Gov. Charlie Baker hailed a new round of financial assistance for small businesses in Massachusetts impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, saying he hoped the funds would tide them over until economic activities normalize.
In a press conference at Ristorante Saraceno in Boston's North End, Baker said the grants would provide some $78.5 million in awards to 1,595 additional small businesses as part of the COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program.
"We know how much this pandemic has impacted small business in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Baker said. "We really do hope that people who qualify will have a chance to apply to receive some of the support that this program can make available.
"For many of these businesses, we do believe it will be a big part of what helps them get through the difficult times we're in now and pass this curve and into the world we hope will come when we finally get the vaccine fully distributed," said.
Baker said he thought the coming summer "should look a lot different from last summer" as more people receive COVID-19 vaccines.
The grants were the third round of awards from the program and focused on independent retailers, restaurants and women-owned businesses, among others.
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Business owners can apply for the grants here. The funds can be used to pay employees, rent, debt and other business expenses.
In all, the administration has awarded nearly $195 million in direct financial support to 4,119 small businesses through the program.
The remarks come as Massachusetts continues to grapple with a surge of coronavirus cases across the state.
Massachusetts reported 5,278 new confirmed coronavirus cases Wednesday as the daily death toll topped 13,000.
There were 86 new fatalities reported Wednesday by the Department of Public Health, bringing the total to 13,082 confirmed deaths. A total of 427,752 confirmed COVID cases have been reported.
Baker on Wednesday also released new details on the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations in Massachusetts.
On Monday, the state began administering vaccine doses to first responders — including police, firefighters and EMTs. The next step in the state's vaccine plan will focus on congregate care facilities.
Starting next week, roughly 94,000 people living and working in congregate care settings like group homes, shelters and correctional facilities will become eligible to receive the vaccine.
"These facilities are prioritized because they serve vulnerable populations in densely populated settings, which means they're at significant risk for contracting COVID-19," Baker said. "The staff are also high risk for exposure at these facilities, and many of them do amazing work and it's important that they're vaccinated to protect themselves and their families."
Massachusetts remains on track to begin Phase 2 of its vaccination plan sometime in February as initially announced, he said. Baker also defended the way his administration has made the COVID-19 available to this point on Wednesday.
On Tueday, Baker announced that Massachusetts is preparing to open its first mass vaccination site this week at Gillette Stadium as the state ramps up efforts to get shots into arms and help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The site will open Thursday by first administering vaccinations into staff members, he said.
Starting Monday, the site will begin giving shots to first responders. At first the site will have the capacity to administer up to 300 doses a day.
Baker said capacity will expand over time to up to 5,000 doses a day or more, eventually extending to the general population.
Eligible vaccine recipients will be able to schedule appointments on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine website.
Vaccines are not expected to be available to the general public until April.
“The big hope on the horizon is the arrival of more vaccine,” Baker said. “In the meantime everybody’s still got to do their part to stop the spread of the virus in the months ahead.”