs of food, housing, course materials, technology, healthcare, and childcare. To receive the grants, the law requires that students must be U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens, according to guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. These are students who are eligible for federal aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The grants provide additional financial aid to students and will not affect their existing financial-aid award.

Meanwhile, a $1 million pool of financial aid is being established for graduate students, a combination of CARES Act funds and university money.

UMass Amherst’s disbursement of CARES Act grants follows a series of previous measures taken to support students. These include issuing more than $40 million in room, meal, and parking refunds; $150,000 in COVID-19 hardship grants; support from the Student Care and Emergency Relief Fund; short-term emergency loans; approximately $300,000 to assist students returning from study abroad with airline-rebooking fees; and assistance offered by the Student Legal Services Office and the international Programs Office.

“We are appreciative of all the support provided by the Massachusetts congressional delegation, which pushed so hard for the inclusion of this funding that allows us to assist our neediest students in this time of crisis,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “Of course, we realize that, for some, even with the combination of these resources, there will still be hardships. We encourage them to seek additional counsel from our Dean of Students Office. We will steadfastly work with the state and federal governments, and our generous donors, to continue to help all our students pursue their studies and complete their degrees without delay or hindrance.”

Added UMass President Marty Meehan, “these grants will help keep the aspiration of a college degree alive for thousands of UMass students who will go on to make a valuable contribution to society. I am grateful for the skilled advocacy that our congressional delegation demonstrated in securing these funds, and the outstanding leadership that Chancellor Subbaswamy and his team have shown in rapidly getting these critical funds to students.”

COVID-19 Daily News

LAS VEGAS — MGM Resorts International released a report outlining the comprehensive health and safety protocols the company is implementing prior to reopening its domestic properties and resorts that were temporarily closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including MGM Springfield.

The report details MGM Resorts’ “Seven-Point Safety Plan,” a multi-layered set of protocols and procedures designed in conjunction with medical and scientific experts to deter the spread of the virus, protect customers and employees, and rapidly respond to potential new cases.

“Preparing for the moment we can reopen our doors, MGM Resorts focused on developing a plan that puts health and safety at the center of everything we do. Our ‘Seven-Point Safety Plan’ is the result of months of consultations with public-health experts and outlines our comprehensive approach to welcoming guests back safely,” said Bill Hornbuckle, acting president and CEO of MGM Resorts. “Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only okay, it’s critically important. We will continue providing the hospitality experiences we are known for, but we must do so safely. We will continue working with experts and following guidance from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and government officials and regulators as we evolve these protocols based on the latest information.”

MGM Resorts is working with Dr. Shannon Magari as its lead health and safety advisor for this process. Magari is vice president of Health Sciences for Colden Corp., an occupational health, safety, and environmental firm. The plan’s seven points are as follows:

• Screening, Temperature Checks, and Employee Training. MGM Resorts has implemented employee-screening measures to assess signs and symptoms of infection and whether the employee resides or cares for someone who has recently been diagnosed with the virus. Employees will continue to go through temperature checks before entering properties.

Guests will be asked to abide by a similar self-screening protocol prior to arriving and during their stay. Guests who have reason to believe they may have been exposed to the virus are strongly urged to follow CDC guidelines for self-quarantine and not travel until the self-quarantine period is complete.

• Mandatory Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). All MGM Resorts employees will be provided and required to wear an approved mask when on the property. MGM will also strongly encourage guests to wear masks in public areas and offer masks to any guests who need one, free of charge. Gloves will continue to be worn by employees who require them to do their jobs, such as food handlers and employees who clean public areas. Additional categories of employees required to wear PPE will be identified by medical experts. 

MGM will ask guests to minimize the amount of time masks are removed when drinking on the casino floor, and will ask guests to refrain from eating on the casino floor to minimize the amount of time masks are removed.

• Physical Distancing. A six-foot physical-distancing policy will be in place, wherever feasible, with floor guides serving as reminders throughout MGM Resorts properties. From time to time, six-foot distancing will be challenging, and in those cases, reasonable mitigating protocols will be implemented, such as plexiglass barriers or eye protection for employees. Plexiglass barriers will be installed in areas throughout casinos and lobbies, where appropriate, for the safety of guests and employees. Signage will be installed throughout properties to guide employees and guests on how to safely practice physical distancing.

