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COVID-19

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.

COVID-19 Daily News

HOLYOKE — Surplus food from Holyoke Community College (HCC) has benefited hundreds of individuals and families who frequent area food pantries and social-service agencies.

With the HCC campus now closed and all classes moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the college donated its perishable food supplies to three area nonprofits: the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Center in Springfield, the YWCA Transitional Living Program in Holyoke, and the Easthampton Community Center. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts helped coordinate the donations.

In late March, college staff emptied the pantries and refrigerators at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street. Stacy Graves, the institute coordinator, estimated that the college donated about $600 worth of produce, fruit, milk, eggs, butter, yogurt, and cream to the YWCA Transitional Living Program. The food had been slated for use in HCC’s Culinary Arts program.

“I hope you guys like carrots and potatoes because there’s lots of them,” Graves said to Sharifa Forbes, the YWCA program supervisor, as they unloaded the van.

“We really do appreciate it,” Forbes said. “Thank you so much for this. This is awesome.”

Tess Gordon, the YWCA’s direct-service advocate, said the food would be portioned out for the dozen or more teen moms who live with their children at the center, where they prepare their own meals.

“Right now, with COVID-19, it’s hard for them to go out into the community to shop, especially with keeping their kids safe,” Gordon said.

“I wish I could give you a big hug,” Forbes said to Graves from a safe distance in the parking lot outside the center. “It helps out a lot. Times are uncertain. The girls are nervous.”

On another day, after emptying the walk-in coolers of the college’s cafeteria kitchen, Mark Pronovost, director of Aramark/Dining Services at HCC, delivered nearly 400 pounds of assorted produce, fruit, and dairy products to the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Center — enough food, he was told, for 327 meals.

Pronovost also cleaned all the perishables out of the college’s vending machines and delivered those items — fresh fruit, dairy products, yogurt, chips, popcorn, pretzels, and other retail products — to the Easthampton Community Center, which runs a food pantry for area residents and works closely with HCC’s Thrive Student Resource Center to provide free backpacks and school supplies to low-income students and families.

“If we hadn’t done this, we would just been throwing all the food in the trash,” Pronovost said. “It’s impressive that HCC is willing to do this, and I’m very happy to do it.”

COVID-19 Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Over the last few weeks, in a generous show of support, several local organizations and restaurants have initiated fundraising efforts to sponsor Meals of Gratitude for the staff at JGS Lifecare. This outpouring of community support has a double benefit, supporting caregivers while also supporting local restaurants that are struggling due to forced closure of in-house service.

“During this COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants are being decimated, and our healthcare workers deserve so much support. These fundraising efforts are really taking care of two important fronts — lifting up our healthcare staff while also supporting our restaurants who are now reliant on take-out service to stay afloat,” said Michael Hurwitz, owner of Pizzeria Uno, who delivered more than 70 pizzas to JGS Lifecare recently, providing meals to all staff on all three shifts. The pizzas were paid for by the Temple Beth El community of donors.

In addition, Rachel’s Table, a program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, sponsored meals from the Kitchen Restaurant and Nathan Bill’s Bar and Grille raised community funds to feed all three shifts assorted sandwiches.

Commitments have been made by the following organizations to raise funds to send future meals to JGS: St. Mary’s Church in coordination with the Kitchen Restaurant, Sinai Temple, Luigi’s Restaurant, and Indian Assoc. of Greater Springfield.

“It is wonderful to know that the community appreciates the work we are doing,” said Beth-Ann Kalinko, CNA at the Leavitt Family Jewish Home and Sosin Center for Rehabilitation. “We take our commitment to care for our residents very seriously. It has been challenging these past several weeks, and knowing the community appreciates our work is an important source of encouragement and support.”

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Freedom Credit Union (FCU) announced a donation of $55,000 to be dispersed among several community organizations at the front lines of the local fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The coronavirus crisis has required that the entire community come together in response,” FCU President and CEO Glenn Welch said. “At Freedom, we wanted to honor those organizations that are at the center of the community response and contribute to the resources they need to help others during the pandemic.”

FCU announced that the following slate of organizations will receive a portion of the $55,000 donation: Baystate Health Foundation; Mercy Medical Center; Cooley Dickinson Health Care; the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts; Hampshire Hospitality Group, whose Hampshire County Heroes feed first responders in Hampshire County; and Feed the Fight, an initiative of Peter Pan Bus Lines and area restaurants to feed healthcare workers and first responders in the community.

Welch indicated that FCU will continue to assist the community throughout the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to these community donations, Welch said FCU has offered resources to its individual members intended to provide financial assistance or relief during the crisis, including online banking services and the new Freedom Relief Loan, which provides up to $10,000 to members dealing with consequences of the pandemic, including layoffs, furloughs, and bills.

In addition, FCU’s Skip-a-Pay program allows members with a consumer loan — auto, mortgage, home equity, or home improvement — to defer payments up to 90 days. Members should contact their local branch for details. FCU can also work with member businesses needing financial relief on their specific circumstances. Business members should speak with the Member Business Lending department. For contact information, visit freedom.coop.

“Community and member support is a central tenet of Freedom’s work,” Welch said. “And there’s never been a more important time to give back. We’re grateful for the courageous and critical work being done by doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other first responders, as well as everyday heroes like grocery and restaurant workers, mail carriers, and delivery people. They are truly essential and appreciated, and we’re proud to join this effort to assist the entire community at a time of great need.”

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — In what will surely be frustrating, if understandable, news to most Massachusetts businesses, the Baker-Polito administration has extended the statewide essential-services emergency order by two weeks.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 essential services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public will be extended until May 18. Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until May 18.

Local economic leaders told BusinessWest that, while their frustration is real, it’s not targeted at the state, and they understand the delicate balance between public health and economic health.

“While the Springfield Regional Chamber expected and understands Governor Baker’s decision to extend the stay-at-home advisory, that tough decision underscores the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in as a business community,” chamber President Nancy Creed said. “We’re doing a balancing act between wanting to get back to work and getting back to work in a safe manner.”

In a poll of its members last week, she noted, the chamber asked what worried them  more: the spread of the virus if restrictions were loosened too soon, or the negative economic impact of not reopening quick enough. It also asked if Massachusetts was ready for a May 4 reopening.

“Seventy-seven percent responded that the spread of the virus was more worrisome, and an overwhelming number — 91% — responded that Massachusetts was not ready for a May 4 reopening,” Creed said, “clearly revealing that much of the business community is concerned about protecting those most vulnerable and stopping the spread of the disease, and demonstrating the commitment our business community has to the community as a whole.”

Rick Sullivan, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, took a similar outlook.

“I do not think that anyone is surprised that the shutdown has been extended, as the governor has been clear he will follow the data as to when to begin reopening the economy,” Sullivan said. “We may be seeing the number of cases plateauing, but [development of] a vaccine, or treatment medication, is still in its infancy, so the data still says go slow. I do think some businesses previously deemed non-essential could have protocols put in place to allow partial reopening. However, nobody wants to reopen prematurely and see worse spikes later in the year.”

