Here's an update of Friday's COVID-19 news from across New England:
Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that his administration would do everything it could to make sure cities and towns were in "decent shape" financially next year, but could offer no reassurances that local aid from the state would not be hurt by the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19.
The new fiscal year starts in just over two months, but Baker and the Legislature have not yet settled on how much money they think the state will have to spend, or how and when the House and Senate will attempt to debate and pass a budget while operating remotely for now.
"It's hard to figure out exactly where we're going to land on a number of elements associated with the budget," Baker said Thursday during his daily press conference on the state's coronavirus response.
It's been a month since economists and fiscal watchdogs warned that state tax revenues could plummet by $4 billion to $6 billion in fiscal 2021. Baker, however, noted that the state could still receive considerable federal aid, and is unsure of the full impact of the decision to postpone the state income tax filing deadline to July 15.
March tax revenues exceeded budget estimates for the year, but April revenues were off by more than $2 billion.
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"April was terrible, but April was terrible in part because we had sort of the full brunt of COVID but also nobody filed their tax payments if they owed because they're not due until July. So local communities and the commonwealth are still trying to figure out exactly where this all lands both for closing this fiscal year and opening next year," Baker said.
The governor was asked if cities and towns, already using furloughs and layoffs to control expenses, should be prepared for cuts in local aid for government operations and schools.
Baker said a lot will depend on whether the federal government gives the state more flexibility in how it spends relief money from the CARES Act, and whether Congress delivers more assistance. He pointed to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's role in helping to craft a new coronavirus relief package that will be voted on by the House Friday that included $875 billion in direct aid to state and local governments.
"There's just a lot of moving parts there and I hesitate to comment on specifics around what is going to happen either to close the books or open next year when there's still a lot of stuff that's kind of up in the air," Baker said.
Guidance on walking, swimming and other activities at Hampton Beach were approved Thursday by a task force on reopening New Hampshire during the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidance initially had a June 1 starting date, but the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force omitted that for now. Instead, members decided they would submit separate correspondence about a specific timeline to public health officials and to Gov. Chris Sununu, who would make the final decision.
The plan, which also was discussed and approved by Hampton officials, calls for closing a portion of the main road parallel to the beach to vehicle traffic and cutting available parking in half. Sunbathing and congregating in small groups on the beach would eventually be allowed.
Sununu said earlier this week he wanted to wait and see what neighboring states planned for their beaches before making a decision.
New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut kicked off a task force on school recommendations Thursday by suggesting any proposals will have to be flexible, prioritize safety and consider the possibility that districts won’t have access to their school buildings in the fall.
Edelbut said any plans must consider that schools would open in full, partially open or not at all. He also said proposals must factor in the possibility that schools could reopen and then be forced to close again in October or November, should there be a new surge in coronavirus cases.
Edelbut also said this process is an opportunity to “raise the quality of education across the board.” He acknowledged that the remote learning has worked for most, but not all, students in New Hampshire. As a result, the commissioner said he is hopeful that there could be the creation of “common learning platforms” that would ensure all district can succeed.
Rhode Island’s summer camps will reopen, but organized sports likely won’t make a return, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday.
The Democrat said details about the planned June 29 reopening of camps are being finalized, but said parents can expect their children will be kept in small, set groups in order to limit the risk of virus transmission. There will also be strict cleaning guidelines and other requirements, Raimondo said.
“It’s going to be different, but fun,” she said.
For now, Raimondo said she’s sticking to federal guidelines that recommend canceling all organized youth sports, including Little League and travel team competitions.
But she said her administration is looking into allowing other ways athletes can still compete, such as allowing sports camps to reopen or allowing other limited gatherings, such as team practices.
Raimondo also said her administration is planning a statewide, televised high school graduation ceremony in June and invited students to submit videos.
And she promised that libraries will be able to reopen for “limited browsing” in the next phase of the state’s plan to reopen its economy. A number are currently offering curbside pickup of books and other materials.
