WSAR NEWS Archives for 2020-07

State Public Health Officials Raise Risk Level for EEE to High in Two Southeastern Communities

The Department of Public Health has announced that the risk level for eastern equine encephalitis, better known as EEE, has been increased to high in two Commonwealth communities. 


Both Middleborough and Carver had risk levels that were moderate and moved to high levels following found positive mosquito samples. 


The EEE virus has been found in 16 mosquito samples this season across the state. No human or animal cases of the virus have been detected this year thus far. 


“The mosquito surveillance results indicate that the virus activity has increased in one area in southeastern Massachusetts,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. 


She continued, “we want people to be aware that the EEE virus is present in mosquitoes in the area and are encouraging residents to take steps to avoid mosquito bites.”


DPH is working with the local communities, local Mosquito Control Projects, and other mosquito control experts to coordinate surveillance and appropriate public health response activities.


“We always take EEE very seriously,” said DPH State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown. “It is important for residents to know that in communities at high risk for EEE, we encourage use of mosquito repellent and scheduling outdoor events to avoid the hours between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes most likely to spread EEE are most active.” 


The EEE virus has also been confirmed in samples found in the Franklin County area which increased the risk level to moderate in various communities around there.


The town of Plympton in Plymouth County is also at moderate risk for EEE.

There were 12 human cases of EEE in Massachusetts in 2019. Information about current mosquito activity will continue to be updated regularly and can be found here.

Massachusetts Residents Asked to Report Any Unsolicited Packages of Seeds

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has been notified by several residents who have received unsolicited packages containing seeds. 


This national concern appears to have originated in a foreign country. 


The exact types of seeds are unknown. They are thought to be an invasive plant species that could pose a significant risk to agriculture or the environments. 


The seeds are not believed to be harmful to humans. 


Commonwealth residents who receive or have received these seeds are encouraged to not plant them and immediately complete a form at to provide information to state plant regulatory officials.


Residents are being asked to hold on to the seeds as well all the packaging including the mailing label as an official will be in contact with instructions regarding the collection or disposal of the seeds. 


The most effective approach to mitigating the risk of invasive plant infestation is to take steps to ensure they are not planted.


Unsolicited packages of seeds have been received by people in several other states across the United States over the last several days. On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a press release announcing that it is working with state plant regulatory officials to investigate the situation. 


The USDA urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their state plant regulatory official or plant health director.

Fall River Cooling Center At Government Center

Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan has opened an emergency cooling center inside of Government Center as a heat advisory has been placed in effect until 8:00 p.m on Tuesday. 


Between 10 a.m and 4:30 p.m today and tomorrow the cafeteria inside of Government Center will be made available to anyone in need to escaping the extreme weather and cooling down. 


You are asked to use the 3rd Street entrance and complete a COVID-19 questionnaire. You will also be required to wear a face covering and adhere to social distancing requirements. 


Due to high temperatures in Fall River, Mayor Coogan is reminding citizens to check in on family, friends and neighbors. Drink plenty of water, stay inside in a cool area and do not exert yourself if you have health conditions.


Anyone one questions can direct them to the Mayor’s Office at 508-324-2600.

Baker-Polito Administration Issues New Travel Order Effective August 1st

Governor Charlie Baker announced that, all travelers entering the Commonwealth, including both out of state residents and Massachusetts residents returning home, will be required to comply with a new travel order.


Starting August 1, all visitors and Massachusetts residents returning home, including students returning to campuses for the fall semester, must fill out a “Massachusetts Travel Form.”


They must also be quarantined for 14 days unless they are coming from a COVID-19 lower risk state or they can produce a negative COVID-19 test result administered no more than 72 hours prior to arriving in Massachusetts. 


Individuals who get a test must remain in quarantine until they receive their negative test results. Failure to comply may result in a $500 fine per day.


Travelers are exempt from this requirement if they are coming from a state that has been designated by the Department of Public Health as a lower risk COVID-19 state or fall into another narrow exemption category.


Based on current public health data, those lower risk states will include: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Hawaii.


Traveler exemptions include people passing through the state, people commuting across state lines for work, people traveling to Massachusetts for medical treatment, people complying with military orders, or people traveling to work in federally designated essential services. 


Prior to travel, people should visit to fill out the “Massachusetts Travel Form” or text “MATraveler” to 888-777.