Baker also announced that the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) stay-at-home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are strongly urged to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person-to-person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.

The administration also extended the guidance issued to executive-branch employees on protocol during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure state government can continue to provide key services while protecting the health and safety of the public and the executive-branch workforce. Under the guidance, all employees performing non-core functions who are able to work remotely should continue to do so until May 18.

Baker also announced the formation of a Reopening Advisory Board, which will be co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. The board brings public-health officials together with leaders from the business community and municipal government from across the Commonwealth. This group is charged with advising the administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics. It will meet with key stakeholders and solicit input from a variety of constituencies over the next three weeks to develop a report by May 18 that will include DPH-approved workplace-safety standards, industry frameworks, and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders. While this report is due on the 18th, the administration has made clear that public-health data and guidance from healthcare experts will dictate the timeline of the reopening process.

The 17-member Reopening Advisory Board is composed of three public-health officials, including Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, three municipal officials, and 11 leaders from the business community, including MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. Members of the board bring a range of perspectives to the table, such as an understanding of workplaces and workforces and insights into key areas like financial markets, education, manufacturing, and transportation.

 

COVID-19 Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) resumed accepting Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications on April 27 from approved lenders on behalf of any eligible borrower, following an infusion of $310 billion into the program last week.

“The PPP has supported more than 1.66 million small businesses and protected over 30 million jobs for hardworking Americans. With the additional funds appropriated by Congress, tens of millions of additional workers will benefit from this critical relief,” SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “We encourage all approved lenders to process loan applications previously submitted by eligible borrowers and disburse funds expeditiously. All eligible borrowers who need these funds should work with an approved lender to apply. Borrowers should carefully review PPP regulations and guidance and the certifications required to obtain a loan.”

For more information on the PPP, visit sba.gov/paycheckprotection.

COVID-19 Daily News

BOSTON — On April 24, Mass2-1-1 and its Call2Talk emotional-support and suicide-prevention hotline reached more than 50,000 calls regarding COVID-19. Mass2-1-1 is a program created and staffed by the United Ways of Massachusetts and designated by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency as the official hotline for COVID-19.

“All of us at United Way and Mass2-1-1 are proud of our Mass2-1-1 and Call2Talk call takers for doing such an outstanding job over these last 50,000 COVID-19-related calls from the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said Paul Mina, executive director of Mass2-1-1. “As time goes on, calls are becoming much more stressful and emotional, so stay strong, team!”

Any resident of Massachusetts with questions about COVID-19 or needs such as unemployment or food caused by the pandemic can call 2-1-1 at any time, from any phone in Massachusetts, in more than 150 languages.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College’s respiratory care program is lending its five ventilators to area hospitals preparing for a surge in patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christopher Scott, dean of the School of Health and Patient Simulation, said STCC is prepared to donate or lend any equipment hospitals need during the coronavirus emergency. The school recently donated all of its personal protective equipment to area hospitals, medical centers, and first responders.

STCC is lending its ventilators to Baystate Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center, both in Springfield, and to Holyoke Medical Center.

“We knew that hospitals are preparing for an influx of patients and will need ventilators,” Scott said. “We work closely with Baystate, Mercy, and Holyoke on a regular basis. We are grateful for all their support over the years, so we are happy to let them use whatever equipment we have to help their patients.”

Scott said STCC respiratory care students have trained on the ventilators, which are the same type the hospitals use. “Our semester is winding down, and we feel these vents can be put to better use on the front lines in hospitals.”

Ventilators are used by some patients infected with COVID-19 who have breathing problems. The breathing devices have been in demand since the start of the pandemic. Ventilators are one of the tools used to help some COVID-19 patients.

The coronavirus crisis has put a spotlight on the profession of respiratory care. In addition to helping patients with COVID-19, respiratory therapists treat people suffering from a range of chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, sleep apnea, and chronic bronchitis.

The two-year associate degree program at STCC trains students in the treatment, management, diagnosis, and care of patients with diseases related to the heart and lungs. Training includes the use of therapeutic gases, ventilator support, breathing exercises, aerosol administration, medications, humidification, and maintenance of airways. Graduates of the program can transfer to a four-year college or university to continue their education or begin working at a hospital or other healthcare facility.

Over the last several weeks, several STCC respiratory care students applied for limited-permit licenses to work at area hospitals and help meet the demand to help patients.

COVID-19 Daily News

CHICOPEE — Phillips Insurance partnered with clients Fazio’s Ristorante of East Longmeadow and Simos Produce of Springfield to deliver pizza and grocery boxes to its clients and first responders.

Phillips Insurance delivered dozens of grocery boxes from Simos Produce to clients so they could avoid going to the supermarket. In addition, Phillips and Fazio’s Ristorante delivered pizzas and grinders to first responders and heathcare providers, while Phillips Insurance delivered pizza and subs to the Chicopee Police Department in appreciation of all they do for the community.

Phillips Insurance Agency was established in 1953 and is a full-service risk-management firm with a staff of 28 professionals.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — A fourth round of grants, totaling $226,000, from the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley has been announced, with healthcare and medical centers in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties receiving the largest portion of the new round as they battle the impact of the disease on the region with surging admissions to hospitals.

Grants were also directed to youth-serving organizations and to programs providing food access to those impacted by the crisis. To date, the Response Fund has granted more than $1.3 million to local organizations.

Grants were made to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield (through the Baystate Health Foundation); Holyoke Medical Center; Mercy Medical Center in Springfield; Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield; and Cooley Dickinson Health Care in Northampton.

Also receiving grants were the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield; the Brick House Community Resource Center in Turners Falls; the Center for Human Development, for its Family Outreach program in Amherst; the Community Adolescent Resource and Education Center in Holyoke; Franklin County DIAL/SELF in Greenfield; Friends of Children in Hadley; and Our Community Table/Westfield Soup Kitchen in Westfield.

Since launching the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts has raised $3.6 million from 350 individuals, families, foundations, and companies within and outside the region.

“As the impact on our region unfolds, more urgent needs are emerging, and the healthcare systems in the three counties have been hit particularly hard,” said Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. “These grants to the healthcare institutions in the three-county area recognize the critical importance of the healthcare infrastructure in Western Massachusetts. This latest round also targets programs that are working with isolated youth of low-income families who are particularly vulnerable during this crisis. Grants also help to provide more food and nutrition access to those in need.”

With the announcement that public schools will be closed for the remainder of the academic year, Zobel added, the Community Foundation will be conducting additional outreach to determine needs going forward for young people in the region. “We are striving to be strategic in our grant making, and needs related to youth, who are increasingly vulnerable, are emerging as a priority.”

The Community Foundation welcomes additional donations to the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley. Gifts can be made online at www.communityfoundation.org/covid19.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Since the phrase COVID-19 came into our lexicon, those working in the broad healthcare field have emerged as the true heroes during a pandemic that has changed every facet of life as we know it.

