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State officials give the daily COVID-19 briefing in a livestream from Boston.

Massachusetts Unemployment Numbers Rocket to 470,000

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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 BOSTON — Massachusetts could see its unemployment rate jump from 2.5 percent to 25 percent by June. 

Gov. Charlie Baker at Thursday's daily COVID-19 briefing said an astonishing 470,000 unemployment claims had been filed in the past three weeks with 140,000 in the last week alone. 
"Typically in the course of the past six or seven months, we will get roughly seven to 10,000 new points a month," he said. "These numbers obviously are staggering. And we all know the story behind all of them is about more than just numbers because every new claim is a story of economic disruption and hardship caused by the unprecedented impact of this virus."
Public policy research group Pioneer Institute this week estimated that the state's jobless numbers — which had been below the national average for some time — could reach 975,000 by June. Once those who did not qualify for unemployment claims are calculated in, the jobless rate could reach 25.4, on par with the national rate at the depths of the Great Depression. 
The Department of Unemployment Assistance has been scrambling to service the record number of claims being filed. The governor acknowledged there have been frustrations in filing claims through the website and waiting for callbacks. 
"I want you to know that the administration is working this one hard, and we continue to expand our capacity and develop new resources to help people who are filing applications," he said, adding "We're glad the online system that we have has been able to withstand the new volume without crashing that hasn't been the case in many other states."
A move to the cloud a few years ago has aided in expanding capabilities and further efforts are being made to address shortfalls. The governor said service staff was scaled up from 50 people working in a single call center to more than 600 people now working remotely. 
"That team has made over 60,000 calls back to constituents to help them resolve their issues and get their claims and their applications processed," Baker said. "That group is now making over 6,000 calls per day. And that number will continue to trend up as we go forward."
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act is now being implemented at the state level. This allows people not normally covered by unemployment — self-employed, 1099 consultants, gig workers — to file claims. 
An additional $600 per week for individuals collecting benefits from regular unemployment compensation is also being implemented retroactive to March 29 and in effect until July. Those funds will be disbursed beginning this week. 
The DUA is also holding virtual town halls in English and Spanish to aid people in filling out claims and explaining benefits. More than 100,000 people have participated in these town halls. 
The governor also announced three new orders to strengthen medical staffing as the state prepares for a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus over the next few weeks.
• Allow graduates of international medical schools who have successfully completed at least two years of postgraduate resident medical training in the United States to be eligible for licensure.
• Allow nursing school graduates and students in their final semesters to practice in advance of receiving a license, provided that they are directly supervised by other licensed medical professionals. 
• Mandate insurers to cover all medically required costs of COVID-19 treatment in out-of-network hospitals or other medical facilities with no charge to the patient, including co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance payments.
Baker also updated on setups of 1,000 beds at the DCU in Worcester and the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for COVID-19 recovery and for providers and the homeless. 
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced the expansion of SafeLink, the statewide, 24/7, toll-free and confidential domestic violence hotline to now include resources and support for survivors of sexual assault. SafeLink will triage calls to local area rape crisis centers and create a centralized number for any survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault to call and receive services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 
The SafeLink toll-free number is 877-785-2020 and the resource is also available through 211; hearing-impaired, 877-521-2601. Advocates are available in English and Spanish and can provide translation in more than 130 languages.

Tags: COVID-19,   unemployment,   

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BCC Graduates Recognized in Remote Commencement

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Any other year, the graduates of Berkshire Community College and their friends and families would be filling The Shed at Tanglewood in Lenox.

But instead of taking the stage, speakers stood alone in front of a backdrop. And instead of being handed their certificates and diplomas, the more than 200 graduates' names were read as their pictures were shown. 
What didn't change was the ceremony's broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television, allowing at least a virtual coming together of the BCC community to mark their significant accomplishments.
President Ellen Kennedy reminded those watching how commencement celebrates not just the achievements but the persistence of the graduates in often overcoming life challenges to walk across the Tanglewod stage.   
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