Baker-Polito Administration Announces COVID-19 Testing Billing Protections for Uninsured Individuals

The Baker-Polito Administration issued a public health order to prevent uninsured individuals from receiving surprise bills and copays due to a COVID-19 test. 


The Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides protections for insured individuals. Those include a requirement that providers must issue testing without imposing any cost-sharing requirements.


Currently, providers can submit claims for reimbursement related to testing for uninsured individuals to the COVID-19 Claims Reimbursement to Health Care Providers and Facilities for Testing and Treatment of the Uninsured Program, administered by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.


Massachusetts has received reports of some providers choosing not to bill the portal, leading to uninsured individuals receiving, at times, large bills for testing. 


The public order issued this week requires that when testing uninsured individuals, providers either bill the federal portal for reimbursement or provide tests at no cost.

Baker-Polito Administration Extends Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures to October 17

The Baker Administration has extended the pause on evictions and foreclosures in Massachusetts for 60 days until October 17, 2020.


This is granted to the governor through the authority by Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020, signed into law on April 20 of this year. This provides a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 


The moratorium was originally supposed to expire on August 18, 2020. 


Tenants are still strongly encouraged to continue to pay rent, and homeowners to make their mortgage payments to the extent they are able. 


A new $20 million, statewide fund called the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance program which launched on July 1 will assist low-income households in making rent and mortgage payments as well as support landlords in need of rent payments to cover expenses. 


This funding complements the $18 million currently available through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition homeless prevention program, which can also be used for rent or mortgage payments. 


The law suspends most residential and small business commercial evictions, as well as residential foreclosures. It does not relieve tenants or homeowners of their obligation to pay rent or make mortgage payments.


The law also prevents landlords from sending notifications to residential tenants that threaten eviction or terminating of a lease, and limits court actions on non-essential evictions. 


It will relieve tenants, both residents and small commercial, from late fees and negative credit reporting as well as allows landlords to use “last month’s rent” to pay for certain expenses, though not as a replacement rent payment, and only with proper notification of the tenant. 


It will also require lenders to grant a forbearance for up to 180 days if a homeowner experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 submits such a request and allows for alternative payment agreements between lenders and borrowers regarding forbearance payments.

UMass Freezes Tuition For The 2020-21 Academic Year

The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees has voted to freeze tuition rates for in-state undergraduate and graduate students for the 2020-21 academic year, in response to the financial hardships that many Commonwealth families have and will face. 


Students will continue to receive nearly $1 billion in federal, state, private and university-funded financial aid in FY-21. 


“Even as UMass, like higher education institutions across the country, faces significant budget cuts due to pandemic-related financial challenges, we need to do all that we can to keep a high quality UMass education within financial reach of Massachusetts students,” UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Rob Manning said.


 “I commend President Meehan, the campus chancellors and their teams for making this possible through sound and innovative management,” he continued. 


Across the four campuses, tuition will average $14,722 for the nearly 48,000 in-state undergraduate students before financial aid is provided. This keeps UMass mandatory charges nearly $1,000 lower than the average for New England public research universities.


Tuition for the 9,500 graduate students will continue to range from $14,590 to $18,433 at the four campuses. The board set tuition rates for UMass Medical School at its April meeting.


“Holding the line on tuition is simply the right thing to do this year as so many students and families are facing stress and uncertainty created by an unprecedented national health emergency and economic downturn,” UMass President Marty Meehan said. “That means controlling student charges and supporting financial aid so our students are able to pursue their dream of earning a UMass degree.’’


In freezing tuition this year, the university is setting aside its recent practice of increasing tuition at the rate of inflation, foregoing $18.6 million in revenue for the coming year. The loss of revenue is offset, in part, by ongoing efforts of the university to reduce administrative costs.


UMass trustees also approved a $3.3 billion operating budget that is $171 million less than last year’s budget.

Swansea Mall Redevelopment Effort Update

The developers who currently own and are redeveloping the former Swansea Mall location are set to present a concept to the town’s Board of Selectmen next Thursday at 6:30 p.m that would integrate a Swansea Municipal Complex into the repurposing of the property. 


According to Swansea Selectman Chris Carreiro, since last Summer, the developers have been working to develop and construct a lifestyle center. 


The center will look to include office space, retail, medical locations, residential market rate apartments, state of the art storage facilities and even an area for municipal and government issues. 