And over the past several months, the world has paid tribute to these heroes, and in all kinds of ways — from applauding in unison from apartment-complex windows to bringing hot meals to hospital and nursing-home workers; from donating much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) to people putting hearts on their front lawns and mailboxes to thank first responders, healthcare workers, postal workers, and others.

BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, will pay tribute in their own way, by dedicating their annual Healthcare Heroes program in 2020 to those who are have emerged as true heroes during this crisis.

Healthcare Heroes was launched by the two publications in 2017 to recognize those working in this all-important sector of the region’s economy, many of whom are overlooked when it comes to traditional recognition programs. Over the years, the program has recognized providers, administrators, emerging leaders, innovators, and collaborators.

For 2020, the program will shift its focus somewhat to the COVID-19 pandemic and all those who are working in the healthcare field or helping to assist it at this trying time. All manner of heroes have emerged this year, and we invite you to nominate one — or several — for what has become a very prestigious honor in Western Mass.: the Healthcare Heroes award.

Here are some examples of those who have become real heroes:

• Doctors and nurses;

• Emergency-room personnel, including doctors, nurses, orderlies, techs, triage, receptionists, and others;

• EMTs;

• Police and firefighters;

• Nursing-home personnel, everyone from frontline providers to administrators;

• End-of-life care providers;

• Administrators leading the efforts to battle the pandemic;

• Behavioral-health practitioners helping people and families navigate this crisis;

• Individuals and groups from our community who have stepped up to help healthcare workers with everything from hot meals to PPE;

• Companies that have pivoted and commenced production of materials such as PPE to help those in healthcare confront the pandemic;

• Scientists working behind the scenes to develop a vaccine or new types of PPE; and

• Truck drivers delivering supplies to hospitals and other providers.

These are just a few examples, and there are myriad others. In truth, everyone who goes to work in a hospital, nursing home, assisted-living facility, or other healthcare facility, thereby risking their own health, and perhaps their life, is a hero.

In many respects, all these heroes will be honored at the Healthcare Heroes event, now scheduled for this fall at the Springfield Sheraton. And to honor all of them, we want to bring to the podium a number of individuals and groups that represent everyone who has become a hero in these trying times.

To assist those thinking of nominating someone for this honor, we are simplifying the process. All we desire is a 400- to 500-word essay and/or two-minute video entry explaining why the group or individual stands out as an inspiration, and a truly bright star in a galaxy of healthcare heroes. These nominations will be carefully considered by a panel of independent judges, who will select the class of 2020.

The deadline for nominations is July 1. For more information on how to nominate someone for the Healthcare Heroes class of 2020, click here. Videos can be sent via dropbox to [email protected]

COVID-19 Daily News

HOLYOKE — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kellie Welch has found that writing is a way to help.

Welch has taken pen to paper for a project she founded called Write Aid. Her mission is to write for people in return for donations to GetUsPPE (getusppe.org), a new website founded by a group of medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. GetUsPPE coordinates donations of needed masks, gloves, and gowns to hospitals and healthcare professionals.

Since the launch of Write Aid on Instagram (@welchkell), Welch has written sonnets about dogs and cats, poetry about sourdough and happiness, a fictional Twitter thread, and a play about birds. Requests have come from friends locally, as well as from Boston, New York City, and Texas.

“Words are my reliable outlet and really all I have to offer while at home, but even they have felt empty lately,” Welch said. “Let’s work together to raise money and use storytelling to uplift each other. I will write you anything — a letter to a friend, a sonnet about your labradoodle, a eulogy for someone you’ve lost, a Dear John letter to that person you were sort of seeing before this happened. The sky’s the limit. Tell your friends! The more random things I write, the more money we raise.”

After having lived in New York City for nearly 10 years, Welch moved back to Western Mass. last fall. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of General Studies, where she studied anthropology and was part of the university’s Honor Society. She is a singer and songwriter whose lyrics have won awards in international songwriting competitions, including American Songwriter and Songdoor International. She currently works as a writer for an educational nonprofit organization.

COVID-19 Daily News

HOLYOKE — The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC), operated by a consortium consisting of Boston University, Harvard University, MIT, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts system, announced it will provide access to outside researchers working on projects in which high-speed computing would accelerate resolution of the COVID-19 crisis.

The MGHPCC’s member institutions are already heavily engaged in coronavirus-related research in areas that include understanding the fundamentals of the disease, contributing to the development of vaccines, treatment and tests, and public-health solutions. Much of this research, and most scientific academic research today, rely on high-performance computing.

The MGHPCC, which is among the largest high-performance computing facilities in the country, is now expanding access to its storage and computational systems to academic and commercial enterprises beyond the facility’s member institutions. Total available capacity across all systems includes more than 200,000 CPU cores, 2,000 recent-generation GPUs, and 5 petabytes of temporary storage. The additional work will not impact day-to-day university needs.

“Our goal is to help leverage as many scientific resources as possible to combat this pandemic,” said John Goodhue, executive director of the MGHPCC. “We can enable and support individual teams while also creating opportunities for collaborations that accelerate solutions.”

The MGHPCC consortium is also working with Mass Open Cloud and two of its sponsors, Red Hat and Intel, to launch a site that connects potentially impactful projects with people who have strong computing skills but are unable to work on their regular assignments due to travel restrictions.

COVID-19 Daily News

HOLYOKE — In an effort to provide assistance to Holyoke businesses to meet the challenges of COVID-19, Mayor Alex Morse and Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Andréa Marion introduced the COVID-19 Holyoke Business Emergency Operations Grant Program.

The primary purpose of this program is to help Holyoke-based businesses withstand and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 public-health emergency. The grant program is administered by the Holyoke Office for Community Development and the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Funds can be used by businesses to help them remain open, retain employees, or adapt business operations remotely or online during the public-health emergency. According to HUD eligibility requirements, a recipient business must be owned by a low- or moderate-income household, employ at least one full-time-equivalent low- or moderate-income person, or provide a service (like a restaurant or grocery store) in a primarily residential neighborhood where at least 51% of the residents are low- or moderate-income.

Applications are available now, and application reviews will continue on a weekly basis until all funds are committed. The review committee consists of representatives from the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, the city of Holyoke, and EforAll Holyoke. 

Total fund availability at this time is $90,000, and while there is currently no specific maximum request amount, resources are extremely limited, and the city will seek to maximize the community impact of the COVID-19 Business Emergency Operations Grant Program. More program details and an electronic application are available at the chamber’s COVID-19 resource page accessible at www.holyokechamber.com. Questions may be directed to Andréa Marion at [email protected].

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — UMass Amherst has donated 300 face shields to the skilled-nursing center at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing. The face shields were developed by UMass researchers, engineers, nurses, and other health care professionals, and arrive at a time when personal protective equipment (PPE) is in very short supply for many nursing facilities in the region and throughout the country.