• Handwashing and Enhanced Sanitization. Prior to property closures in March, MGM Resorts implemented increased and enhanced routine cleaning, based on CDC guidelines, with a focus on high-touch surfaces in common areas. It will continue using proven cleaning products in accordance with EPA guidelines for coronaviruses, bacteria, and other infectious pathogens. Electrostatic sprayers will be used in many large areas to apply disinfectant more efficiently.

In addition, custom-built handwashing stations with soap and water, along with hand-sanitizing stations, will be readily available in high-traffic areas. Signage will be installed to remind employees and guests of the importance of proper handwashing protocols.

• HVAC Controls and Air Quality. MGM Resorts has always placed a high priority on air quality for guests and has reviewed the operation of HVAC systems to identify additional opportunities to enhance their effectiveness. Rigorous measures in accordance with established guidelines to help mitigate the risk of virus transmission have been taken throughout the properties.  

As scientific information becomes available about the virus, and as additional guidance from state and local authorities and medical experts evolve, MGM will continue to review and adjust the operation of its HVAC systems, fully recognizing the important role they have in keeping employees and guests healthy and safe. 

• Incident-response Protocols. MGM Resorts has protocols in place aimed at reducing the chance infection will spread. In the unfortunate event a guest or employee tests positive for the virus, MGM will activate incident-response protocols to ensure the infected individual has access to medical treatment, exposed areas are thoroughly sanitized, and, when possible, those who may have come in close, prolonged contact with the infected individual are notified. MGM Resorts has medical and security personnel on staff to respond quickly in the event of an incident.

• Digital Innovations. MGM Resorts is reimagining several aspects of the guest experience through technology to transition current processes into contactless options for guests that eliminates or reduces the need for waiting in line.

Guests will have the ability to complete the check-in process entirely themselves through the MGM Resorts mobile app. This includes the ability to process payment, verify identification, and obtain a digital room key, all through a mobile device. If preferred, physical keys will be available through self-serve key encoders. Employees will be available for guests who prefer check-in without using their mobile device, while still maintaining a line-reduced environment.

Digital food and beverage menus will be available to view on personal mobile devices via QR code. Virtual queues will be in place for guests when immediate seating is unavailable. Guests will receive a text-message notification when their table is ready.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration filed a supplemental budget bill for FY20 that will authorize $1 billion in spending necessary to cover incurred and expected costs during the COVID-19 public-health crisis. It is expected that this spending will result in no net cost to the Commonwealth, after anticipated federal reimbursement and other federal funding sources.

These expenses include the purchase of personal protective equipment, rate adjustments for providers of congregate care and other essential human services, incentive pay for state employees on the front lines at certain facilities in operation 24 hours a day, costs of temporary field hospitals and shelters, National Guard pay, the first statewide contact-tracing program in the country, emergency child care for essential workers, and increased costs of local housing authorities and the family and individual shelter system.

This authorization will enable the Commonwealth to leverage federal financial support, most notably aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which can only reimburse state spending resulting from eligible disaster-response activities. This legislation would ensure that adequate state spending has been authorized to allow the Commonwealth to continue to protect the public unimpeded until the federal reimbursement process can be realized.

COVID-19 costs not supported by FEMA reimbursement will, to the extent possible, be matched to other available federal revenue sources, including the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund established in the federal CARES Act.

The bill would also attribute federal reimbursements to FY20 if they are associated with COVID-19 response costs incurred in FY20, allowing the use of revenue sources without putting the FY20 budget out of balance.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Members of the Springfield College AmeriCorps program are partnering with Parent Villages Inc. and other local nonprofits to lead the Village Engagement Matters initiative, a program committed to providing community members with face masks at no cost to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The initial distribution of protective facemasks took place on May 12 at three meal-distribution sites located at Springfield elementary schools. Springfield College AmeriCorps members have been assisting with the production of the masks, and also helping with the planning of the distribution efforts.

“Giving back to our community is always something we have done in our family, and we are committed to helping with this project,” said Springfield College AmeriCorps member and social-work student Molly Glynn. “My mom and I started making masks for our family members, but that quickly has turned into helping our community as well. What I like about the Olson mask pattern we are using is, it provides a pattern to make masks for both adults and kids, and the pattern also allows for a pocket on the inside for a micron filter to help those individuals who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus.”

Added Parent Villages Inc. CEO Lakisha Coppedge, “the Parent Villages organization always tries to stay in touch and learn about items that community members really need, and obviously right now the masks are at a high demand. Springfield College stepped up to the plate to help, and we can’t thank the college enough to make this project a reality, and always being there to help our community members.”

