Here's an update of Thursday's COVID-19 news from across New England:
COVID-19-related deaths in Massachusetts surged again Wednesday, topping 5,300 just days before the state is set to release a plan to reopen the economy.
U.S. & World
There were 174 new deaths reported, bringing to 5,315 the total number of deaths recorded in the state since the pandemic’s start.
It’s a sharp increase compared to the 33 deaths reported Tuesday.
The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts neared 80,500 after the state reported an additional 1,165 individuals who tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care dipped below 800, while there were about 3,100 people overall currently hospitalized with COVID-19.
Reopening the Massachusetts economy is going to be a gradual process, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday, offering few specifics of the plan he’s preparing to release early next week.
“This isn’t going to be a situation or a circumstance where on May 18, every business in Massachusetts that is currently closed is going to be permitted to open,” Baker said at a press conference.
Massachusetts residents have gone through “a tremendous amount of dislocation and discomfort and lost wages” over the past 60 days to get to the point where the virus has been reduced enough to let some businesses reopen, Baker said.
“The last thing we’re going to do is reopen it in a way that fires that virus up again,” Bakers said. “I would love to be able to open everything up tomorrow. That would be an incredibly irresponsible thing to do.”
The first businesses to reopen are those that will be the most successful at not spreading the virus and don’t have a lot of direct contact with customers, he said.
Baker offered few other specifics, saying he wanted to wait until the plan is released on Monday.
Baker told reporters he’s also having discussions with the K-12 community about reopening schools in September and about graduations plans. He said he would talk more about that on Monday.
New Hampshire colleges and universities are planning a variety of virtual celebrations for graduates while postponing in-person gatherings until the threat of the coronavirus subsides.
The University of New Hampshire postponed Saturday’s commencement ceremony, with no new date selected yet. It will be holding a celebration online that morning. A similar event is planned at Saint Anselm College on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Colby-Sawyer College rescheduled its ceremony for Aug. 8, while Keene State College’s new date is Oct. 3. Dartmouth College pushed its in-person commencement to June 2021, but will host a virtual celebration June 14.
The annual Jericho ATV Festival, scheduled July 31 to Aug. 1 has been canceled because of coronavirus concerns.
The festival draws thousands of riders. It’s been held for 10 years at Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin.
Rhode Island will distribute thousands of masks and disinfectant products to businesses as the state gradually reopens its economy, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday.
Starting next week, businesses with 50 or fewer employees will be able to qualify for the free supplies so long as they’ve completed a plan for how it plans to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace, the Democrat said.
That includes retailers, which reopened last weekend, and restaurants, which will be allowed to start offering outdoor dining with strict restrictions on Monday.
The governor says the state is prepared to hand out around 500,000 masks and disinfectant products.
Raimondo said the state also has 500 laptops available to give out to small businesses with fewer than 25 workers as well as another 500 laptops to help with distance learning efforts. The computers were donated by Microsoft, she said.
Tourists arriving in Rhode Island this summer may be tested for the coronavirus, Raimondo said Wednesday.
The governor said she’s considering imposing the requirement to allow the state, which depends heavily on tourism, to enjoy some of the traditional summer boost from visitors.
Raimondo also added that she doesn’t foresee continuing the 14-day self- quarantine for anyone arriving from out-of-state through the summer.
“The honest answer is that we don’t yet have a summer policy,” she said.
A judge in Connecticut has ruled that officials at the federal prison in Danbury are not moving fast enough to protect inmates from the coronavirus and has ordered authorities to implement a process by Friday to move as many prisoners as possible to home confinement.
U.S. District Judge Michael Shea in Hartford issued the order Tuesday in a class-action lawsuit filed by four Danbury inmates, who say prison officials are not taking seriously a directive in early April from Attorney General William Barr to maximize transfers to home confinement.
Congress gave prison officials authority on March 27 to transfer inmates to home confinement to protect them. The four Danbury inmates, three women and a man, all have health conditions that place them at greater risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19.
“The four inmates ... have made a preliminary showing that officials at FCI Danbury are making only limited use of their home confinement authority, as well as other tools at their disposal to protect inmates during the outbreak,” Shea wrote in his ruling, “and that these failures amount to deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to inmates in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
At Danbury, the Bureau of Prisons says 75 inmates and 57 staff have contracted the virus, and one inmate died. The prison houses about 1,000 inmates.
