By Katie Lannan
Describing COVID-19's impact on nursing homes as "terribly difficult" and an "enormous tragedy," Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday said new measures the state has put in place at such facilities have helped bring about declines in both the positive test rate and death rates.
Those measures, Baker said during a visit to Lowell, include required testing for residents and staff and a "comprehensive" infection control program.
Sixty-two percent of the 6,640 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts as of Thursday -- or 4,123 deaths -- were reported in long-term care facilities, and more than 20,000 residents and staff of such facilities have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
On Wednesday, state officials began reporting new data about COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, including testing results, information on infection control audits and the number of deaths by facility.
Some facilities have logged dozens of deaths -- at the high end of the list are the Leavitt Family Jewish Home in Longmeadow, with 66 deaths; Mary Immaculate Nursing/Restorative Center in Lawrence, with 64 deaths; and Courtyard Nursing Care Center in Medford, with 60 deaths.
State lawmakers on Thursday sent Baker a bill that would spell out data reporting requirements, including information on COVID-19 in long-term care centers and in correctional facilities. The bill (H 4672) also includes language calling for elder care facilities -- including nursing homes, the soldiers' homes in Chelsea and Holyoke, and assisted living facilities -- to make daily COVID-19 reports to their local health department.
Baker said "tremendous work" has so far gone into making accurate and comprehensive data publicly available.
He referenced a Wall Street Journal article suggesting that, as he said, "if you had to pick a sport that would be absolutely perfect with respect to COVID's ability to infiltrate it and make it miserable, you would pick basketball."
"The reason I read that story is because I'm a basketball player and I agree, but if you had to pick a care delivery model that was absolutely perfect for COVID-19 to wreak havoc on it -- and it has across the world and across the country -- you would pick a model where people who serve those folks, every day, put their hands on them a lot," Baker said. "They feed them and they bathe them and they dress them and they recreate them and they transport them."
Baker said asymptomatic transmission of the contagious respiratory disease also has "a lot to do with the tragedy associated with long-term care here and in other places."
The governor joined Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and University of Massachusetts Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney for an afternoon visit to UMass Lowell's Fabric Discovery Center, which has received funding through the state Manufacturing Emergency Response Team to conduct testing of locally produced personal protective equipment.
M-ERT, run through the MassTech Collaborative, was launched last month to help local manufacturers pivot from their normal operations to produce materials needed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
"It just continues to build on this idea that the more we can do from beginning to end here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts -- including testing a lot of the fabrics and the products that are being developed here in Massachusetts -- the less we have to worry about some of the issues that come with getting involved in global supply chains, which the lieutenant governor and I could go on for hours about how much fun that is," Baker said.
Baker said the UMass Lowell team is able to test N95 respirator masks, surgical masks, gowns and other equipment for "a number of very specific factors to make sure these products work as well as they're supposed to."
Moloney said the center has so far tested 400 samples for entities including Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and companies like New Balance that have shifted into the production of personal protective equipment.
UMass Lowell's Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center, also known as M2D2, is also working on possible blood tests for COVID-19, which Baker said over time "could end up being an incredibly important tool for surveillance."
The Department of Public Health reported Thursday that 562,323 COVID-19 tests have now been performed in Massachusetts, yielding 94,895 positive results.
Baker said there have been "several days in a row now of promising results" on key metrics the state watches, like testing, positive rates and hospitalizations. That trend indicates, he said, that "people have been playing their part."
"They've been washing their hands, covering their faces when out in public, distancing themselves from others when they can, and everyone is staying vigilant with respect to symptoms," he said. "The science, as we all know, and this is clear -- doing these things is how we stop and kill the virus, and we all have to keep it up."