Fenway Park COVID Vaccine Site Moving

By SCOTT JACKSON

With the Red Sox set to open their home slate on April 1, the mass vaccination clinic at Fenway Park will be relocating before the end of March.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced a new mass vaccination site would open at the Hynes Convention Center, replacing the Fenway Park site. Vaccinations will begin at the Hynes Convention Center on March 18 and end at Fenway Park on March 27.

“These sites will overlap for a couple of weeks,” Baker said during a press conference in Lawrence. “All individuals that are vaccinated at Fenway Park and have a second appointment scheduled will be able to receive their second dose at the Hynes.”

Baker said any residents impacted by the transition would receive an email with more details from the organization who is running the Fenway Park site. There will be additional outreach efforts as well.

The governor said it made sense to move the site away from Fenway Park with the stadium set to host games and other baseball-related activities – and as businesses in the area open up on game days.

“To have ballplayers in the park at the same time you have people in the park who are there for a different purpose, we just felt was a little more complicated than we felt was appropriate for this. The Hynes is available and it’s not that far away and it will have the ability to scale,” Baker said.

“As the baseball season moves forward, they are going to open up some point some of the stuff on Yawkey Way. From our point of view, the Hynes was more permanent solution we could use on a go-forward basis.”

As of Thursday, 25,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered at Fenway Park. That number should grow to 55,000 before it closes at the end of March, Baker said.

“This month, new Hynes site will ramp up to do the same volume of vaccinations that are currently being done at Fenway Park, which is about 1,500 a day,” he stated. “Later this spring, if our supply increases, the Hynes has room to scale up to more than 5,000 shots per day.”

Fenway Park is one of seven mass vaccination sites in the Bay State. The others include the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, the DoubleTree Hotel in Danvers, the former Circuit City in Dartmouth, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, the Natick Mall, and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.

There are some 170 vaccinations sites located throughout Massachusetts. Appointments can be booked online at mass.gov/covidvaccine. Those unable to use the website can call 2-1-1 and follow the prompts to schedule an appointment.

Crash Victim Thanks Quincy Police Officers

Jacqueline Massua, center, thanks Quincy police officers for saving her after a car ran her over, pinning her in the parking lot of a local supermarket Dec. 24. From left, Det. Charles Landry, Officers Michael Dougan, Kenneth Stanley, John Leuchte, Elizabeth Le, Asher Hughes, and Stephen Brown. Missing are Officers Krestina Habib and Matthew Benvie and Judge Robert Harnais. Quincy Sun photo/Tom Gorman

(Editor’s note: The name of Quincy Police Officer John Leuchte was misspelled in the print version of this story that appears in the March 4th issue of The Quincy Sun. The corrected story appears below. The Sun regrets the error.)

By Tom Gorman

Jacqueline Massua of Quincy was walking in the Stop & Shop parking lot on Southern Artery on Christmas Eve when out of nowhere, an errant car struck a 65-year-old man, then careened into her. Massua was run over, dragged, and pinned underneath. Quincy Police Officers Asher Hughes and Kenneth Stanley happened to be nearby and witnessed the incident. They radioed for assistance and within moments, several officers arrived on the scene.

The 36-year-old Massua was trapped. Seeing no way to quickly free her, Officer John Leuchte quickly decided to lift the vehicle. With the help of eight of his comrades, they hoisted the car while Officer Krestina Habib, and a civilian, who happened to be District Court Judge Robert Harnais, pulled her out.

Nearly recovered from her injuries that included broken ribs, a burn on her foot, and a road rash, Massua stopped by Quincy Police Headquarters on Wednesday, Feb. 24 to personally thank the officers she credits with saving her life.

“I just wanted to come here today to thank you guys for what you did for me,” an emotional Massua told the officers standing before her as her mother, sister, and cousin, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, looked on.

“I truly believe that if you guys weren’t there that day, I might not be standing here today,” she continued. “So, I wanted to say thank you for all you do day in and day out, but, you know, especially for being there for me on the 24th of December. And honestly you guys saved my life, and I could never thank you enough for that. And I appreciate you guys.”