During these challenging times of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Springfield College AmeriCorps members continue to seek opportunities to serve the Greater Springfield area, including volunteering their time making sure the Village Engagement Matters initiative is a success.

“It really means a lot to have AmeriCorps members finding ways to support others,” said Springfield College AmeriCorps Director LaTonia Naylor. “We continue to live our Humanics mission at Springfield College of educating students in spirit, mind, and body for leadership and service to others. It brings me so much joy to watch people step up and show love and support for our community members.”

COVID-19 Daily News

MENTOR, Ohio — Avery Dennison announced it has entered into an agreement with Global Safety First, LLC (GSF) to produce and distribute a self-adhesive, NIOSH-certified N95 mask as part of the company’s efforts to provide innovative personal protective equipment (PPE) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The N95 mask is a standard of safety in the healthcare setting and vitally important to protecting healthcare workers and patients. GSF’s ReadiMask self-adhesive NIOSH-certified N95 face masks are made with electrostatic particle filtration properties that make them more breathable. They adhere gently to the face with double-coated, skin-friendly adhesive, and are available for use in healthcare settings as a COVID-19 countermeasure.

According to GSF, ReadiMask is unique because it can form an air-tight seal providing maximum protection while allowing filtration during inhalation and exhalation. The mask is virtually weightless, convenient and easy to use. The design eliminates tight straps or ties that put pressure on the face or get caught in hair. Additionally, ReadiMask has no uncomfortable metal nose clip that can cause skin bruising. The ReadiMask was designed with a very low breathing resistance and may provide a cooler temperature than other similar masks.

“Our partnership with Global Safety First allows us to bring some much-needed safety and comfort to front-line healthcare workers who rely on N95 masks every day for protection. GSF’s unique design, along with our medical manufacturing capabilities and expertise in skin-contact adhesives, is helping to bring mask innovation to the healthcare market at a time when it is sorely needed,” said Kirsten Newquist, vice president and general manager of Avery Dennison Medical.

Production of the masks will begin shortly at Avery Dennison’s Mentor, Ohio facility pending NIOSH approval, with first shipments anticipated in June. The masks will be available for purchase by hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities as well as group purchasing organizations and distributors nationwide exclusively through Avery Dennison Medical.

COVID-19 Daily News

GREAT BARRINGTON — Charles Burger, director of the Southern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee, was struggling with how he could help local towns obtain the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to protect poll workers from coronavirus.

Many of the 12 towns in the region will hold town elections soon. Several town administrators asked Burger, who is also the Great Barrington fire chief, for help in getting PPE. But that was problematic because the committee is charged with helping emergency responders in the region.

Then, unexpectedly, Scott Rote, president of Wheeler & Taylor Insurance, called him. Rote wanted to donate 2,000 surgical masks the insurance agency had purchased and then took it a step further. Rote had procured foam, elastic strapping material, and 200 sheets of polycarbonate plastic, and the staff of Wheeler & Taylor went to work constructing face shields as PPE.

“It was quite a pleasant surprise when Scott called,” Burger said. “The donation came at a perfect time. It would have been a very difficult need to fill otherwise.”

The face shields will be used by poll workers. Facemasks will be provided to poll workers and to ensure that all voters have proper masks on. Burger will allocate the PPE to the 12 towns in Southern Berkshire County — from West Stockbridge and Stockbridge down to the Connecticut border.

Egremont and Sheffield have elections coming up soon, and other towns will soon follow.

“It’s crucial to protect poll workers, who are often retirees volunteering their time, and we’re glad to help,” Rote said. “And I can’t say enough about our wonderful employees who gave their time to put together the face shields with their own hands using the materials we provided.”

Burger said that the situation caused by the pandemic does have a silver lining. “We’re seeing great community support from businesses and organizations that helps us get through this. The best in people is coming out.”

After the face shields are used for elections, they will be cleaned and repurposed, he added.

Wheeler & Taylor will unveil further COVID-19 charitable initiatives in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced a four-phase approach to reopening the Massachusetts economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and published mandatory workplace-safety standards that will apply across all sectors and industries once reopening begins.

The goal of the phased reopening, announced on May 11 and based on public-health guidance, is to methodically allow certain businesses, services, and activities to resume, while protecting public health and limiting a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases.

• Phase 1 will be ‘start’: limited industries resume operations with severe restrictions.

• Phase 2 will be ‘cautious’: additional industries resume operations with restrictions and capacity limits.

