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HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders gives an update Wednesday on the vaccine rollout.

Nearly 100K COVID-19 Vaccinations Expected by Year's End

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — More than 75,000 people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and an estimated 20,000 more at long-term care facilities will be inoculated by the end of this year. 
Vaccines have been shipped to nearly 400 medical and health-care locations and more than 50 vaccination clinics are expected to be operating at long-term care facilities this week. Clinics will continue to be launched on a rolling basis to distribute about 219,000 more doses of the vaccine to long-term care facilities over the next month.
Gov. Charlie Baker said this is a sign of "brighter days ahead" after one of the state's worst years but cautioned residents should not let their guard down. 
"After Thanksgiving, we saw a sharp increase in both new cases in hospitalizations. These numbers continue to increase and are putting significant strain on our health care system," the governor said at Wednesday's pandemic briefing. "As we hit the final stretch of this holiday season, we're obviously closely monitoring all the public health data to ensure that our health-care system has the capacity to take care of COVID and COVID patients who need hospital level care."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said COVID-19 hospitalizations had more than doubled in one month, from 986 on Nov. 26 to 2,250 on Dec. 28. 
"Which is a 129 percent increase in hospitalizations. During the same period we've seen 106 percent growth in ICU," she said. "Throughout January, the time when we anticipate the most severe constraints on staffing and capacity, we will continue to work with hospitals to ensure that any individual who arrives at any hospital throughout the state gets the appropriate care that they need."
Vaccines at long-term care facilities for patients and staff are being administered by teams from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies through a state and federal partnership. Nursing homes are first in line, with rest homes and assisted living facilities next. Vaccinations are already occurring a the Soldiers' Homes in Chelsea and in Holyoke, where the novel coronavirus killed 75 residents early in the pandemic. 
In total, Massachusetts has received approximately 86,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 146,000 first doses of the Moderna vaccine, with an additional 68,000 first doses of Pfizer allocated to that CVS, Walgreens, Long Term Care Program. 
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two inoculations a few weeks apart for full coverage. Sudders said those who declined the first round of vaccinations will be able to get a shot when the second round of doses begin in January.
So far, about 75,000 doses have been reported into the state's immunization database as of Tuesday night. These numbers will be updated weekly on Thursdays and the public health dashboard, now a pdf file, will become an interactive site next week. 
The distribution plan is in Phase One, focusing on hospitals and long-term and congregate living facilities, and first-responders are next in line. The governor said he expected to have more information on the timing of that distribution rollout next week. 
The state has also ordered the second dose of the vaccine that will be shipped to the hospitals that received the first doses earlier this month. 
"We're continuing to do our best to keep the public updated as we work with our partners to distribute vaccine to the frontline health-care working community as well as to our most vulnerable residents," said Baker. "The progress obviously, in this respect, shows that while it is lumpy and bumpy, which we said it would be, it's moving forward and it speaks well, to what's ahead with respect to 2021."
He said Pfizer and Moderna have told the administration they expect to meet their production and shipment schedules. Baker said the next challenge is ensuring there is enough capacity and spaces to deliver the "last mile" of the vaccine into the actual shot in the arm. 
In response to the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts' alarm at placing the distribution onus on local boards of health, Baker said there were formal talks planned for Thursday. 
One issue, he said, is determining the timing and allocation of the vaccine and the second how to deal with 351 communities of varying size and capability and with differing public safety organizations.
"We need to make sure that we do something that we believe can work administratively and from a reporting point of view, but will also work for the fact that we have a lot of different ways of organizing and structuring how first-responders operate and are administered," he said. "I think we need to figure out what the right approach to this is and how much of this could be done by the locals, how much ought to be done with the support of the commonwealth, and then what are going to be the sites."
Baker reminded of the reduced occupancy levels and gathering limits that went into effect on Saturday and through Jan. 11 to try to reduce a surge in cases similar to those over Thanksgiving. The highest transmission rates for months have been in household settings. 
Assuming that it's safe to spend time friends and neighbors is "exactly the kind of thing that creates significant spread and has been an enormous challenge for all of us for the past few months," the governor said.  
"As we approach New Years to close out 2020, finally, we're again urging everyone if they can to stay home," he said. "Please don't host big New Year's gatherings at your own home and do try to spend the time with people you live with. And if you do do anything, try to do it outside and make it brief and follow the guidelines."

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North Adams School Officials See Plans for Brayton Hill Improvements

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The dangerous entrance to the Northern Berkshire Family YMCA is going to be reconstructed to make it safer for children walking to school. 
The $622,000 project is part of the state Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School initiative and is being funded through the Transportation Improvement Program.
It will include revamping the steep entrance on the west side of Brayton School and the YMCA and adding in sidewalks and other improvements. 
The public schools outreach coordinator Emily Schiavoni said the school district and Northern Berkshire Community Coalition have been partners in the program since 2016. The two entities applied in 2019 to the Safe Routes to Schools program for Brayton and were accepted.
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