Massua recalled the accident, saying she was conscious the whole time and how the officers comforted her.

“While I was stuck under the vehicle, a woman prayed for me,” she said, fighting back tears. “I remember the officers telling me I was going to be okay. I was nervous. The car was on me and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it and thankfully these officers were able to lift the car off and get me out.”

After Massua was stabilized by firefighters and paramedics, she was taken to the hospital along with the other victim and the driver of the vehicle.

Since her release from the hospital, Massua said it was her mission to thank the officers who helped her.

“I wanted to come here from the day I got out of the hospital to thank them for what they did,” she said.

Massua said it has been a “tough couple months” dealing with her injuries, but is recovering.

DeMaria recognized the officers’ actions. With the help of his cousin, he presented citations of appreciation to them for their “selflessness, bravery and unwavering courageousness.”

“You’re a valuable resource in the community,” he told the officers. “To be on hand and able to lift the vehicle off a person who was run over and to save her life…They were able and willing and worked to save her life in seconds.”

DeMaria went on to extend his appreciation to Mayor Thomas Koch for having the vision of funding the police department to have proper staffing. DeMaria said people never know when they may need the help of police.

“When we are in pain, or we are suffering, or we are afraid, we need police officers,” he said. “These are the men and women you need to make sure you stay safe.”

DeMaria noted that Massua is a Suffolk University graduate and a criminologist for the Boston Police Department. Her late grandfather was a retired Everett police officer.

“Jackie is a strong girl,” he said of his cousin. “She never thought she would need a police officer…”

Those honored were Detective Charles Landry, Officers Michael Dougan, Kenneth Stanley, John Leuchte, Elizabeth Le, Asher Hughes, Stephen Brown, Krestina Habib, and Matthew Benvie, and Judge Robert Harnais.

Dougan said he and his fellow officers are thankful for the outcome of Massua’s accident.

“It’s good to see that she’s recovered now,” he said. “It’s another day for us. We’re glad to see that she’s up and walking.”

Police Chief Paul Keenan praised his officers.

“Today we are here to pay tribute to our survivor, her family, and our officers who did a heroic thing that day,” he said. “Police officers do heroic things day in and day out throughout the country and it’s not often they get recognized. So, it’s nice they are recognized today for their lifesaving efforts.”

 

 

Quincy Police Charge Four With Fentanyl Trafficking

By SCOTT JACKSON

The Quincy Police Department arrested and charged four individuals with trafficking fentanyl Tuesday evening.

The department’s drug control unit was conducted surveillance in the area of Washington Street and McGrath Highway around 6:45 p.m. Tuesday when detectives observed two individuals pacing back and forth and looking up and down Washington Street while using a cellphone, police said.

Detectives then saw both individuals, a male and a female, enter a Mitsubishi Outlander that had pulled into a parking lot. The vehicle then drove around the block before dropping the two people off a short distance from they were picked up. Detectives were able to query the vehicle’s license plate and determined it was a rental from New York, police said.

Believing a drug deal had just taken place inside the car, detectives encountered both individuals on Elm Street. The detectives recovered three “fingers” of a substance believed to be fentanyl/heroin and eight small bags of a substance believed to be crystal methamphetamine, police said; a finger is street slang for 10 grams of fentanyl/heroin and is called that based on its packaging.

After those items were recovered, detectives who were trailing the Mitsubishi approached the vehicle while it was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Revere Road and Hancock Street. The driver and passenger were then removed from the car and placed under arrest.

Upon arriving back at police headquarters, detectives were able to field test the substances. The substance believed to be fentanyl/heroin was determined to be presumptively positive for the presence of fentanyl, police said; the substance believed to be methamphetamine was also analyzed and that test confirmed its presence.

Gerinson Tejada-Avalo, age 26, of Lawrence was arrested and charged with trafficking more than 10 grams of fentanyl, distribution of a class A substance (fentanyl), conspiracy to violate drug laws and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Raissury Silverio-Fortunato, 30, of Lawrence, the passenger in the vehicle, was arrested and charged with trafficking more than 10 grams of fentanyl, distribution of a class A substance (fentanyl) and conspiracy to violate drug laws.