• Phase 3 will be ‘vigilant’: additional industries resume operations with guidance.

• Phase 4 will be the ‘new normal’: development of a vaccine and/or therapy enables careful resumption of full activity.

Businesses and activities that provided ‘COVID-19 essential services,’ per Gov. Charlie Baker’s March 23 order, will continue to operate. Certain businesses and activities with a lower risk of COVID-19 transmission will open in earlier phases. Decisions and timing will be influenced by public-health metrics for when the first phase of reopening begins, as well as when it is safe to move into concurrent phases. If public health metrics worsen, the state may need to return to an earlier phase.

Additionally, the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the COVID-19 Command Center, in consultation with the Reopening Advisory Board and based on feedback from industry, labor, and community coalitions, has developed Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission as employees and customers begin to return to workplaces during the first phase of reopening. These standards are applicable to all sectors and industries that will be open in phase 1, and create new workplace requirements for social distancing, hygiene, staffing and operations, and cleaning. These standards are being released to give workplaces time to plan and prepare for reopening.

For social distancing, all people, including employees, customers, and vendors, should remain at least six feet apart to the greatest extent possible, both inside and outside workplaces. Businesses should establish protocols to ensure employees can practice adequate social distancing, provide signage for safe social distancing, and require face coverings or masks for all employees.

For hygiene, businesses should provide hand-washing capabilities throughout the workplace, ensure frequent hand washing by employees and adequate supplies to do so, and provide regular sanitization of high-touch areas, such as work stations, equipment, screens, doorknobs, and restrooms throughout the worksite.

For staffing and operations, businesses should provide training for employees regarding social-distancing and hygiene protocols. Employees who are displaying COVID-19-like symptoms should not report to work, and a return-to-work plan should be established.

For cleaning and disinfecting, businesses should establish and maintain cleaning protocols specific to the business. When an active employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, cleaning and disinfecting must be performed. Disinfection of all common surfaces must take place at intervals appropriate to that workplace.

The Reopening Advisory Board is scheduled to provide its full report to Baker on Monday, May 18.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — Saying he wanted to bring Massachusetts in line with what surrounding states were doing, Gov. Charlie Baker allowed golf courses to reopen on May 7, albeit under strict conditions.

“Golf courses are not essential businesses and cannot have employees working on-premise,” the new state guidelines note. “Notwithstanding this restriction, essential services, such as groundskeeping to avoid hazardous conditions and security, provided by employees, contractors, or vendors, are permitted. Private operators of courses may permit individuals access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind, appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly followed, and the business operator and golfers abide by the specific guidelines for golf courses. Municipalities may decide to open municipal courses under these guidelines, if they so choose.”

Among the other regulations currently in place:

• All staff must wear face coverings while on property.

• Course facilities including but not limited to the clubhouse, golf shop, restaurant, bag room and locker room must remain closed.

• No caddies or golf carts are allowed. Push carts may be used. Players must either carry their own bag or use a push cart.

• All golfers must maintain proper social distancing of at least six feet at all times, And groups of players are restricted to no more than four players at one time.

• Members-only clubs can allow guests as determined by the security personnel on the golf course. Private clubs that allow non-members to make reservations can do so at their discretion.

• The tee-time policy must be 15 minutes between groups. Golfers must stay in their car until 15 minutes before their tee time and must return to their car immediately following play.

• Online and remote payment options must be utilized.

• All golfers must use their own golf clubs. Sharing golf clubs or rental golf clubs is not allowed.

• Flagsticks must remain in the hole. Hole liners must be raised so picking a ball out of the hole doesn’t occur.

• Bunker rakes must be removed, and ball washers must be removed or covered. The practice putting green, driving range, and chipping areas must stay closed as well.

• Facilities must have readily accessible hand sanitizer.

COVID-19 Daily News

WARE — As the pandemic continues to disrupt business activities both nationally and in Massachusetts, Country Bank announced a $75,000 series of donations designed to assist organizations on the front lines.

As the latest installment in a string of recent financial support, the bank will be facilitating donations to select organizations throughout its market from Springfield to Worcester. The Greater Worcester Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts will each receive $25,000 to provide additional grant funding for critical-needs programs. These programs offer support for vulnerable seniors, those without stable housing, with limited English proficiency, and with compromised health conditions, including mental health and drug addiction.