The design created by UMass enables the face shields to be mass-produced quickly by existing manufacturers. The first order placed by the Face Shield COVID-19 Response Team at UMass Amherst produced 80,000 face shields, manufactured by K+K Thermoforming, a company based in Southbridge.

“During challenging times such as these, we celebrate the spirit of collaboration and cooperation evidenced by the donation of needed face shields to Loomis by the University of Massachusetts,” said Marge Mantoni, CEO of the Loomis Communities. “The shields are being immediately employed in the Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing nursing center by our medical and related staff in serving our nursing-center residents. Many times over the past 12 years, the Loomis Communities has collaborated with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and we welcome this generous gift of face shields as we work together in this time of crisis.”

UMass contributed more than $30,000 toward the initial production of face shields and hundreds of volunteer hours designing, testing, revising, and manufacturing the shields.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a striking note from Dr. Andrew Artenstein, chief physician executive and chief academic officer at Baystate Health, about the extreme measures being taken to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) — a story involving secret airport handoffs and questioning by the FBI.

“Our supply-chain group has worked around the clock to secure gowns, gloves, face masks, goggles, face shields, and N95 respirators. These employees have adapted to a new normal, exploring every lead, no matter how unusual,” Artenstein wrote. “Deals, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, have dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outmuscled, sometimes by the federal government. Then we got lucky, but getting the supplies was not easy.”

He then told about securing a large shipment of three-ply face masks and N95 respirators, the latter from China. After agreeing to pay more than five times the amount it normally would pay for a similar shipment, Baystate send three members of the supply-chain team and a fit tester to a small airport near an industrial warehouse in the mid-Atlantic region. Artenstein arrived as well, to make the final call on whether to execute the deal. Two semi-trailer trucks, marked as food-service vehicles, met the team at the warehouse, and drivers were instructed to take two different routes back to Massachusetts to reduce the chance of being intercepted.

That didn’t stop two FBI agents from showing up as well. “The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals,” Artenstein wrote. “After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system’s urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not abate until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secured at our warehouse.”

Artenstein’s entire note can be read by clicking here.

“When encountering the severe constraints that attend this pandemic, we must leave no stone unturned to give our healthcare teams and our patients a fighting chance,” he concluded. “This is the unfortunate reality we face in the time of COVID-19.”

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On April 16, the Springfield Thunderbirds teamed up with two of its local restaurant partners, Uno Pizzeria & Grill and Nadim’s Downtown Mediterranean Grill, to deliver more than 50 meals to staff at both Baystate Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center.

“Though we are not able to play hockey at this time, we want to make sure we are doing our part to give back to the community that has supported us since our inception,” said Nathan Costa, president of the Springfield Thunderbirds. “This is just one way we are able to say ‘thank you’ to the men and women on the front lines of this pandemic while also proving some support to our local small-business partners.”

Uno Pizzeria & Grill provided lunch to staff members of Baystate’s Adult Acute Care and Acute Neuroscience departments, while Nadim’s fed Mercy Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Department.

“We are proud to partner with the Thunderbirds and Uno’s to feed our medical heroes helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic,” said Nadim Kashouh, chef and owner of Nadim’s Mediterranean Grill. “As a business with deep roots in this community, it is important we do our part to help our friends and neighbors get through this crisis.”

Funds for the meals will come from the T-Birds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity established by the franchise to benefit causes in Springfield and surrounding Pioneer Valley communities.

“We are thankful to the Thunderbirds for including us in these special deliveries,” said Uno Pizzeria & Grill owner Michael Hurwitz. “We have a great relationship, and it means a lot for the team to think of us during these times to provide the food for these heroes on the front line.”

The mission of the T-Birds Foundation is to serve the Springfield community and the Pioneer Valley beyond every win and loss through a focus on providing and supporting initiatives in the areas of health and wellness, youth enrichment, and civil service.

“Baystate Health is so grateful for food donations that support our healthcare providers as they continue to serve on the front lines and battle COVID-19,” said the team at the Baystate Health Foundation. “The Springfield Thunderbirds’ generous donation of meals from Uno Pizzeria & Grill for Baystate Health team members is a kind and much-appreciated gesture.”

COVID-19 Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Commencement ceremonies all over the country may be canceled or postponed, but thanks to one Bay Path alumnus, college students can still put their graduation gowns to good use. Nathaniel “Than” Moore a 2014 graduate of Bay Path’s inaugural class in the MS in Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program, has started Gowns4Good, and is collecting new and used commencement gowns that will be forwarded to medical facilities to use as personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Medical facilities worldwide are lacking PPE and are using anything they can to protect themselves, even makeshift trash-bag gowns and masks cut from bedsheets,” Moore said. “Graduation gowns are more effective than alternatives given their length, sleeves, and easy donning with zippered access. Efforts are being made to increase PPE production, but the demand is increasing too quickly.”

As a physician assistant at a level-1 trauma center, University of Vermont Medical Center, Moore is on the front lines of emergency-room healthcare and understands the needs these facilities are experiencing. He’s also finishing up an MBA program, and that combination of real-world ER experience and business-centric problem solving led him to repurpose graduation gowns.

Shortly after the idea crossed his mind, Moore reached out to fellow University of Vermont Sustainable Innovation MBA students who were able to assist with different aspects of the project, and Gowns4Good was up and running. Not even a week later, the program has collected hundreds of gowns, and has received requests for thousands of gowns from hospitals and medical facilities in need. The process on both ends is simple. Donors ship their new or previously worn gowns to a collective post office box, where Moore and his team collect them, inspect them, and then package them in larger quantities of 50 or more gowns to ship out to requesting healthcare providers and facilities.

Ready to answer Gown4Good’s call, students are shipping their unused gowns, alumni are dusting off the gowns hanging in their closet to donate, and parents are sending in the gowns of their children, as a way to honor them. For many, it’s a way to take action in a stressful time and to make a tangible difference. Their college education made a difference for them, and now, through a memento from that experience, they are able to make a difference for someone else.

For more information or to donate a gown, visit www.gowns4good.net.

COVID-19

Play Another Day

That’s the way the ball bounces — at least when a major regional sporting event gets upended by a global pandemic.

Given the sweeping impacts of COVID-19, and with no timeline in place for reopening the region’s economy and tourism, organizers of Hooplandia, the planned 3-on-3 basketball tournament and festival scheduled for this June, announced that the event has been postponed to 2021.

At the same time, the organizers reaffirmed their commitment to the event in 2021, and, in creating a legacy celebration for the Springfield region and the birthplace of basketball, outlined a series of smaller events in 2020 to engage the community and build momentum toward next year. The newly scheduled dates for Hooplandia are June 25-27, 2021, with games hosted by the Big E Fairgrounds and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Boys and Girls Clubs in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut will remain the lead philanthropic recipient of the event, which was slated to host 2,500 teams and 10,000 players.

“We are heartbroken that the road to Hooplandia has been closed to us in 2020, but we are fully committed and excited about bringing this to life in 2021,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of Eastern States Exposition. “There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from businesses, community partners and organizations, and basketball fans from throughout the Northeast, and we are grateful for validating this vision and being a part of it. While we cannot properly structure and execute the event this year because of these extraordinary circumstances, we are already working on our plans for next year.”