Megan Berchtold, age 34, and Robert Ball, age 35, both of Weymouth, were arrested and charged with trafficking fentanyl over 10 grams, possession with intent to distribute a class B substance (crystal methamphetamine), and conspiracy to violate drug laws.

Arraignment information on the four individuals was not immediately available Wednesday.

The department said anyone who suspects drug activity in their neighborhood should contact the drug control unit at by emailing anontips@quincyma.gov, by calling 617-328-4527 or using the MyPD smartphone app. Tips can be submitted anonymously.

Koch Proposes Re-Financing Of City’s Pension Liability

Mayor Thomas Koch has announced a proposal that his office says will save tens of millions of dollars every year by changing how the city pays down the outstanding pension obligation for employees who largely worked for the city prior to major state reforms decades ago.

Details of the proposal were announced in a press release issued by the mayor’s office.

According to the release, the mayor’s administration proposes exchanging the current system of an annual budget appropriation to pay down the pension liability – this year close to $30 million – for a bond financing plan that will reduce the annual payment by potentially $20 million the first year and tens of millions of dollars in subsequent years.

Instead of an annual budget appropriation, which increases ever year and is susceptible to market swings based on the investment performance of pension funds, the city would fund the entire outstanding liability up-front and then pay back the debt on a set schedule with a set interest rate.

Koch likened the innovative plan to refinancing a house, saying market conditions of historically low interest rates make the move not only feasible but extraordinarily beneficial to the city and its taxpayers.

“This is a fiscal game-changer for the city by creating millions of dollars in annual savings and ensuring the kind of ongoing financial stability that is vital to our future,” Koch said in the release. “The savings this will produce will help us build reserves for other major employee benefit obligations, help us weather the current downturn, and create flexibility in so many areas. This is innovative, rational and forward-thinking, and I’m grateful for the work of Municipal Finance Director Eric Mason and his team for their great work on pushing this forward.”

The mayor’s administration will submit an appropriation request for the bond financing package this spring. The final number will be determined through the annual actuarial study conducted by the City’s independent Retirement Board that determines the outstanding liability, but it is estimated to be more than $400 million.

The outstanding liability is largely a product of policies dating back decades when City employees did not contribute a substantial amount of their salaries toward their pensions. Reforms in the 1990s and 2000s changed that, and city employees working today are largely self-funding their pensions through weekly contributions.

As part of the earlier reforms, the state mandated that all cities and towns fully fund their outstanding liabilities by the year 2038. The City’s current annual appropriation to the pension system is based on that timeline.  It increases every year to meet that schedule, and additional increases occur when invested pension funds do meet at least a 7-percent return.  The Retirement Board, which is an independent authority overseen by state regulators, makes investment decisions for the fund.

In essence, the plan would exchange the risk factor related to investment performance from the 7-percent threshold to a 3-percent threshold that’s likely to be the interest rate on the refinancing package.

As one component of the proposal, Koch this week submitted special legislation with the City Council that would add two new members to the Retirement Board to deal strictly with investment matters. The members would be appointed by the mayor and according to the legislation, would be the City’s Chief Financial Officer or his or her designee and someone with experience in financial services or management.

The proposal was submitted to the Council’s Ordinance Committee chaired by Councillor Anne Mahoney. There was no discussion on the proposal by councillors Monday night.

Because retirement systems are overseen by state regulators, the proposal would need to be approved by the Legislature and Governor Baker in addition to the City Council. The additional members would only be allowed to participate matters related directly to investment policy and not the Board’s other functions such as approving retirements.

“It’s not a deal-breaker when it comes to the overall plan, but I think it only makes sense for tthe board to have additional expertise in investment management based on the size of the commitment the city is proposing to make,” Koch said.

 

 

 

Massachusetts Educators Eligible For COVID Vaccine March 11

By SCOTT JACKSON

Starting on March 11, K-12 school staff and early childcare workers in Massachusetts will be able to book appointments to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday.

