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Free Mass. Virus Testing Extended Through October

A Chelsea resident inserts a swab up his nose during free COVID-19 testing offered by the state in Chelsea Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A Chelsea resident inserts a swab up his nose during free COVID-19 testing offered by the state in Chelsea Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts will continue to offer free coronavirus testing in communities at high risk for COVID-19 transmission through the end of October, the Baker administration announced Wednesday afternoon.

Free testing through the "Stop the Spread" initiative is currently available in 18 communities: Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Framingham, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lynn, Marlborough, Methuen, New Bedford, Randolph, Revere, Salem, Saugus, Springfield, Winthrop and Worcester.

Holyoke Soldiers' Home Board Weighs Firing Of Former Superintendent After Judge Rules State's Decision Invalid

Holyoke Soldiers' Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh speaking at the 2020 Iwo Jima Day ceremony at the State House. (Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS/File)
Holyoke Soldiers' Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh speaking at the 2020 Iwo Jima Day ceremony at the State House. (Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS/File)

Trustees tasked with oversight of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home will meet next week to discuss how to proceed after a judge said only they, not the state's health and human services secretary, could decide whether to fire Superintendent Bennett Walsh for his handling of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Kevin Jourdain, a Holyoke attorney who chairs the home's Board of Trustees, said the panel will convene in executive session on Sept. 30 to chart next steps following a ruling from Hampden Superior Court Judge John Ferrara that nullified Walsh's termination.

In the meantime, Walsh's fate remains unclear. His attorney hopes the ruling — which came as at least two independent investigations continue — will trigger a public reconsideration of the crisis that led to the deaths of at least 76 residents.

Unlike Gov. Charlie Baker, who said Wednesday that he expects the board to formally fire Walsh, Jourdain did not forecast a specific outcome.

Maine Lifts COVID-19 Travel Restrictions For Mass. Residents

Visitors walk near the Palace Playland amusement park on Aug. 5 at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
Visitors walk near the Palace Playland amusement park on Aug. 5 at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Residents of Massachusetts no longer have to quarantine for 14 days or get a negative COVID-19 test before visiting Maine.

The Mills administration announced the change Wednesday afternoon, saying it goes into effect immediately.

In a written statement, Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Centers for Disease Control in Maine, said recent data show transmission risk in Massachusetts is similar to other exempt states, such as Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

Merrimack College Places More Than 250 Students In Isolation After Cluster Of Positive Tests

Merrimack College has shut down a dormitory and placed more than 250 students in quarantine or isolation after more than a dozen tested for the coronavirus.
Seventeen students who live in the residence hall have tested positive, according to a statement from Merrimack, a private Roman Catholic school in North Andover.

Of the 266 students who live in the dorm, more than 250 are quarantining off campus, and the remaining students are isolating in campus-designated spaces, according to the statement.

Baker Questions Decision-Making On School Reopenings

Gov. Charlie Baker points to the effectiveness of wearing face masks during a press conference on Sept. 15, 2020. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Gov. Charlie Baker points to the effectiveness of wearing face masks during a press conference on Sept. 15, 2020. (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday chided cities and towns that have abruptly abandoned plans to bring students back to the classroom because of small outbreaks of COVID-19, urging local leaders to look for trends in virus transmission and not make snap decisions based on a single party or cluster of infection.

He also expressed deep frustration with Washington amid signs that the new vacancy on the Supreme Court following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg could overshadow and sink hopes for a bipartisan compromise on another round of economic stimulus.

The governor also said he was planning to extend by three weeks the application period in his own search to fill two seats on the Supreme Judicial Court, following the unexpected death of Chief Justice Ralph Gants last week.

As Temperature Drops, Restaurant Owners Urge State Lawmakers To Pass Relief Bill

Massachusetts restaurant owners and chefs gathered in front of the State House to show support for legislation that would provide aid to struggling restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Massachusetts restaurant owners and chefs gathered in front of the State House to show support for legislation that would provide aid to struggling restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A group representing chefs and restaurant owners is urging lawmakers to help the struggling industry before it becomes too cold for outdoor dining to continue.

About a dozen people, speaking on behalf of the group Massachusetts Restaurants United, gathered on the steps of the State House in Boston on Tuesday and called for the passage of an economic aid package that would include a fund for distressed restaurants.

Some shared stories of near-empty dining rooms, disappearing profits, and mounting debt.

"We are doing our damn best to get ahead," said Nancy Caswell, owner of Ceia Kitchen + Bar and BRINE Oyster in Newburyport, and Oak & Rowan in Boston's Seaport neighborhood.

"We're asking for relief, not because we aren't trying," Caswell said. "We're resilient. We're doing the best we can. And the one thing that we love is the one thing that everybody fears, and that's going out to eat."

In hopes of slowing the financial bleeding, Stephanie Burke, co-owner of Lenny's Hideaway, a Mexican restaurant in Cohasset, said she has spent more than $15,000 to build a heated outdoor seating area at her restaurant. (Adrian Ma/WBUR)
In hopes of slowing the financial bleeding, Stephanie Burke, co-owner of Lenny's Hideaway, a Mexican restaurant in Cohasset, said she has spent more than $15,000 to build a heated outdoor seating area at her restaurant. (Adrian Ma/WBUR)

Without relief from the state, many are worried about how they'll survive the winter.

Both the Massachusetts House and Senate have passed their own legislation that would set up a fund to help restaurants cover various expenses including rent, payroll, past-due payments on restaurant supplies, and personal protective equipment. Those provisions, however, are tucked within larger economic aid packages that have yet to be reconciled.

"Right now, it's extremely slow," said Cecelia Lizotte, owner of Suya Joint All African Cuisine in Roxbury. Although her restaurant is open at 25% capacity, "that hasn't helped anything because people still aren't comfortable dining in," she said. "They would rather dine outside."

And unlike some other restaurants, she can't afford to set up outdoor seating or large space heaters.

"If you're trying to rent an outdoor heater, something that you could get at maybe $75 [before the pandemic], now ... you're looking at thousands, or it's not even available, because every single restaurant in Boston is trying to do the same thing."

On top of rent, payroll, insurance and taxes, the restaurateurs said they are also being squeezed by the fees many of them are paying to third-party food delivery services such as Uber Eats, Postmates, and Grubhub. Such services typically charge restaurants a 20-30% fee.

"We've come to rely on the delivery services to get our food to the people," said Tony Maws, owner of Craigie on Main in Cambridge. But during a time when restaurants are doing a fraction of their normal business, "the math just doesn't work," he said.

Maws added that those delivery services "are making tons of money."

"They can afford to give up some. We're not asking for free delivery. We're asking for a very modest, happy medium."

The House's legislation proposes a 15% cap on the fees that third-party delivery companies can charge during the COVID-19 crisis.

"The one thing that we love is the one thing that everybody fears, and that's going out to eat."

nancy caswell, restaurant owner

As lawmakers hash out the details, Bessie King, who runs Villa Mexico Cafe in Boston’s Financial District with her mother, said they may be in for a "very somber" winter. The restaurant, which had done over 200 sales per day before the pandemic hit, is down to about 50 sales per day.

"It's been the hardest for my mom," King said. With the business coming up on its 20th anniversary in October, "she wanted a nice party to celebrate with our customers, our friends who have supported us so long."

Although that party will have to wait, King said they will do their best to keep the restaurant open.

"We have a moral duty to our community," King said. "We have been through hell and back. We're not going to let COVID close us."

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