Other programs receiving a contribution include: Springfield Rescue Mission and Friends of the Homeless in Springfield; and Abby’s House, Saint John’s Food Pantry, and the Boys and Girls Club in Worcester. These donations will assist in continuing to meet the ever-changing needs in their communities. Many nonprofit organizations are not only combating reduced financial support as many businesses are closed, but also face a lack of volunteers, and have to continually evolve how they support their clients while keeping everyone safe on a limited budget and with limited resources.

“This is an uncharted time for our bank, our customers, and our local business community. As part of our effort to assist those most affected by COVID-19, Country Bank has already donated $400,000 to help local hospitals, first-responder recovery centers, food pantries, homeless shelters, veterans, children, and community foundations,” said Paul Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank. “We continually look for opportunities where we can help make a difference in the health and well-being of the people in our communities.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Researchers at the UMass Amherst Labor Center released a new report providing some of the first data on the safety and security of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clare Hammonds and Jasmine Kerrissey conducted an online survey of more than 1,600 essential workers in Western Mass. who were at work April 17-24. As of late April, Massachusetts had the third-highest COVID-19 case count among all states, and two cities in Western Mass. ranked among the cities with the highest death rates per 1,000 population in the country — Springfield (which ranked seventh) and Greenfield (11th), according to data compiled by the New York Times.

Hammonds and Kerrissey found that more than half of all essential workers surveyed, 51%, report that they do not feel safe at work. Among respondents, 65% say they are unable to practice social distancing, 29% did not receive COVID-19 transmission training, 21% lack masks, 17% lack hand sanitizer, 8% lack regular hand-washing opportunities, and 16% were asked by their employers to not share their health information with co-workers.

“Essential workers sustain our ability to live during this crisis, going to work to provide critical food, shelter, transportation, health, and safety, in a range of industries from healthcare and transportation to social services and public safety,” said Hammonds, professor of Practice in the UMass Amherst Labor Center. “Essential workers risk exposure to COVID-19 without proper safety precautions. The findings of this research provide important insight into how to protect the workforce as we begin to reopen the economy.”

The report, titled “A Survey of Essential Workers’ Safety and Security During COVID-19,” also found that:

• 67% of grocery and other retail workers report feeling unsafe at work, which is greater than healthcare workers (51%);

• Low-wage workers (less than $20 per hour) were two to three times more likely than high-wage workers (more than $40 per hour) to lack access to basic safety measures, including masks, hand sanitizer, regular hand washing, and training;

• Substantial numbers of low-wage workers report that they have been unable to meet their family’s food needs (34%), housing needs (9%), and childcare needs (16%) in the last week;

• 38% of Latino essential workers report food insecurity, compared to 21% of their white counterparts;

• About half of the survey’s respondents (52%) report their work has become more intense;

• Only 20% report receiving hazard pay; and

• 17% of essential workers lack paid sick leave, and roughly half say they are unable to use paid time off if a family member falls ill.

“Health and safety protections, hazard pay, greater enforcement of municipal ordinances, and protection of workers’ rights to self-organize are critical to improving worker safety,” said Kerrissey, assistant professor of Sociology in the Labor Center.

“I go to work six days a week,” one office cleaner told the researchers. “I go in after all employees have left to clean and disinfect the entire bank. I do six a night. When I am home, I do not leave my house for anything. I get all food/supplies delivered. What would improve my situation would be to not be working so I can stay home, as I’m quite afraid to leave my house now. But that’s not financially possible.”

When asked about what they need, a convenience store worker said, “the part that makes me feel unsafe is the customers. People are only supposed to come out for essential things, and that is not the case. People that are staying at home come in for a cup of coffee five times a day. Make it at home. People do not know the difference between what they want and what they need … About 50% of guests have no concept of six feet. They think because our backs are to each other, it’s fine … or, just quickly getting a coffee, it’s OK to be within six feet of each other.”

One hardware-store worker said, “going to a hardware store and buying bird food is not really essential, and it’s putting us at risk. Customers don’t seem to care about this virus that’s going around, making us workers not feeling safe.”

A low-wage retail worker added, “we are risking infecting our family by working, and they don’t give us anything extra in our paychecks to be able to buy more food. What we earn is for paying rent, electricity, insurance, and the rest is barely enough to buy food.”

COVID-19 Daily News

WESTFIELD — Four F-15 fighter jets from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard will fly over hospitals across Massachusetts today, May 6, to show support for workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a privilege for the men and women of the Massachusetts Air National Guard to provide a ‘thank you’ to medical personnel, first responders, truck drivers, grocery-store personnel, and the countless Americans coming together to support the COVID-19 response,” Lt. Col. Jay Talbert, 104th Fighter Wing pilot, wrote.