Raimondo lifted the state’s stay-at-home order last week, allowing nonessential retailers and some parks to reopen over the weekend.
On Monday, the state will begin allowing restaurants to offer limited outdoor dining after being restricted to takeout and delivery service for weeks.
Despite a call on Thursday by a group of Democratic state senators to delay plans to begin phasing out Connecticut’s COVID-19 restrictions next week, Gov. Ned Lamont said his administration is still moving ahead carefully toward the planned May 20 partial reopening of certain Connecticut businesses.
The governor, a Democrat, noted that hospitalizations are in the third week of a downward progression and the state is on pace to “blow through” a projected 42,000 tests per week beginning next week, ramping up to more than 100,000 by June.
“I appreciate the ongoing concern that people have, but I think we’ve got the right balance going forward right now,” Lamont said during his daily media briefing. “I think you have a sense that we put public health and public safety first and foremost. Whatever we do, we’re doing very cautiously. ”
In one of two letters, lawmakers noted how some parts of the state are still seeing increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases. The latest data show cases climbed by 609 from Wednesday, to nearly 35,500. But that comes as the state is ramping up testing. Meanwhile, the number of deaths spiked by 94 since Wednesday, for a total of 3,219. More than half of those are nursing home residents.
“Reopening is essential — but to do it while the first wave of the pandemic is still raging will not lead to a second wave, it will simply add fuel to the first wave, delaying our eventual recovery,” the senators wrote to Lamont.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said he supports the first reopening date — Wednesday, May 20 — noting the state has the medical capacity to deal with an uptick in cases of the coronavirus.
In the meantime, he said, the state is suffering in other ways because of current restrictions, noting an increase in domestic violence, drug abuse and mental health problems.
“Those are all huge health care concerns,” he said. “Huge.”
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Maine lodge operators and innkeepers can begin accepting reservations for June 1 for Maine residents, along with out-of-state residents who comply with the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement, officials said Thursday.
The move represents a loosening of restrictions that originally forbade out-of-state residents from reserving a room with an arrival date before July 1.
“We will continue to work closely with the tourism industry to make progress as we head into the summer,” said Commissioner Heather Johnson of the Department of Economic and Community Development.
This updated executive order comes as Gov. Janet Mills’ administration reexamines the 14-day quarantine requirement. The administration is seeking an alternative that still protects the health of Mainers.
But for now the quarantine remains in effect for out-of-state visitors even though Johnson acknowledged there’s currently no mechanism to ensure that the protocols are followed.
“It is not necessarily the ideal solution. What it is, right now, is the current solution and really the only solution available from a public health perspective to implement at this moment,” she said.
Maine’s lodging industry has said the 14-day quarantine could be a deal breaker for tourists this summer.
“For communities like Old Orchard Beach, the mandate is not just a strain on our economy, it is a devastating blow,” said Rep. Lori Gramlich, a Democrat from Old Orchard Beach, a busy tourist destination.
Vermont is now offering free testing for the COVID-19 virus to anyone who asks, even people without symptoms, the state Health Department announced.
No referral is needed, but people should make appointments, state officials said in a news release late Tuesday.
Officials plan pop-up testing clinics as part of a broader effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Vermont has one of the lowest rates of growth in people infected with the virus, and few people are showing symptoms, so they are not requesting tests, state officials said.
As of Tuesday, fewer than 930 people in Vermont had tested positive for the virus, and 53 people had died. The number of new cases reported daily is usually in the low single digits, and on two days in the past two weeks, no new positive tests were reported.
Dr. Mark Levine, the health commissioner, has said the state has ample testing supplies coupled with low demand.
“We know that people who have no symptoms, but are going to develop COVID, have at least a 48-hour period where they may be presymptomatic and capable of infecting someone,” Levine said last week. “So it would be nice to find them ahead of time.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older people and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
State House News Service contributed to this report.