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Health Data Remains Positive As Massachusetts Takes Another Step In Reopening

Springfield Health and Human Services Dept

   With closely watched health data about the coronavirus, including the percentage of positive cases and hospitalization rates, all trending in the right direction, Massachusetts took another step in reopening Monday. 

   Indoor dining resumed at restaurants, customers could return to nail salons and tattoo parlors, and offices could be staffed at 50 percent capacity Monday as Massachusetts entered part two of Phase Two of the state’s gradual reopening plan.

   "Today is a great day," said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno at his regular weekly update on the city's COVID-19 response.

    Sarno said the city had processed some 40 applications from restaurants looking to expand their seating capacity by offering outdoor dining, which has been permitted since June 8th as part of the staged reopening of the Massachusetts economy.

   The number of new cases of COVID-19 in Springfield has held at below 20 per day since the beginning of June, with most days’ tally of new cases in the single digits.

   "We are making tremendous strides all around," said Sarno.

   Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Springfield now account for less than 10 percent of hospital patients.  Statewide, the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 dropped below 1,000 last week for the first time since the height of the pandemic in April.

   Dr. Robert Roose, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, said the health data supports the steps being taken to reopen the economy.

" We are not yet at a point where we can breath a sigh of relief," said Roose.  He urged people to remain "cautious and vigilent."

  It appears the massive protests earlier this month that followed the police custody death of George Floyd did not produce a surge in COVID-19 cases, at least not in western Massachusetts.

  As part of a state program to offer free testing to anyone who had attended a large gathering, Baystate Health tested 1,334 people with just 14 positive results, according to Baystate Medical Center president Nancy Shendell-Falik.

   "We also made sure that anyone who was tested had access to a physician for a follow-up," said Shendell-Falik.

  Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said while the city has been successful in reducing the number of COVID-19 cases down to a manageable level, people need to remain cautious as they return to more normal routines.

   "I implore you to understand that this virus behaves differently indoors than it does outdoors," said Caulton-Harris.

   The city has announced a third round of a program to help businesses survive the coronavirus  shutdown.  Springfield’s chief economic officer, Tim Sheehan, said a fund totaling $500,000 is available to help business pay reopening expenses.

    "If they have past due rent, past due expenditures for inventory because no business has been coming in that would be an eligible expense," said Sheehan.  He said costs to implement the emergency protocols and procedures required by the state would also be eligible for funding in this program.

   In two earlier rounds, the city awarded 107 grants totaling almost $800,000 to small businesses and restaurants.

  The city has also announced a $2 million housing program to help people who lost income pay rents, mortgages, and utility bills.

  Officials said Monday that a workforce development program is being planned to help people who have permanently lost their job as a result of the pandemic response.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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