Added John Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, “from the beginning, the intent has been to build a legacy event that will last and grow for decades, celebrating basketball and its culture in this region and beyond. Like everyone, we look forward to normalcy and our great traditions, and want Hooplandia to be one of those. The passion for Hooplandia and the sport has been awe-inspiring to me, and I know this event will be of championship caliber in 2021.”

To help build a bridge to the 2021 Hooplandia, a number of smaller events are being planned, with details forthcoming. Those include:

• Hooplandia at the Hall of Fame Enshrinement. A series of 3-on-3 courts and games will be curated for outdoor play in the parking lot of the Hall during Springfield Celebration Day on Sunday, Aug. 30, as part of Enshrinement Weekend activities. The festival environment will feature food, music, and entertainment.

• Hooplandia World Slam Dunk Championship at the Big E. High-flying entertainment comes to the Big E fair (Sept. 18 to Oct. 4), with a spectacle of slam-dunk artists from around the world competing for the title of Hooplandia World Slam Dunk Champ. Date to be announced.

• Hooplandia Showcase Games on the Court of Dreams at the Hall of Fame. During the winter of 2020-21, a series of high-profile 3-on-3 games will be scheduled for competition on the legendary hardwood. Details to be announced.

All teams that have registered and paid for Hooplandia will be issued full refunds. Teams of players age 8 and under were slated for free registration in 2020, honoring the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant — Bryant wore #8 during a portion of his Los Angeles Lakers career in the NBA. The free under-8 registration will be extended to the 2021 event.

Hooplandia’s Instagram account (@hooplandia) and website (www.hooplandia.com) will provide ongoing information and plans for the event and its transition.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — As stress surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic continues to mount, Square One is responding to growing concerns about the health and well-being of the region’s most vulnerable families.

“In addition to helping our families meet their basic needs, we know that, during times of isolation, there is an increase in domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and mental-health crises,” said Joan Kagan, president and CEO of Square One. “It is absolutely critical that our staff maintain a steady presence in the lives of our children and families to help protect them from any harm.”

Under normal circumstances, Square One educators, therapists, social workers, and home visitors are a constant physical presence in the lives of the community’s children and families. They are trained to notice signs of distress and respond appropriately. But the COVID-19 pandemic and call for social distancing has changed the way the Square One team is meeting their responsibilities.

Over the past three weeks, the Square One family-services team has conducted 150 virtual home visits, 300 check-in calls, and made deliveries of emergency supplies of diapers, baby wipes, and formula to more than 80 families throughout the region.

Square One’s preschool and school-age educators are personally communicating with all 500 children and families in its learning programs. They are performing virtual story readings, fitness demonstrations, and other lessons via social media.

Likewise, the Square One Cornerstone Therapy Center team continues to perform virtual therapy sessions for the agency’s most vulnerable children who have experienced trauma in the past and now during the pandemic.

“Our constant presence is needed more than ever before to keep our children and families safe. We are seeing families struggling with parental stress, depression, and anxiety,” said Jenise Katalina, vice president of Family Support Services at Square One. “In particular, our families who are parenting while in addiction recovery are facing tremendous struggles. This is not an easy time for anyone, but for those who were already challenged and vulnerable, the need for support and potential for danger is heightened to a greater degree.”

Square One currently provides early learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family-support services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives. The large majority of Square One families come from situations involving poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, incarceration, substance abuse, domestic violence, and other significant issues that may inhibit their ability to provide a quality early learning experience for their children, if the proper services are not made available to them.

To make a donation, visit www.startatsquareone.org or contact Kris Allard at [email protected] or (508) 942-3147. If you are in need of emergency support, call the emergency on-call number, (413) 478-5197.

COVID-19 Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza issued the following statement today, April 16, regarding the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program:

“The SBA has processed more than 14 years’ worth of loans in less than 14 days. The Paycheck Protection Program is saving millions of jobs and helping America’s small businesses make it through this challenging time. The EIDL program is also providing much-needed relief to people and businesses.

“By law, the SBA will not be able to issue new loan approvals once the programs experience a lapse in appropriations. We urge Congress to appropriate additional funds for the Paycheck Protection Program — a critical and overwhelmingly bipartisan program — at which point we will once again be able to process loan applications, issue loan numbers, and protect millions more paychecks.

“The high demand we have seen underscores the need for hardworking Americans to have access to relief as soon as possible,” Mnuchin and Carranza concluded. “We want every eligible small business to participate and get the resources they need.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — With the rapid onset of smell and taste loss emerging as symptoms of COVID-19, scientists around the world — including a sensory expert at UMass Amherst — have united to investigate the connection between the chemical senses and the novel coronavirus.

The wave of reports from patients and clinicians about anosmia, or smell loss, inspired the creation of the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers. Alissa Nolden, UMass Amherst assistant professor of Food Science, is among the 500 clinicians, neurobiologists, data and cognitive scientists, sensory researchers, and technicians from 38 countries gathering data in a worldwide survey to unravel how the virus is transmitted and how to prevent its spread.

Nolden was invited by a colleague at the National Institutes of Health to help develop strategies around measuring the sensory-related symptoms of the coronavirus. “Smell and/or taste loss may be an early indicator of COVID-19, as individuals appear to report loss of smell or taste prior to other symptoms,” she said. “We also want to better understand the mechanism behind taste and smell loss as a result of this virus.”

She notes that the common cold, influenza, and other viral infections are known to cause changes in smell, which are thought to be related to blocked or stuffed-up nasal passages. “This prevents both smelling odors outside and inside the mouth, which can also result in reduced perception of food flavor,” she said. “But typically, you do not have a reduced sense of taste, meaning your perception of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami remain the same.”

Another interesting characteristic of COVID-19, Nolden said, is that some patients also appear to have a reduced sense of chemesthesis, or chemical sensitivity. “This is unique, unlike the common cold. Some individuals have reduced oral burn from chili peppers or reduced or loss of cooling sensation from menthol.”

Nolden noted that some people with COVID-19 who experience sensory losses may not have any other coronavirus symptoms. The researchers hope to learn more about this from the survey, since people with sensory symptoms alone are not likely to qualify for a COVID-19 test.

“This has been a tremendous effort from collaborators from around the globe to gain a better understanding of the negative impact of COVID-19 on loss of taste and smell,” she said. “We hope to learn a lot about these symptoms and believe it will have a great impact on our understanding of the virus.”

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation announced a grant of $500,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley, established by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, to provide flexible resources to Pioneer Valley nonprofit organizations serving populations most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Davis Foundation donation is part of the Community Foundation campaign to rally business and philanthropic support for the fund, and is included in the more than $3 million raised to date.

