Just 18 COVID-19 deaths reported; Senate passes voting bill

BOSTON (AP) — State health officials on Tuesday reported that the number of new deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Massachusetts has fallen to fewer than 20, another signal that the state is continuing to beat back the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The total number of confirmed and probable deaths in the state since the start of the pandemic has risen to 7,665 with the additional 18 deaths reported Tuesday.

There were about 195 newly reported cases of the disease on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 to nearly 106,000.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Massachusetts fell to 1,045, down from about 1,657 two weeks ago. The number of people in intensive care units fell to 244, down from 394 two weeks ago.

The number of probable and confirmed COVID-19 deaths at long-term care homes rose to 4,834 — or 63% of all deaths in Massachusetts attributed to the disease.

Here are other coronavirus-related developments in Massachusetts:

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VOTING BILL

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday designed to expand voter access and address COVID-19 safety concerns for all remaining 2020 elections, including the Sept. 1 state primary and Nov. 3 general election.

For the first time in Massachusetts history, the bill would give all eligible residents the opportunity to vote early in the primary and general election, allow residents to vote-by-mail, and expand absentee ballot access.

Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said the legislation will let residents safely exercise their right to vote during the pandemic.

The bill would also let cities and towns consolidate polling places and eliminate check-out tables, allowing for fewer poll workers. It also would expand who is eligible to serve as a poll worker, given that many volunteers are seniors who may feel less comfortable working during the pandemic.

The Senate bill must now be reconciled with the Massachusetts House.

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CHILD CARE CENTERS

Massachusetts has changed some of the rules for reopening child care centers and summer camps after operators complained that the guidelines would be too onerous.

State officials will not require the use of masks for children older than 2, but will only encourage the face coverings, The Boston Globe reported. The state is also dropping the requirement that all children have their temperature checked before entering.

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care has also decided not to require an extra preschool teacher in each room.

“Clearly the department is signaling that they are listening, but they continue to try to balance the reality of the situation,” Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, told the newspaper.

Staff must still wear a mask when they cannot remain 6 feet apart, officials say.

The state this week opened the process for camps and child care centers to submit plans for how they will operate when they reopen.

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SAFE MEETING APP

When North Andover holds its annual town meeting Tuesday evening, participants will gather at a football field outside the local high school to help maintain social distancing.

To help pick a venue large enough to ensure everyone attending can stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart from one another, town moderator Mark DiSalvo partnered with brothers Rich and Dave Kaufman on a digital solution.

The three developed software that calculates how much space is needed for large gatherings based on the number of individuals expected to attend.

The digital calculator is free and available to the public at www.safe-meeting.org. To use the software, an individual enters the number of people expected to attend a gathering and the software comes up with the minimum square footage needed.

The software, which is also available in the form of an app, was initially intended to help other town officials facing similar challenges, but it can be used by anyone planning larger events or safe work spaces during the pandemic.

The app also allows a user to enter the size of an area and then calculate how many people could safely fit in it.

Even with adequate social distancing, the town is still requiring those attending to take other precautions, including wearing masks or other facial coverings and signing in just in case the state needs to conduct contact tracing.