The governor made his announcement during a press conference inside the West Parish School in Gloucester, which on Wednesday marked its 101st day of in-person learning this year. Baker’s announcement came one day after President Joe Biden urged states to give educators access to the vaccine by the end of the month.

“We don’t want people to be confused,” by differing state and federal guidance, Baker said.

The announcement also came shortly after CVS made appointments available for educators on its website.

Educators had been among the essential workers who were next in line to become eligible to get the vaccine in Massachusetts, along with those who work in the transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works, and public health fields.

Starting March 11, educators will be able to book appointments at any one of the state’s 170 vaccination sites, Baker said. Certain days, likely on weekends, will be reserved for educators at the state’s mass vaccination sites, which include Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium.

While educators will become eligible to book appointments starting next week, Baker urged patience as the supply of vaccine the state gets from the federal government is unlikely to increase until late March at the earliest.

“Everyone who wants a shot will eventually get one,” Baker said. “We will keep working to administer every dose we get.”

The state receives about 150,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in total each week from the federal government, Baker said. It also received 58,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires a single shot, this week, but the governor does not expect to get any more of that vaccine until late March.

There are about 400,000 educators who will become eligible to book appointments starting March 11. One million residents –those over the age of 65 and those with two or more qualifying health conditions – became eligible for the vaccine in February, and about one-third of those have gotten their shots to date.

That means one million residents will eligible for the vaccine as of March 11, Baker said, and it could take a month or more for them all to book appointments unless supplies increase.

The governor last week announced he would seek to bring more students back for full in-person starting in April with elementary school students, though parents would still be able to opt out of in-person learning and keep their children participating in remote school.

On Wednesday, Baker said teachers would not need to be fully vaccinated before the state moves to bring more students back for in-person learning. Some schools statewide have been open for in-person learning since September, he stated, and the state is also offering districts the chance to participate in weekly pooled COVID-19 testing.

“The CDC’s own guidelines with respect to schools doesn’t require vaccinations before reopening,” Baker added.

The governor also emphasized that appointments remain available for those over the age of 65 and those with qualifying health conditions and said it is important for them to get vaccinated as they are at the greatest risk of death or severe illness from the virus.

“Vaccines remain available for older adults and those with certain health conditions,” Baker said. “They need to be vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Appointments can be booked online at mass.gov/covidvaccine. Those unable to use the website can call 2-1-1 and follow the prompts to schedule an appointment.

Elevating Stories Of Asian Immigrant Entrepreneurs Across Greater Boston; Film Screening March 3, Panel Discussion March 17

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) will present a series of videos on March 3 highlighting the unprecedented COVID-19 and social barriers facing the region’s Asian immigrant entrepreneurs, focusing on the stories of three Asian-American business owners in Quincy. A virtual panel discussion on related regionwide research will take place on March 17.

MAPC undertook the storytelling project in June, concentrating first on Quincy, which, combined with neighboring Milton, has the region’s highest proportion of Asian and Pacific Islander (APPI) immigrant entrepreneurs per capita. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a culture of xenophobia and fear targeting Asian Americans has spread around the nation and here in Massachusetts.  Stop AAPI Hate, a national reporting database, received 2,808 reports of anti-Asian discrimination in 2020. Such xenophobia has directly harmed Asian immigrant owned businesses, with the service sector suffering most.

“MAPC is pleased to share this series of videos designed to prompt constructive dialogue to counter fearful narratives and recenter focus on the resilience and humanity of Asian immigrant business owners in our region,” MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen said. “Barriers to success that Asian immigrant businesses were already facing before the pandemic have worsened in the past year. By showcasing the important stories of these business owners, we and our community partners hope to inform and strengthen efforts to help this sector bounce back and build resilience.”

