Number of Coronavirus Cases Rises to 138 in Massachusetts

Also announced Saturday were the first cases in Worcester and Barnstable County

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UPDATE SUNDAY, MARCH 15: Twenty-six more cases were detected, bringing the total to 164. Details here.

The number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts has risen to 138, health officials announced Saturday, up 15 from Friday.

It's the second consecutive day of a 15-person increase in the commonwealth. Also announced Saturday were the first cases in Cape Cod and Worcester.

The announcement from the Department of Public Health came shortly after Gov. Charlie Baker and the state's health commissioner announced the establishment of a new COVID-19 Response Command Center that will help coordinate Massachusetts' lab testing and quarantining among other things.

As of Saturday, a total of 475 people have been tested for coronavirus by state labs, officials said, with 138 people testing positive for COVID-19 so far. Nineteen of those cases have subsequently been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The majority of the 138 cases remain related to an employee meeting held at a Boston hotel by the Cambridge biotech firm Biogen last month. Health officials say 104 of the 138 cases are tied to the Feb. 24-27 meeting held at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel, which has since closed "in the interest of public health."

Five of the cases are travel-related, eight are associated with a cluster in western Massachusetts, and 21 of them remain under investigation, health officials say.

Of the state's 138 cases, 64 are women and 74 are men. Middlesex County residents account for nearly half, 65, of the 138 cases statewide. Norfolk County has 28 cases, while Suffolk County reports 27. There are nine cases in Berkshire County, and five cases in Essex County.

There are two cases in Worcester County, and one each in Barnstable and Bristol counties.

Mass. Eye and Ear in Boston said Saturday that one of its healthcare professionals has tested positive for COVID-19. The specialty hospital said it, along with the Boston Public Health Commission, is reaching out to patients and fellow staff who may have come into contact with the hospital employee, who is at home and isolated.

The close contacts of the infected healthcare professional are being asked to practice social distancing, avoid public areas and to not go to work for 14 days. They are also being asked to monitor their health during that two- week period, calling their healthcare providers if they develop symptoms related to COVID-19, which include a fever (100.4°F or higher), cough, trouble breathing, or shortness of breath.

"As Coronavirus spreads across the globe, it has become inevitable that health care workers will be exposed to COVID-19, as is now the case for a Mass. Eye and Ear healthcare professional," the hospital said in a statement. "The entire Mass. Eye and Ear community has been prepared for this and taken every precaution possible to protect patients, providers and staff, including use of personal protective equipment, reducing non-urgent patient visits, limiting visitors, and implementing social distancing for essential staff. Mass. Eye and Ear is deeply committed to providing safe and high quality care to patients and will continue to do so throughout this public health emergency."

Brigham and Women's Hospital said similarly in an email to employees Saturday, "As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, it is inevitable that health care workers will be infected, as is now the case at the Brigham. We are in the process of contacting patients and staff who may have been exposed."

The Boston hospital said it has been in close contact with both the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Boston Public Health Commission.

"While this news is unsettling, please be assured that our Brigham community has been preparing for this eventuality, and we will continue to take every precaution to protect our patients, their loved ones and our staff throughout this unprecedented pandemic," the email continued.

It's not clear if the two statements from the Brigham and Mass. Eye and Ear are referring to the same employee or two different people.

Officials in Worcester announced the city's first positive case of coronavirus on Saturday, saying it is related to the Biogen conference. Officials say this individual is being monitored by the DPH and remains in isolation. City officials are awaiting testing on five other people under investigation, all of whom are being closely monitored by the city health officials.

The Marriott Long Wharf hotel in Boston was closed indefinitely, days after it was determined that a company's meeting there was the center of a coronavirus cluster.

Cape Cod Healthcare confirmed the first case in Barnstable County Saturday, saying a patient had been admitted to one of its hospitals with respiratory symptoms. Hospital officials say the patient will remain hospitalized until they are stable and can return home for the remainder of the recommended quarantine period of 14 days. All staff members who came into contact with the patient are currently being monitored, hospital officials say.

"Cape Cod Healthcare is taking every necessary precaution to keep our patients and community safe," said Michael Lauf, President and CEO of Cape Cod Healthcare. "We strongly encourage the community to continue to educate themselves...and practice an abundance of caution and common sense during this time to limit the spread of this illness. We are ready to support the needs of our community, but we will need everyone's help and support in this process."

Braintree officials confirmed Saturday that one of their residents is one of the 19 confirmed cases in the state. The Braintree Health Department has been in constant contact with this person, who has been in isolation since receiving the positive test result. This person does not have any children enrolled in Braintree public schools.

Just 11 patients have been confirmed to be hospitalized so far, according to Saturday's figures, though 22 other cases are listed as being under investigation.

As of March 10, more than 1,000 people have been quarantined in Massachusetts, with at least 445 of them still being quarantined or monitored, according to health officials.

On Friday night, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced public schools in the city would close for at least six weeks starting Tuesday, while Baker issued an order prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people.

Saturday, the Massachusetts Trial Court announced a range of measures, including the expansion of videoconferencing, the promotion of electronic filing, and the use of staggered schedules, to reduce the number of people coming into state courts. Each of the seven Trial Court departments has issued a temporary Standing Order that will triage court business to substantially reduce the need for people to come into courthouses, effective Wednesday, March 18.

“In light of public health concerns arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the State of Emergency declared by the Governor, courts are taking extraordinary measures to ensure that all who use and work in our courts are safe,” said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey. “Historically, approximately 40,000 people come into our 99 courthouses every day. Our priority is to significantly reduce the number of people who come into our courts, especially in large group settings, by reducing the number of matters the court will hear and by increasing the number of matters that the court will resolve through video and telephone conferences. The Trial Court community remains committed to ensuring access to justice for people who need assistance, by keeping courts open and available to court users to the extent possible, while ensuring that steps are taken to protect other court users and court staff.”

All courts will remain open for regular business, and many previously scheduled court-related events will be held as scheduled, albeit by alternative means such as videoconferencing and telephone.

Emergency matters, such as requests for restraining orders, harassment prevention orders, emergency petitions, and mental health proceedings, will proceed as normal.

Court officials say Trial Court Facilities Management has expanded the use of disinfectant cleaning, especially in high-touch areas, such as jury pool rooms, elevator buttons, Clerks’ offices, probation departments, and holding cells.

The Supreme Judicial Court issued two orders Friday regarding the courts and the COVID-19 pandemic. The SJC ordered that, effective immediately, all empanelments in jury trials in both criminal and civil cases are postponed until no earlier than April 21.

In a separate order, the SJC ordered that, effective immediately, anyone who has symptoms of, or any exposure to, COVID-19 may not enter a courthouse or other state court facility, including probation offices, until the SJC determines that it is safe to remove the restrictions.

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