Speaking on behalf of the Davis Foundation, Director Steven Davis said, “these are extraordinary times requiring that business and philanthropy in Western Massachusetts come together to address this unprecedented crisis and its impact on the people of our region. We applaud the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts for their leadership in establishing the COVID-19 Response Fund and are proud to provide these much-needed resources.”

The COVID-19 Response Fund’s grants to nonprofits support the region’s most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, those without stable housing, families needing food, and those with particular health vulnerabilities.

The COVID-19 Response Fund, now over $3 million in donations, has awarded $1 million to nearly 30 local nonprofits serving the immediate needs of the most vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic in Western Mass. For more information about the fund, visit communityfoundation.org/covid19.

According to Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, “the Davis Foundation is a critical resource to our region, and we welcome their generous support of the COVID-19 Response Fund. We appreciate our longtime partnership with the Davis Foundation and their unwavering commitment to our community.”

The Davis Foundation, a private family foundation established in 1970, supports nonprofit organizations seeking to improve the quality of life for those residing in Hampden County, with a particular focus in the areas of education and early literacy. The foundation and the Davis family have historically served as leaders in countless community efforts, and many local nonprofit organizations have come to rely upon the foundation as a source of support for a wide variety of programs and projects.

COVID-19 Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University and the town of Longmeadow have joined forces to support local emergency responders during the COVID-19 crisis by designating Theinert Hall, on Bay Path’s campus, as a public-safety quarantine center.

The town and the university have forged an agreement allowing local emergency responders who need to self-quarantine the opportunity to do so in Theinert Hall, one of the university’s three residence halls.

John Dearborn, Longmeadow’s fire chief and Emergency Management director, is responsible for coordinating the town’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and will oversee management of the center. The town and fire department will have full responsibility for the supervision and maintenance of the facility, and will care for, feed, and monitor the safety and well-being of any first responders who need to be placed in the center.

“This is an important aspect of controlling the spread of this virus in the public-safety community and in the community at large, and Bay Path’s Theinert Hall is uniquely suited for this purpose,” Dearborn said. “We are grateful to Bay Path for their assistance.”

Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency with regard to COVID-19 on March 10. At the same time, Bay Path University informed students who were on spring break to remain home as all classes were being moved to remote learning due to the COVID threat. All Bay Path students will complete their semester through distance learning.

“Our successful partnership with the town of Longmeadow and its emergency responders goes back many years, and we were happy to answer the call when Chief Dearborn reached out,” said Michael Giampietro, vice president for Finance and Administrative Services for Bay Path.

COVID-19 Daily News

HOLYOKE — Walter Drake Inc., a Holyoke manufacturing company, has responded to the urgent need for medical face shields by healthcare systems. In a matter of days, workers have designed, prototyped, built tooling for, and manufactured a medical face shield of the type that is in desperate demand by hospitals, nursing facilities, and other essential workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Joseph Feigen, company president, announced that the face shield is called ‘Corona Shield’ for the time being, but will be renamed for permanent use in the healthcare field after the current pandemic ends.

Walter Drake staff is now contacting dozens of hospitals around the country to deliver this badly needed personal protective equipment and to help ensure employment opportunities during this extended Massachusetts business shutdown.

Established in 1962, Walter Drake Inc. primarily manufactures custom thermoformed packaging in the form of clamshells, trays, and blisters for medical, electronic, consumer, and industrial packaging applications.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Engineers from UMass Amherst responded to a request from Baystate Health in Springfield for help in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by designing new, longer control cables for ventilators and the elimination of battery power sources. The design changes, developed by a team of electrical and computer engineers, allow medical personnel to control the ventilators at a distance and without using personal protection equipment, and they provide a more reliable source of power.

The UMass Amherst team includes Christopher Hollot, professor and department head at the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); Baird Soules, a senior lecturer at ECE; and Shira Epstein, a lecturer at ECE. Other contributing members are ECE alumnus Tom Kopec; undergraduate Jeremy Paradie; Scott Glorioso, president of the Battery Eliminator Store and son of former UMass ECE Professor Robert Glorioso; and Chris Denney, chief technical officer at Worthington Assembly in South Deerfield.

Hollot said these two projects were a team effort. “This engineering response spanned the greater UMass family, including alumni, undergraduate, the makerspace community, local industry, and faculty.”

Baystate Health resident physician Dr. Mat Goebel initially contacted the Electrical and Computer Engineering department to fabricate a 25-foot control cable for hospital ventilators. The existing cable length is less than 10 feet. The engineers determined that longer cables did not exist and that the original shorter cables are extremely back-ordered. They also found that a key part of the design, the connectors, is proprietary.

They modified an old control cable from Baystate to analyze the signaling and determined that a longer cable was theoretically viable. The team then fabricated a 50-foot cable that was successfully tested on one of Baystate’s ventilators for empirical validation.

The team then tracked down the control cable manufacturer, Amphenol Sine Systems. At the request of the UMass Amherst researchers, the company agreed to design and fabricate these longer control cables. Baystate is now ordering the longer cables directly from the manufacturer.

Goebel and Kyle Walsh, respiratory specialist in Clinical Engineering at Baystate Health, also requested a design to allow portable ventilators to run on ordinary electrical power from a wall socket. The portable ventilators are designed to run on two D batteries with a lifespan of 48 hours. In a clinical setting, a wall-power solution removes the need for checking and replacing batteries every two days.

The UMass team solved the problem using a commercial off-the-shelf battery eliminator. They ordered a suitable battery eliminator and successfully tested it on a portable ventilator at Baystate. Subsequently, Baystate ordered 50 of these power supplies directly from the Battery Eliminator Store.

COVID-19 Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — TommyCar Auto Group — consisting of Country Hyundai, Country Nissan, Genesis of Northampton, Northampton Volkswagen, and Volvo Cars Pioneer Valley — announced it has donated a total of $10,000 to local healthcare workers through its “Donate to Feed” and “Donate to Protect” initiatives.

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking a toll on the doctors, nurses, and frontline medical workers at local hospitals, TommyCar Auto Group launched a two-part campaign to help support these local heroes.

Members of the TommyCard Rewards loyalty program were able to donate up to 50 points to help the cause, making it easy to support the efforts without having to leave the safety of home to make an in-person donation. The points were then matched in dollars by TommyCar Auto Group. Last week, $5,000 was raised to provide meals to the Emergency Department staff at Baystate Medical Center. As of April 10, another $5,000 was donated to Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which is used to purchase needed equipment such as N95 masks, gowns, gloves, and more.

“Within days of launching ‘Donate to Feed’ and ‘Donate to Protect,’ we were overwhelmed with messages of support from our loyal customers and members of the local community,” said Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group. “During these unprecedented times, our local doctors, nurses, and members of the medical community are leaving their families and fighting this pandemic day in, day out, doing the best they can to protect us. It is our pleasure to have the opportunity to give back to these amazing local heroes with the support of our customers and our local restaurant partners. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to work with so many amazing people, and are thankful to be a part of such a wonderful community.”