In collaboration with filmmaker Daphne Xu, MAPC will virtually screen “Quincy From a Distance,” the stories of photographer and hair stylist Jim Mei, Lion Dance studio owner Chris Yee, and Sunshine Travel Agency owner Lorraine Tse at 7:30 p.m. on March 3. Two weeks later, on March 17, MAPC will present results of a regional survey of small businesses conducted in partnership with a network of community-based organizations. Joining MAPC and Xu to discuss analysis of survey results and policy recommendations at a virtual panel discussion will be representatives of the Asian Community Development Corporation, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Chinatown Main Street, and Quincy Asian Resources, Inc.

According to MAPC research, the seven Eastern Massachusetts regions with the highest estimated proportion of Asian immigrant entrepreneurs are:

  • Malden and Medford
  • Newton and Brookline
  • Waltham, Lexington, Burlington, Bedford, and Lincoln
  • Randolph, Norwood, Dedham, Canton, and Holbrook
  • Quincy and Milton
  • Wayland, Weston, Wellesley, Needham, Dover, Westwood, and Sherborn
  • Lowell

The Regional Immigrant Entrepreneur Storytelling Project is spearheaded by MAPC’s Arts and Culture and Economic Developments. For more information, contact Jennifer Emiko Kaplan, Economic Development Planner at jkaplan@mapc.org or visit https://www.mapc.org/resource-library/regional-immigrant-entrepreneur-storytelling-project/. Register for the virtual film screening: here. Register for the virtual Regional Immigrant Small Business Owners Panel here.

Third COVID-19 Vaccine Cleared For Use

By SCOTT JACKSON

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday said the introduction of a third coronavirus vaccine should “dramatically boost” vaccination efforts in the Bay State and elsewhere.

The Food and Drug Administration this weekend granted an emergency use authorization to the new vaccine, which is manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. Two other vaccines – manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer – had received emergency use authorizations from the FDA in December.

Baker welcomed the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after touring the Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan, which is being used as a vaccination center.

“The introduction of that vaccine over time will certainly dramatically boost our vaccination efforts here and the vaccination effort in so many other places as well,” Baker said.

“As people know, we have a lot more capacity than we have supply. While demand will obviously be much more significant than supply, the good news here is having another effective vaccine for all eligible residents produced by a third manufacturer should mean a big increase in the number of vaccines that are available…here in the commonwealth.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single shot, unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two shots given three to four weeks apart.

“It’s a single-dose, which for a lot of people is a really big deal in terms of how they think about this generally,” Baker said. “It also creates far more capacity within the system.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also has less stringent storage requirements than the other two.

“It doesn’t require the deep freeze, so it is much easier to make it available in far more locations,” the governor said. “You can just use it in a lot more settings that are not really built or structured to deal with some of the complexities with managing a vaccine that requires a deep freeze, a thaw and a general understanding of how many doses you are going to get out of the thaw and whether or not you have the people to vaccinate according to the number you thaw.”

At several points during his remarks, Baker reiterated comments made over the weekend by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, who said Americans should take any one of the three vaccines if given the chance.

“I can’t emphasize enough what Fauci said over the weekend, which is they are all completely effective against hospitalization and death,” Baker stated. “He said all three of them work and people really need to keep that in mind.”

Johnson & Johnson is expected to ship 4 million doses of its vaccine this week, and 20 million total by the end of March. Some of the doses will be allocated to states, while the federal government will send others directly to pharmacies and community health centers.

Baker said he anticipates the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available to Massachusetts residents next week.

“The information on the J&J vaccine at this point in terms of volume is a little bit up in the air,” he said. “It is likely we will get, for next week, a shipment and that shipment will probably be distributed pretty evenly across what we think of as the vaccinating community we have here in Massachusetts.”

The federal government has said most doses arriving in the state over the next few weeks will be from Moderna or Pfizer, Baker added later.

“The message has been you will get a little bit of a supply [of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine] based on production that has already been done shortly and then basically you should expect the next few weeks will probably be Pfizer and Moderna,” the governor said.

“At some point, toward the end of the month…as J&J ramps up its production capability you will start to see a lot more of them come into the mix.”

Massachusetts had received 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through Sunday, Baker said, 1.7 million of which had been administered. That includes 1.2 million first doses and 550,000 second doses.

