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Almost A Dozen Mass. Catholic Schools Closed Amid Pandemic, And Church Warns Of More To Come

Catholic church officials say nearly a dozen Catholic schools have closed in Massachusetts this year and more could shutter as the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic mounts.

The Boston Herald reports among the recently announced closures are schools in Chelsea, Boston, Braintree, Holbrook, Lowell, Kingston, Marlborough, Methuen, Weymouth, Winchester, all of which have permanently closed.

Thomas Carroll, school superintendent for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, tells the newspaper that it's already the largest number of closures the region has seen in almost 50 years.

Catholic schools nationwide have been dealing with declining enrollment and financial challenges for years, but it's been exacerbated by the pandemic. Some 140 schools across the country have so far closed this year.

Carroll estimated school enrollment in the Boston archdiocese is down 7% from March, when Massachusetts and other states enacted widespread economic closures and social restrictions to control the pandemic.

He said more school closures could come in September and October as families opt to cut private education costs during the economic uncertainty. Massachusetts has among the highest rates of unemployment in the nation.

"This is a pretty extraordinary moment for the archdiocese," Carroll told the Herald.

Roughly 32,000 students attend nearly 100 Catholic schools within the archdiocese, the newspaper reports.

Revere Officials Step Up Testing, Hand Out Masks At The Beach

Officials in a Boston suburb hard hit by the coronavirus are stepping up efforts to contain the disease.

Free coronavirus testing in Revere is being extended through Sept. 12 and a second testing site is expected to be announced on Monday.

Officials this weekend were handing out masks at the beach, where crowds have been gathering in the heat, and encouraging people to keep their distance. The city is also broadcasting messages about the virus in English and Spanish.

“Our goal is to roll back some things and prevent a massive, drastic closure,” Mayor Brian Arrigo said.

Revere’s daily positive testing rate is three times that of the average in Massachusetts, NBC Boston reported.

UMass Amherst Cuts Back On Students Returning To Campus

An entrance to UMass Amherst. (Deborah Becker/WBUR)
An entrance to UMass Amherst. (Deborah Becker/WBUR)

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is the latest and largest college in the state to drastically amend its reopening plans for the fall in response to a rising number of coronavirus infections across the country.

The state’s flagship state university of Thursday announced that students scheduled to have only online classes in the fall will not be allowed on campus.

Only students who are enrolled in essential face-to-face classes, including laboratories and studios, will be allowed in dormitories, dining halls and other campus facilities.

Area Moving Companies Implement New Safety Precautions, Not Seeing Decline In Demand

Movers unload mattresses from a truck into the Best Western Hotel on Massachusetts Ave. in Boston in August. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Movers unload mattresses from a truck into the Best Western Hotel on Massachusetts Ave. in Boston in August. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As Boston's biggest moving day of the year looms in mere weeks, many moving companies in Massachusetts say they are just as busy this month as they have been in previous years, despite the pandemic.

But Sept. 1 may look a bit different this year as companies adapt to keep employees and customers safe.

Local moving services, which have been classified as essential business since the outbreak began, have implemented screening procedures, are cleaning equipment more frequently and are changing how paperwork is handled to limit interactions between customers and movers.

Active Mass. COVID-19 Cases Climbing For Nearly A Month

Tourists walk along Commercial Street in Provincetown, an area where local officials ordered it mandatory to wear a mask in the business district due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Tourists walk along Commercial Street in Provincetown, an area where local officials ordered it mandatory to wear a mask in the business district due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The number of active COVID-19 cases rose nearly 25% over the last week and has been steady or climbing for nearly a month while Massachusetts has settled into the third of four reopening phases and planned for the approaching school year.

There were 3,912 people isolated with confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, up from 3,141 people in isolation carrying the highly-contagious virus as of July 29, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Public Health.

Between the report published July 29 and the report released Aug. 5, Massachusetts confirmed 2,275 new cases of COVID-19 — almost 600 cases more than were confirmed the previous week. Over the same time period, 1,426 people recovered from their bouts with the illness and 78 people died with the virus.

When the state first began reporting the number of recoveries and of people under isolation on June 3, there were 7,012 people isolated with the virus. That number of active cases rose to 7,300 in the June 10 report and then fell until settling at 2,586 as of both July 8 and July 15. The number of active coronavirus cases has been climbing since.

Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. David Rosman last week suggested taking a step back in the state's economic reopening. On Sunday night, he called the numbers from the last few weeks "an unyielding upward trend."

"Either (1) Phase 3 is too liberal or (2) people aren't doing what they should," Rosman tweeted, adding that residents must follow advice from the Baker administration to wear face coverings in public and to avoid large public gatherings.