To learn more and follow the “Donate to Feed” and “Donate to Protect” campaigns, visit the Country Hyundai, Country Nissan, Genesis of Northampton, Northampton Volkswagen, and Volvo Cars of Pioneer Valley Facebook pages.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Answering an urgent call for assistance from regional healthcare systems, a volunteer team of scientists at UMass Amherst is preparing, testing, and delivering thousands of vials of viral transport media, a chemical solution needed for COVID-19 diagnostic testing. Their work is having a statewide impact.

Team leaders have recruited and trained several dozen volunteers, producing 13,000 vials for seven healthcare systems: Baystate Health, Berkshire Medical Center, Cooley Dickinson Health Care, Harrington Hospital, Heywood Hospital, Holyoke Medical Center, and the Northampton VA. In addition, Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Response Command Center has requested 10,000 tubes a week.

A critical shortage of the solution, which largely had been sourced from Northern Italy, has limited testing capabilities across the nation. Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the UMass Amherst scientists initially gathered ingredients from their own labs to produce the viral transport medium, which protects the patient’s testing sample from degradation.

“Viral transport medium is an isotonic mixture of salts and minerals, as well as serum proteins designed to stabilize the virus in the patient sample until testing can be done. It also includes antibiotics to inhibit yeast or bacterial growth, which can interfere with the test and destroy the patient’s sample,” said Michael Daley of the Cell Culture Core Facility at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), which is spearheading a broad COVID-19 response effort at UMass Amherst.

“The creation of these virtual COVID-19 response teams has proven to be an effective way to rapidly address regional healthcare shortages, even in a time of social distancing,” noted Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS, whose mission is to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit humankind.

In a whirlwind of activity after Reinhart sought out UMass Amherst volunteers, a small group of scientists quickly produced some 600 vials of the viral transport media, painstakingly preparing exact proportions, quality-testing the solutions to ensure sterility, printing specialized labels, and affixing them to the vials before University Health Services clinical staff delivered them to two local hospitals.

“Within one week, we had verified and released our first batch,” Daley said. “A lot of credit goes out to everyone involved for us to have been able to pull this off.”

Added James Chambers, director of the Light Microscopy and Cell Culture Core Facilities at IALS, who is overseeing the labeling of the vials, “once the word got out to a few people that we were ramping up production this week, we were inundated with volunteers who want to do something to help with this fight.”

With an efficient process in place, including social-distancing setups in labs where volunteers wear gloves and face shields, the team is ready to speed creation of the viral transport medium. They now have the capacity to make 60 liters and fill 15,000 to 20,000 tubes each week, and are armed with enough supplies to create 120,000 tubes — each representing one COVID-19 diagnostic test.

“We are now at the stage where we are scaling up production and delivery to meet the needs of the frontline workers in our community and across the state,” Daley said.

A key team member is Barbara Osborne, distinguished professor of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, who helped get the project off the ground by providing ingredients from her own lab. She continues to volunteer her time to aliquot, or measure and dispense the medium from a large container into tiny vials, a highly quantitative task being carried out in IALS’ Cell Culture Lab. “This is all being done in one place, and that really is critical for the quality control,” Osborne noted.

She said additional UMass Amherst volunteers are ready to help if the sterile space and personal protective equipment are available. “There are tons of us who know how to make sterile media. I had to tell people to stop volunteering,” she said. “We could easily double the troops we have already enlisted.”

The life-sciences faculty and staff volunteers come from such departments as Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Microbiology, and Psychological and Brain Sciences. Other volunteers include IALS administrators and staff, as well as some Ph.D. candidates and one undergraduate.

In addition to Daley, Chambers, and Osborne, team leaders are Rebecca Lawlor, Osborne’s longtime lab technician; Amy Burnside, director of Flow Cytometry and the Animal Imaging Core Facility at IALS, in charge of testing the batches for sterility; and Erin Poulin, lab manager at University Health Services, who handles the delivery of the vials to the hospitals.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On April 10, representatives of local fire departments, police departments, and ambulance companies arrived at Mercy Medical Center to pay tribute to the healthcare providers who are on the front lines taking care of patients with COVID-19.

The ‘tribute train’ entered the Mercy campus on Stafford Street and stopped at the entrance to the Emergency Department. It then continued through campus, stopping again at the hospital’s main entrance at 299 Carew St. Healthcare providers were encouraged to witness the outpouring of support by going outside, looking out a window, or listening for the sounds of the first responders as they moved through campus.

Similar tribute-train events took place the same day at all Trinity Health Of New England hospitals in Connecticut.

COVID-19 Daily News

LUDLOW — To help the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department successfully operate the First Responder Recovery Home for COVID-19-diagnosed first responders, Country Bank announced it will contribute $50,000 to the efforts.

The contribution from the Ware-based financial institution comes with the aim of inspiring other similar organizations to do what they can to assist the department’s effort to help the people who typically help others.

“These are challenging and ever-evolving times as we face the continued uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and how it will impact our region,” said Paul Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank. “As a community partner, we care deeply about our communities and wanted to show our appreciation and support for first responders, healthcare workers, and their families throughout the region when they need it the most. The First Responder Recovery Home will allow first responders to rest a little easier knowing they have an alternative place to recover should they become infected by the virus. It’s our hope that Country Bank’s donation will be one of many that will support this tremendous initiative, and we welcome other community businesses and financial institutions to express their appreciation of all first responders by supporting the First Reponder Recovery Home.”

The donation, which brings the overall community contributions above $87,000, will help ensure that every COVID-19-positive first responder who comes to stay at the facility has the food and comforts necessary for recovery.

“I can’t thank Country Bank enough for stepping forward and making this donation to help our first responders in this time of unprecedented need,” Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi said. “Their donation will help us provide top-notch care for the people who usually care for us, and a comfortable environment for the people who come running when we are in need in our daily lives. This is our time to help the helpers. It’s the least we can do.”

The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department opened the First Responder Recovery Home this week to fill an unmet need in the Commonwealth of providing a safe haven for our doctors, nurses, EMTs, police, firefighters, and corrections professionals who are diagnosed with COVID-19, but can’t safely go home to recover without jeopardizing the health of a vulnerable family member.

Located at the department’s Pre-Release Center on its campus in Ludlow, the refuge is provided free of charge, thanks to the department’s community supporters and partners.

Cocchi and staff started accepting guests this week, with 84 single-occupancy rooms available. Anyone coming to stay must be healthy enough to care for themselves; however, a pool of voluntary medical professionals from the community, led by Ludlow physician Dr. Shaukat Matin, will be making rounds, and if someone needs more comprehensive medical care, the Sheriff’s Department will help coordinate transportation.

Any doctor, nurse, police, firefighter, EMT, correctional professional, or military member can call (413) 858-0801 or (413) 858-0819 to request a room or ask questions. The facility needs the person’s full name, gender, and expected length of stay, among other information, and all correspondence will be kept confidential.