$2.1 Million Sought For Emergency Town Brook Repairs

By SCOTT JACKSON

Warning that it is in danger of collapsing, city officials are seeking $2.1 million to make emergency repairs to an underground section of the culvert that carries the Town Brook.

The council will consider Mayor Thomas Koch’s request for that money, which would come from the sewer and drain rehabilitation fund, at their meeting Monday evening. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. and is being conducted remotely via Zoom.

City officials say a section of the Town Brook culvert is in need of repair and could potentially collapse. Photo courtesy city of Quincy.

The section of the Town Brook culvert in need of repair lies between Bigelow Street and Washington Street in Quincy Point. Al Grazioso, the city’s commissioner of public works, said a recent inspection of the culvert found numerous structural deficiencies.

“Repairs are required to correct the noted deficiencies to maintain the functioning of this important waterway and to maintain public safety,” he wrote in a memo provided to councillors.

David White, an engineer with the firm Woodard & Curran, warned that the section is question could potentially collapse if the repairs are not made.

“These structural deficiencies pose a public safety hazard therefore restrictive safety measures are being put in place over these sections of the brook,” he wrote in a separate memo. “Due to the potential for collapse, we recommend these sections of the brook be repaired immediately.”

In other business Monday, councillors will hold a public hearing on an ordinance that would create a definition for affordable housing. That public hearing begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by a committee meeting on the same subject.

Ward 4 Councillor Brian Palmucci said he introduced that ordinance to spur a wider discussion about affordable housing in the city.

During the 7:30 p.m. meeting of the full council, councillors will also honor the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services as COVID-19 Heroes; consider a home rule petition from Koch to add two new members to the Quincy Retirement Board; and consider a request from Koch and Ward 6 Councillor William Harris to rename a section of Glover Avenue in North Quincy in honor of The Very Rev. Cornelius Heery.

In addition, Councillor Anne Mahoney plans to introduce two resolutions that night. One seeks an update on Quincy College’s enrollment and finances and the second seeks an update on land purchases the city is making in anticipation of the construction of a new public safety headquarters on Sea Street.

Members of the public can watch the meeting on Zoom. The meeting ID is 813 5698 5598. The call in number for audio only is 646-558-8656.

The meeting will also air live on QATV Channel 9.

Baker Touts Pooled COVID Testing Program

By SCOTT JACKSON

Gov. Charlie Baker said the pooled-testing program that is now available to school districts statewide is key to allowing more in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic and to “whatever the next normal is going to be here.”

Baker highlighted the pooled-testing program during a Friday morning visit to the Nock-Molin Middle School in Newburyport to see the initiative first-hand.

“This pooled testing program which we are here today to take a look at is something that got launched as a first-in-the-nation demonstration a few months ago basically to add a key tool to school districts and to schools, which was the ability for some sort of pretty consistent, relatively uncomplicated, weekly surveillance program around testing,” he said.

School districts began piloting the pooled-testing programs earlier this school year and the program has expanded in recent weeks. More than 950 schools statewide are now participating in pooled tests, Baker said, meaning up to 300,000 students and staff could be tested each week.

“To get to the point where this thing is really starting to rock and roll is a real pleasure, I think, for all of us who were looking to find a relatively uncomplicated way for schools to implement a weekly surveillance program,” the governor said.

Newburyport was among the first communities to utilize pool testing, Baker noted.

“In some respects, your enrollment in this pool testing initiative is a big part of how we keep kids, faculty, and staff safe as we move forward with all we can do to try to make sure that kids have that personal and professional and physical opportunity to spend time in schools,” he said.

Baker’s visit to Newburyport came days after Jeff Riley, the state’s education commissioner, announced he would seek permission to bring more students back to the classroom full-time by ending districts’ remote and hybrid learning models starting in April with elementary students. Parents will still be able to opt their children out of in-person learning and keep them enrolled in remote programs.

The governor said pool tests are key to bringing students back.