On Wednesday, Boston was among a handful of cities called out for rising coronavirus activity during a call that White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx held with local and state officials.

"We are concerned that both Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a very high level. Kansas City, Portland, Omaha, of course what we talked about in [California's] Central Valley," Birx said on the call, an audio copy of which was posted online by the Center for Public Integrity. "We are seeing a slow uptick in test positivity in cases in places like Chicago, Boston and Detroit and D.C."

MBTA Adding Bus Service To Limit Crowding

An MBTA bus. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
An MBTA bus. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

The MBTA will restart service on nearly two dozen bus routes that did not operate during the pandemic and run more frequent buses on other routes where vehicle crowds have made social distancing difficult, officials announced Wednesday.

Twenty-one routes will see increased weekday service, while 23 routes where weekday service had been suspended will relaunch, both starting on Aug. 30. A full summary of the changes is available online.

More Shutdowns Are Avoidable, But The Public Needs To Trust Science, Dr. Fauci Says At Harvard

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., left, bumps elbows with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, prior to testimony from Fauci before a House Oversight Committee hearing on preparedness for and response to the coronavirus outbreak on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., left, bumps elbows with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, prior to testimony from Fauci before a House Oversight Committee hearing on preparedness for and response to the coronavirus outbreak on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

After thousands became infected with the coronavirus last spring, hard hit states like Massachusetts had to impose months of restrictions to bring the pandemic to heel. As communities ease back into something resembling normal life, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases chief Dr. Anthony Fauci says complete shutdowns  should not be necessary in the future.

“We can continue to go toward normality without doing the drastic things of shutting down if we follow some fundamental principles,” he said during a virtual symposium hosted by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health on Wednesday. “You know what you got to do: You’ve got to wear a mask. You’ve got to avoid crowds. Outdoors is better than indoors. All the same stuff.”

Those basic COVID-19 precautions have become a mantra in public health messaging of late, with Fauci and other health experts repeating them in every public appearance. But during the symposium, Fauci said these basic precautions have become complicated through the politicization of public health and science.

“There are some people that just don’t believe me or don’t pay attention to that. And that’s unfortunate because that is the way out of this,” Fauci said. “There’s such a divergence of how people view this... Whether you wear a mask [depends] on how you feel politically, which is completely ridiculous because a mask is a public health tool.”

Public mistrust in science may have to do with a misunderstanding of scientists and researchers, Fauci suggested. To combat that, Fauci thinks scientists need to be more transparent about their work and how it can benefit the public.

“It’s almost related to a mistrust of authority that spills over,” he said. “Scientists, because they’re trying to present data, may be looked upon as being an authoritative figure. The pushing back on government is the same as pushing back on scientists.”

Fauci said that objections to his work as a health expert and as a scientist have been so virulent in recent months that he needed to get security to protect the safety of himself and his family.

"I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles and don’t like what you and I say, that they actually threaten you,” he said. “You know, getting death threats for me and my family and harassing my daughters.”

Helping the public “understand why science and evidence-based policy is so important” is key to getting people to follow COVID-19 precautions that can help save lives, Fauci said. Everyone in the world will need to work together in order to end the pandemic.

“As long as you have any member of society, any demographic group, who’s not seriously trying to get to the end game of suppressing this, it will continue to smolder and smolder,” he said.

The notion that returning to a stay-at-home state is avoidable to manage the pandemic is one that other health experts share as well. Mariana Matus, the co-founder of the wastewater epidemiology company Biobot Analytics, said the use of technology can improve communities’ odds of controlling the coronavirus by providing a heads up when spikes in new cases might be coming.

Her company provides one stream of data for that early warning. Rapid, widespread testing, social media data, and contact tracing investigating new infections also provide information that can help officials stay vigilant against new coronavirus outbreaks. As reported earlier on WBUR, Massachusetts is employing some of these techniques. For example, the state water resource authority works with Biobot to monitor wastewater for coronavirus.

In recent weeks, the positive test rate in Massachusetts has creeped up slightly. Gov. Charlie Baker has said that if the trend continues, the state may have to slow the reopening process.

“Top notch science, technology and data analytics [help] solve problems that affect us all,” Matus said. “It can make public health more data driven, more equitable and more preventative. We don’t need to be going through lockdowns like what we’re experiencing now. Technologies can help us stay ahead of it.”

And trust in science can help us prevent the next pandemic, too, Fauci said.

“We will have another pandemic for absolutely certain,” he said. “I’m asking — we’re going to do it — to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine against all coronaviruses. Shame on us if we’re not prepared for the next coronavirus pandemic outbreak.”

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