Community partners include Country Bank, Anthony Ravosa and the 91 Supper Club, Charlie D’Amour and Guy McFarlane of Big Y Foods, Bob Bolduc and Pride Stores, Cesar Ruiz Jr. and Golden Years Home Care, Jim Brennan on behalf of the Edward J. Brennan Jr. Family Foundation, Anthony Cignoli of A.L. Cignoli Co., Jeff Polep of J. Polep Distribution Services, Jay Caron of Bee-Line Corp., Larry Katz of Arnold’s Meats, Andy Yee and Peter Picknelly, and Matin.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the First Responder Recovery Home initiative can send tax-deductible donations to Criminal Justice Organization, 627 Randall Road, Ludlow, MA 01056, and write “First Responder Recovery Home” on the memo line.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The COVID-19 Response Fund for the Pioneer Valley has topped $3 million in donations and is still growing, with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) reporting the latest donations to the fund. The foundation also announced another $255,000 in emergency grants, bringing the total to $1 million awarded from the Response Fund to local nonprofits serving the immediate needs of the most vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic in Western Mass.

The most recent donations to the fund include $250,000 from the Barr Foundation in Boston; $107,000 from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts; $100,000 from the Vertex Foundation, affiliated with Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. located in Boston; $75,000 from an anonymous foundation based in Boston; $25,000 from Delta Dental of Massachusetts; and $25,000 from Berkshire Bank Foundation.

This week’s grants to nonprofits support health and other urgent services for vulnerable and underserved populations, including limited-English speakers, at Gándara Center, ServiceNet, Behavioral Health Network, Clinical and Support Options, Center for New Americans, New North Citizen Council, and Enlace de Familias. Clinical Support Options (for Springfield) and ServiceNet (for Greenfield and Northampton) also received grants to cover costs associated with social distancing in shelters they manage. Also, Grow Food Northampton received a grant for food distribution in Greater Northampton.

“I am awed that $3 million has been donated in the mere three weeks that the fund has been in existence,” said Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. “This outpouring of generosity from across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a testimony to the goodness and generosity of our people. These donations go directly into the Response Fund and are quickly deployed into the community. Donors can feel confident that their gifts are supporting the critical work in our region of helping those most impacted by the crisis. Together, and working in collaboration with so many on the ground doing the work, we will get through this historic period of need.”

Zobel said the funding is targeted where resources have emerged and are desperately needed, including in the area of food security, where elderly individuals and others are not able to leave home to access food pantries; organizations challenged with obtaining masks and gloves in serving their constituencies; and lack of translation of critical information about safety measures during the pandemic. Resources are also being deployed to address diaper shortages for families with infants and those serving the disabled, and increased requests for mental-health supports.

Zobel also stressed that donors are encouraged to make donations directly to nonprofit organizations working to support populations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that this fund is not a replacement for direct donations to nonprofits.

In addition to donations from business and philanthropic organizations, more than 120 individuals have made donations to the COVID-19 Response Fund. The Community Foundation welcomes additional donations to the fund online at www.communityfoundation.org/covid19.

COVID-19 Daily News

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Medical Center has shared personal protective equipment (PPE) with local first responders, including Action Ambulance, the South Hadley Fire Department, and the city of Springfield.

“Holyoke Medical Center is incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support and donations received through this COVID-19 pandemic by many community businesses, Novanta, and the efforts made by the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association,” said Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems. “Today we became aware that first responders in some of our surrounding communities, who work with our patients, were in desperate need of PPE. In a time of mutual aid, we felt it was our obligation to share some of our PPE with those first responders.”

The donations included face shields and KN95 face masks first responders. Also provided were standard face masks for the responders to provide people they interact with at a distance closer than six feet.

After canvasing the local communities, the following were in need of PPE and were provided with the followng list of contributions from Holyoke Medical Center:

• Action Ambulance: 200 KN95 masks, 100 face shields, and 600 standard masks;

• South Hadley Fire Department: 200 KN95 masks, 100 face shields, and 600 standard masks; and

• City of Springfield: 600 KN95 masks, 500 face shields, and 900 standard masks.

Holyoke Medical Center executives also spoke with officials in other surrounding municipalities, most of which had an adequate current supply of masks and face shields.

COVID-19 Daily News

HADLEY — On April 3, the Log Rolling catering van could be seen making several special deliveries at local food banks and hospitals in Central and Western Mass., as UMassFive College Federal Credit Union reached out to support community members and healthcare workers heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the latest entry in a long-standing collaborative relationship with the Amherst Survival Center, UMassFive sponsored 150 portions of chicken pot pie (made fresh and delivered by Log Cabin Rolling) to be served at the Amherst Survival Center daily community meal. During the pandemic, Amherst Survival has adapted to continue providing many of its services amid social-distancing requirements. The community meals are now provided in a ‘to-go’ model, serving participants outside in the parking lot.

In appreciation of healthcare workers, UMassFive also sponsored the delivery of 200 meals to emergency-room staff, split between Springfield’s Mercy Medical Center and Worcester’s UMass Memorial Medical Center. Understanding that healthcare workers aren’t able to sit and reheat a hot meal these days, Log Rolling Catering curated and delivered bagged meals with sandwiches, fruit, chips, and a dessert. These meals were delivered to the staff at lunchtime, with extra meals to support the next shift as well.

UMassFive, which has branch offices at both hospital locations, wanted to show support to the frontline healthcare workers they serve by providing a meal. “We were looking for a way to support healthcare workers and our most vulnerable community members in these trying times,” said Craig Boivin, vice president of Marketing at UMassFive. “Working with Log Cabin Rolling allowed us to do that while simultaneously supporting a great local business. It was a win-win.”

In addition, UMassFive has pledged $1,000 to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and donated another $1,000 to the local farming nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, which will use the funds as part of its Emergency Farm Fund, which provides zero-interest loans to local farms. 

UMassFive members who wish to lend their own helping hand to their communities can participate via the credit union’s Buzz Points program, through which UMassFive has facilitated charitable-donation options benefiting the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Amherst Survival Center.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — United Way of Pioneer Valley and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield have introduced the Good Morning Heroes program, a joint effort to give back to the first responders working hard and risking their lives for our community.

Good Morning Heroes will provide grab-and-go breakfast bags to Springfield first responders. They will be available on weekdays, 8-9 a.m. or until the bags run out, in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield parking lot on Carew Street. The program will run from Friday, April 10 until Monday, May 4, coinciding with Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home order.

In doing so, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield and the United Way of Pioneer Valley are working together to show appreciation to the workers keeping people safe and healthy every day, especially now, during this unprecedented global pandemic.

For more information or to volunteer, e-mail Vinny Borello at [email protected].

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Peter Pan Bus Lines​ and the Bean Restaurant Group​ are teaming up deliver lunch to first responders and frontline workers on a Peter Pan bus. The mission is to show support and gratitude to local healthcare heroes while supporting local restaurants. The first delivery will take place Wednesday, April 8, with food provided by Frigo’s.

To donate to the campaign, click here or visit peterpanbus.com/stuff-the-bus-feed-the-fight-western-mass.

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