As of Wednesday, the number of COVID-19-associated deaths had risen by 84 since Tuesday to 3,125. The number of hospitalizations, however, has continued to decline. It’s now 1,158 patients. Gov. Ned Lamont, who said he was tested as a precaution on Tuesday, said his results came back negative.
Lamont said Wednesday he’s not inclined to allow restaurants to offer indoor seating before June 20, the second possible reopening date in Connecticut. The first stage is set for May 20, when restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining at 50% capacity.
“I’m going to err on the side of caution,” the Democrat told reporters during his daily briefing.
His comments come as a coalition of local businesses and associations urged him to allow indoor dining at 50% capacity, beginning June 3. The Connecticut Restaurant Association has argued that limited outdoor seating will not be enough to financially sustain the state’s restaurant industry.
The coalition has proposed extra steps Connecticut restaurants will take if they’re allowed to offer limited indoor seating as well, such as expanded distance between tables, new technology for menus and payment so there’s less indirect contact between patrons and servers.
But state Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, who operates Cohen’s Bagel Co. in Madison, said she’s heard from other restaurant owners who are concerned about the upcoming May 20 reopening date. She said they fear not having enough personal protective equipment for their employees and items such as hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, Plexiglas dividers to protect cashiers and required touchless payment methods in place.
The Connecticut Air National Guard will conduct a statewide flyover Thursday to salute the state’s health care workers.
The guard’s C-130H aircraft are expected to fly above hospitals and other health care facilities beginning shortly after 11 a.m. beginning in Torrington, and ending shortly before 1 p.m. in Enfield. Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, the adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard, said it’s a way to show “appreciation to the thousands of heroes at the front line battling COVID-19.”
Maine’s attorney general has joined a group of 20 of his peers to call for the Trump Administration to take steps to make sure meat and poultry processing facilities are safe for employees.
The attorneys general are responding to an April order by President Donald Trump that was designed to keep the processing plants open amid the coronavirus outbreak. The USDA said the order reflected the essential nature of the meat industry in the U.S.
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said he’s concerned the order didn’t protect workers who are now working in unsafe conditions. He and the other attorneys general said the administration must take steps such as ensuring immediate access to personal protective equipment.
Frey and the group said they also want protections such as priority testing for workers in processing plants and isolation and quarantine with full pay for workers who test positive.
Seven tourism and business groups are urging Maine Gov. Janet Mills to drop the 14-day quarantine requirement for visitors from other states.
Visitors need to know that they’ll be welcomed to Maine this summer without a quarantine, the organizations said in an open letter.
The Mills administration has said it’s looking into alternatives to the quarantine, but no options have been made public.
Under the governor’s plan, lodging and restaurants will open for Maine residents on June 1, and for out-of-state visitors on July 1.
The letter was signed by the Maine Tourism Association along with the Retail Association of Maine, HospitalityMaine, Ski Maine Association, Maine Camping Guide, Visit Portland Maine and Visit Greater Bangor Maine.
Vermont is now offering free testing for the COVID-19 virus to anyone who asks, even people without symptoms, the state Health Department announced.
No referral is needed, but people should make appointments, state officials said in a news release late Tuesday.
Officials plan pop-up testing clinics as part of a broader effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Vermont has one of the lowest rates of growth in people infected with the virus, and few people are showing symptoms, so they are not requesting tests, state officials said.
As of Tuesday, fewer than 930 people in Vermont had tested positive for the virus, and 53 people had died. The number of new cases reported daily is usually in the low single digits, and on two days in the past two weeks, no new positive tests were reported.
A staff member who had contact with inmates at Vermont’s only prison for women tested positive for the coronavirus, state officials announced Wednesday.
The positive result came after 84 voluntary tests were conducted Monday on staff members at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington.
The remaining 47 staff and 74 inmates will be tested Thursday.
If a staff member or resident of any group residential facility tests positive for the virus, all staff and residents of that facility must be tested, in accordance with state protocols.
If any inmates test positive, they will be isolated at South Burlington, according to the Corrections Department.