The flyover is part of a nationwide effort to honor first responders, according to the statement. Similar flyovers were performed in New York City and Washington D.C. last week.

After nine flyovers in Eastern and Central Mass., eight Western Mass. flyovers are scheduled: Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Holyoke Medical Center, and the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home (12:35 to 12:40 p.m.), followed by Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Northampton VA Medical Center, Western Massachusetts Hospital in Westfield, and Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield (12:40 to 12:45 p.m).

COVID-19 Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza announced that agricultural businesses are now eligible for SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance programs.

SBA’s EIDL portal has reopened as a result of funding authorized by Congress through the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act. The legislation, signed into law by President Trump a week ago, provided additional funding for farmers and ranchers and certain other agricultural businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Agricultural businesses include businesses engaged in the legal production of food and fiber, ranching, and raising of livestock, aquaculture, and all other farming and agricultural related industries. Eligible agricultural businesses must have 500 or fewer employees.

The SBA will begin accepting new EIDL applications on a limited basis only. For agricultural businesses that submitted an EIDL loan application through the streamlined application portal prior to the legislative change, SBA will move forward and process these applications without the need for re-applying. All other EIDL loan applications that were submitted before the portal stopped accepting new applications on April 15 will be processed on a first-in, first-out basis.

For more information, visit www.sba.gov/disaster.

COVID-19 Daily News

ENFIELD, Conn. — Asnuntuck Community College has donated 23 boxes of gloves (personal protective equipment, or PPE) to the Connecticut Department of Correction. In addition, the college has produced and donated 10 intubation boxes to Yale New Haven Health to provide support during the COVID-19 crisis.

The college thanked Asnuntuck Community College Director Emeritus Frank Gulluni, Pratt & Whitney, and aerospace components manufacturers for their support with the creation of thre PPE and intubation boxes. Asnuntuck, Tunxis, and Housatonic community colleges have completed and donated more than 180 face mask frames in the past week alone, bringing their total to 330 to date. Recipients include hospitals, front-line workers, and first responders.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration’s order requiring the use of masks or face coverings in public places goes into effect Wednesday, May 6.

The administration has ordered all residents over age 2 to use a face covering or mask in public places where maintaining proper social-distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are not possible. This statewide order supersedes previously issued guidance relative to mask use.

The order applies to all workers and customers of businesses and other organizations that are currently open to the public and permitted to operate as COVID-19 essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail stores. Residents are also required to wear a mask or face covering at all times when using any means of transportation service or public mass transit.

A face covering may include anything that covers the nose and mouth, including a mask, scarf, or bandana. Healthcare masks should not be used and should be preserved for healthcare workers and first responders. Cloth masks should not be worn by young children under age 2, people with difficulty breathing, or those who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

COVID-19 Daily News

CHICOPEE — To assist its local community during the COVID-19 pandemic, Elms College is offering temporary housing to first responders from Chicopee.

Elms College will provide 20 rooms in its smallest campus residence, Devine Hall, to be solely used by the city of Chicopee for its police, fire, and EMS personnel during COVID-19 response operations through July 31, President Harry Dumay said.

“Our first responders are on the front lines of exposure to the virus. They need a safe place to go to at the end of their long shifts, away from their homes, as a precaution against transmitting the virus to their families and loved ones,” he noted, adding that the campus normally buzzes with springtime activities, including fundraisers, blood drives, collections for the needy, and other service projects. “I am happy to report that Elms College will still be able to serve its community by offering peace of mind and secluded space for the brave men and women who are Chicopee’s first responders during the pandemic.”

All campus residents were required to move out of the residence halls by April 1 as the college closed all housing through the end of the academic year in May. The college has moved its curricula completely online, and college staff and faculty are all working remotely. With the exception of essential personnel such as those in Public Safety, the campus has been virtually empty for weeks.

“Our founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, have served the ‘dear neighbor’ for more than a century, which in large part has meant caring for the sick, including during the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918,” Dumay said. “We are happy to be able to do our small part in this extraordinary time by providing assistance to these local heroes who put their own lives on the line to help so many.”

Once Chicopee’s first responders are no longer in need of this sanctuary, the building will be completely sanitized and cleaned by a professional company well ahead of time to reopen the campus, he added.

Devine Hall is accessible from Lot A of the college’s main entrance, giving first responders quick and easy access to their housing with no interaction with the rest of the campus.