In late 2018, Swansea failed to gain approval from town residents to build a new town hall. The proposal would have consolidated the original town hall offices with the annex building’s offices and combine it into one facility. That price tag would be nearly ten million dollars.  


Administrators in Swansea have been granted an additional six on-premise liquor licences for the redevelopment effort of the Swansea Mall as well as economic development along the Route 6 corridor.

Congressman Kennedy Leads Delegation in Massachusetts Calling For Right To Counsel Pilot Program

Congressman Joseph Kennedy III along with members of the House Delegation have authored a letter to Governor Charlie Baker to establish a statewide right-to-counsel pilot program for low-income residents facing eviction at some point this Summer. 


Housing advocates warn of an “eviction tsunami” that could take place later this season. 


“On August 18, 2020, when the current statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire, an estimated 15,000 households will face eviction,” wrote the lawmakers. “As you consider allocating the federal assistance provided to the Commonwealth pursuant to the CARES Act, we urge your support for programs that would provide families facing eviction with access to legal counsel.”


The Mass House Delegation is asking the Baker Administration to allocate six million dollars in CARES Act funding to launch a program providing legal representation to owner occupants and tenants involved in eviction proceedings whose income does not exceed 200 percent of the poverty line.   


“Such a program would ensure equal justice under the law does not depend on income level, help families continue to practice social distancing by staying in their homes, and save money,” the letter continued. 


It's estimated that nearly 5,000 Commonwealth residents could use the assistance depending on where the programs are located. 


In the letter it states, “This pilot could help approximately 4,800 households if funded at the requested level. Factors such as poverty rate, COVID-19 infection rate, concentration of people of color, unemployment rate, and concentration of renters would be used to determine the location of the pilot programs and at least two programs would be located in each of the Housing Court’s six divisions.” 


According to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, COVID-19 cases are “almost non-existent” through the correctional facilities.


Since June 19th, only one staff member, and one inmate have tested positive for the virus. The inmate is currently in isolation while the corrections officer has recovered and returned to duty. 


During the pandemic, 47 inmates have tested positive in Bristol County with each recovering successfully from the virus. 


There have been 43 staff members who tested positive with the virus while 42 have recovered. 


All employees, detainees and inmates are wearing masks,with disinfections taking place daily in all areas of the Bristol County House of Corrections and connected facilities. 


Staff members and new inmates continue to be screened.

The Baker Administration Announces The Stop The Spread Initiative

The Baker administration announced the launch of free COVID-19 testing sites across eight Commonwealth communities from July 10 to August 14. 


The “Stop the Spread” initiative is a date-driven effort to reduce the prevalence of the virus in areas with above state average case totals and positive test rates, as well as experienced a decline in testing levels since April 


The initiative will take place in Fall River, New Bedford, Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn and Marlborough. They will be open to all residents of Massachusetts, not just those from the eight communities. 


“While the Commonwealth has made progress on reducing the overall positive test rate, there are still communities where the number of positive tests is above the average of the rest of the state,” said Governor Charlie Baker. 


“Focusing our efforts to increase testing in these communities will help identify new cases and stop the spread,” Baker continued. “Residents of these communities, even those who are asymptomatic, are urged to take advantage of these new sites.”


The statewide positive test rate over the past two weeks is approximately 2%, but in these eight communities, 8% of tests have been positive.


“This initiative will provide widespread testing in easy to access community locations,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “If you live in these communities, please get tested to protect your family, loved ones and neighbors from COVID-19.”


Total testing in these specific communities has declined 39% since April and the total cases as a percentage of population has nearly doubled the state average.


“Increased testing within these communities will help to identify new cases of COVID-19 and break the chains of community transmission,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “As we move into the summer, we will continue to closely monitor positivity and testing rates across the Commonwealth.”


Residents may visit to find testing locations.

Second Detection Of EEE In The Commonwealth

The Department of Public Health has confirmed the second detection of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in Massachusetts Mosquitos. 


The virus better known as EEE (Triple E) was confirmed by the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory in a sample collected on July 5 from Wendell in Franklin County. 


The finding increased the risk level in the Wendell and New Salem communities to moderate. No human or animal case of the virus has been detected, so far. 


“We are seeing EEE activity in mosquitoes very early in the season,’’ said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH.  “We will continue to conduct additional surveillance, including trapping and testing mosquitoes in the region over the next several weeks to better inform our guidance to local communities.”


The potentially fatal disease can affect people of all ages and is generally spread through humans by a mosquito bite. 


