IT’S FRIDAY, which is normally a time to break away from the work-week routine. But this weekend not much is going to change. Saturday and Sunday will look pretty much like every other day this week, with everything closed and everyone hunkered down inside keeping their distance from everyone else.
President Trump raised the prospect that our coronavirus existence could be over by Easter, which is just over two weeks away on April 12. Vice President Mike Pence and top aides quickly downplayed that notion, however, generously calling it aspirational.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who is reluctant to criticize Trump directly, said at the close of his press conference on Friday that Easter is not in the cards. “No, we’re not going to be up and running by Easter,” he said.
Indeed, COVID-19 cases and deaths are starting to ramp up in Massachusetts. The Friday data dump from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health indicated 10 more people had died, bringing the total to 35. All of the deaths involved seniors – one man in his 60s and the rest in their 80s or 90s. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases also jumped 34 percent to 3,240. The one bright spot was testing for the virus continued to increase – by 5,750 on Friday.
Most analysts expect the next few weeks – or the next month, depending on who you talk to – to see a surge in the number of cases and deaths. Baker earlier this week canceled school through May 4, one indication of his thinking about when to reexamine where the state is with the virus.
Only once the surge is over can we begin to start thinking about when this all might be over.
UMass to offer $70m in refunds
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan and the chancellors of the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell UMass campuses announced Friday that they will adjust room, board, and parking fees in response to the coronavirus-driven closures of residence halls and the transition to online-only instruction.
Students should be notified of their cost adjustments by April 17, the UMass officials said. Adjustments will be applied to student accounts, and students will receive their net balance by direct deposit or check.
The university said the planned adjustments to the room, dining, and parking charges will decrease its revenues by approximately $70 million this fiscal year. The UMass line item in this year’s budget is $558 million.
More than 20,000 students were living in the university-owned dorms at the Amherst, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses. “UMass Boston is adjusting dining and parking costs and is working with the private owner of its 1,070-bed on-campus residence halls concerning housing cost adjustments for its students,” the university’s statement said.
In a joint statement, Meehan and chancellors Kumble Subbaswamy of Amherst, Katherine Newman of Boston, Robert Johnson of Dartmouth and Jacquie Moloney of Lowell said the COVID-19 pandemic is causing hardship for students. “We hope that this adjustment of housing, dining and parking fees will help alleviate some of the stress they are enduring,” they said. “The challenges that lie ahead for the university, its students, faculty, and staff will be complex and difficult.”
First COVID-19 case at Middlesex jail
A prisoner at Middlesex House of Correction tested positive for COVID-19, the first in the facility, according to Sheriff Peter Koutoujian’s office.
The individual started developing a fever Thursday, and has been placed in medical isolation. The person’s roommate is also being tested and has been put into quarantine. Staffers that came in contact with the prisoners have been asked to remain at home and contact their medical providers.
The sheriff’s office has taken additional measures to promote social distancing in the jails, and is now providing masks to the 728 prisoners. There will be an increase in mental health staff, and enhanced medical screening for employees entering the facility. Visitation was already suspended, and Koutoujian said four free phone calls of up to 20 minutes each are being offered to prisoners weekly.
Koutoujian is working with District Attorney Marian Ryan to release 40 individuals being held pretrial and they want to let other prisoners go who aren’t a danger to the community.
“I have no interest in holding people if they’re found to not be a risk to public safety, and they have a plan in place for a play to stay when they’re released,” said Koutoujian.
Ryan said police are looking for alternatives to incarceration so less people are being brought to jail. As of Wednesday, arraignments in courts covered by her office were about one-tenth their typical number.
“Reducing the population so that we can end the housing of prisoners in dormitory settings and single-cell everyone, instead of double and triple-celling, is the only way to get this under control,” said Elizabeth Matos, Executive Director of Prisoners Legal Services, which represents some prisoners at the facility.