“While we have certainly made progress with respect to vaccination and mitigation, we really need to continue to find ways for schools to be operational, for kids to be in school, and for everybody to feel like we are doing all we can to make sure folks know what is actually going on on the ground,” he said. “That is many respects why this program in particular is so important.”

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday shared the same sentiment.

“This pool testing…is another tool that will help us advance and bring more children back to in-person learning,” she said.

The pooled-testing program means multiple nasal swabs are collected in a single tube and then tested at the same time. If a pool tests positive for COVID-19, those individuals in the pool are then tested individually using a rapid test to determine who has the virus and then their close contacts can be identified. If a pool tests negative, the individuals in it are all presumed to be negative for the virus.

The state is paying for the first six weeks of pooled testing in each district. Districts would be able to keep the program after that, provided they pay for it. Riley on Friday suggested communities could use federal aid money to cover those costs.

Pool testing began this week within the Quincy Public Schools. The program is being offered to students and staff in grades one through three, who are now back in the classroom five days a week.

School officials said about 150 students and 50 staff members have signed up for the program so far and are optimistic that number grows as the initiative continues.

Fans Allowed Back At Massachusetts Stadiums March 22

By SCOTT JACKSON

Massachusetts will allow spectators at its large indoor and outdoor stadiums starting on March 22, after those venues had been closed to fans for more than a year.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced the state would enter phase three, step two of his four-phased reopening plan effective March 1. It will enter phase four, step one, on March 22, provided public health metrics support doing so.

The move to step two of phase three on Monday means indoor performance venues such as concert halls and theaters can reopen at 50 percent capacity with no more than 500 persons in attendance. Indoor recreational spaces – including laser tag, roller rinks, obstacle courses and trampolines – can also reopen at 50 percent capacity.

All other sectors that are already open, like retail and offices, will see their capacity increase from 40 to 50 percent. Restaurants will no longer have a percent capacity limit and will also be allowed to host musical performances. Six-foot social distancing rules will still apply in restaurants, as will limits of six people per table and the 90-minute time limit.

The move to step one of phase four on March 22 means large stadiums – those with over 5,000 seats, including Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium and TD Garden – can reopen at 12 percent capacity after they submit health and safety plans to the state. The move comes with the Bruins and Celtics in the midst of their seasons and the Red Sox set to open their home slate on April 1 against the Orioles.

“Opening Day is in our near future,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Thursday at a press conference in Salem.

Gathering limits will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors for event venues and public spaces on March 22 as well. Gatherings limits for private residences and backyards will remain at 25 people outdoors and 10 people indoors.

In addition, dance floors will be allowed at weddings and other events; exhibition and convention halls can reopen subject to gathering limits and other health protocols; and overnight summer camps will be permitted to operate.

Other phase four businesses, including bars and nightclubs, will remain closed.

During the press conference in Salem, Baker noted public health data continue to trend in the right direction. COVID-19 hospitalizations were down from 2,428 on Jan. 4 to 875 on Wednesday and the seven-day average of percent positivity on COVID-19 tests stood at 1.89 percent.

“The drop in hospitalizations and cases overall is really good news,” he said.

“Today, thanks to everybody’s commitment to wear masks, to distance where appropriate and to do their part to stop the spread, we can move forward with the reopening plan.”

The governor also noted 65 percent of residents over the age 75 have now received the COVID-19 vaccine, as have 90 percent of residents who live in skilled nursing homes and 70 percent of nursing home staff.

“We chased a whole bunch of folks early on – and got pretty decent vaccination rates out of them – who are among those who either work with people who end up getting hospitalized or who run the risk of getting hospitalized themselves,” he said.

“As we continue to vaccinate people, we will take additional risk associated with the health care system off the table.”

The state is currently using Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium as mass vaccination sites. It is uncertain whether they can be used for vaccinations once games begin.

“We’ve talked to both Fenway and Gillette about this and I don’t have a hard answer for you on that one today,” Baker said in a response to a reporter’s question. “Obviously they are important players in this vaccination effort, and we are going to try and figure that one out.”