There were 12 human cases of EEE in 2019 in the Commonwealth with six deaths. There were also nine cases in domestic animals. 


“This second early finding reinforces our concern about EEE activity this season,” said State Epidemiologist, Dr. Catherine Brown. “We urge all Massachusetts residents to be aware of the risks associated with mosquito bites and to take precautions against being bitten.”

Operation Dry Water

In an ongoing effort to increase public safety and marine compliance in Massachusetts this Summer, a nationwide campaign addressing boating under the influence has been announced. 


The Massachusetts Environmental Police have introduced Operation Dry Water beginning today and continuing through holiday weekend until Sunday night. 


The 4th of July holiday has increased numbers of recreational boaters on the water, as well as an increase in the number of injuries related to boating under the influence. 


In Massachusetts, operating any vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited, asis operating within 150 feet of public or private swimming areas. 


Speeds over 45 miles per hour are considered excessive.

Atlantis Charter Adds New Technology

The Atlantis Charter School in Fall River has purchased 1,400 new Chromebook laptops and tablets for the students in kindergarten through grade 12. 


This investment will enable the school to achieve a 1:1 ratio between students and technology in preparation for more possible distance learning next school year. 


“Atlantis was committed to providing one device for every student as part of our efforts to develop a more robust digital learning program, but the pandemic sped up the timetable,” said Robert Beatty, executive director of Atlantis Charter School. 


“A lot of things could change over the coming weeks and months, but by preparing now we will be in a better position to respond to new challenges,” he continued.


“Our goal is to be able to provide learning from anywhere,” said Michael Lauro, associate executive director of Atlantis Charter School. “Having upgraded technology to help meet the needs of students is critical to any well-functioning remote learning plan.” 


“This purchase ensures we can put a laptop in the hands of every one of our students this fall, allowing for a seamless transition between in-person learning and remote learning,” he said.


With the closures of all public schools earlier this year Atlantis was able to repurpose funds that would have gone to regular operations to purchase the technology. 


“It’s not just about having a device, it’s about having the right device,” Beatty said. “We know the tablets, for instance, are more developmentally appropriate for younger students so they can demonstrate their learning using a touch screen rather than typing.”


Atlantis is currently developing plans for in-person instruction, the continuation of remote learning, and a hybrid of both as required by state guidelines issued in late June. 


Administrators will be in close contact with families over the summer to gauge their needs for the 2020-21 academic year and come up with a plan that best meets the needs of the Atlantis community.

Umass Dartmouth Cuts 8 Athletic Programs

Umass Dartmouth has announced the discontinuation of eight athletic programs, effective immediately. 


The programs included are women’s equestrian, men’s golf, men’s lacrosse, co-ed sailing, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s and women’s tennis. 


The university has said they will provide support and advice to the 94 affected student athletes. 


“Although these changes will serve UMass Dartmouth Athletics and its student body well for years to come, I cannot begin to imagine the sense of loss our student-athletes must feel at this moment,” Outgoing Chancellor Robert E. Johnson said. “I want them to know that this decision in no way reflects their tremendous contribution to our University,”


“It is because of these contributions - not just on the field - but in the classrooms, labs, and in the community that makes our student-athletes such valuable members of our community,” he continued. 


There have been multiple reviews over the past decade analyzing major aspects of the current Department of Athletics & Recreation structure including available resources, gender equity, enrollment, full-time/part-time coaches, sports sponsorship trends, facilities as well as strengths and weaknesses of each program. 


“Though the review and subsequent actions taken on the future of intercollegiate athletics was needed, I am deeply saddened by having to discontinue sponsorship of these programs,” Athletic Director Amanda Van Voorhis said. “The implementation of this action now will allow our department to work within a sustainable financial model going forward, and we will continue to provide the best possible experience for our student-athletes.”


The savings through cutting these 8 programs will be allocated into reinvesting into the department and the remaining 17 programs. 


“We realize how difficult this decision is, but I want to reaffirm our commitment to athletics and student-athletes at UMass Dartmouth,” Vice Chancellor for Administration & Finance David Gingerella said. “This is not a cost-cutting measure, it is a re-allocation of resources within Athletics for future success,”


“In the end, the University believes this will set a course for intercollegiate athletics going forward that is similar and consistent with our peer institutions,” he continued.


It should be noted this process began well before the current pandemic and has nothing to do with the current health crisis.