BOSTON — The number of residents of a Massachusetts veterans home who have recently died is now 13, and six of those tested positive for the coronavirus, state authorities said Tuesday.
Test results for five other Holyoke Soldiers’ Home residents who have died are pending, one tested negative and the cause of one death remains unknown, according to state health officials.
Ten other residents and seven employees have tested positive for the virus, and tests for 25 other residents are pending.
“As someone who has visited this amazing place on multiple occasions, and found it to be a source of joy and grace and comfort and kindness for the residents, their families and the staff that works there, this episode is a gut-wrenching loss that is nothing short of devastating,” Gov. Charlie Baker said, promising to get to the bottom of what happened.
The superintendent of the home has been placed on administrative leave and a new clinical command structure is in place. Medically trained National Guard personnel are testing all residents and staff.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said Tuesday that the first deaths occurred last Wednesday, but officials at the home failed to disclose the deaths until Sunday. Morse said he’d called Bennett Walsh, the facility’s then-superintendent, directly after receiving an anonymous complaint.
“I was incredibly disappointed,” Morse said. “There was a clear lack of urgency and we were repeatedly told that these were folks with underlying health conditions. That’s certainly not an excuse for not isolating the folks that did test positive.”
Stay-at-home advisory extended
Baker is extending the state’s stay-at-home advisory through May 4.
The Republican governor said Tuesday that Massachusetts residents must continue to practice social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, as the state anticipates a surge of cases in mid-April.
“The next few weeks will be critical,” Baker said.
Baker said motels and short-term rentals like Airbnb can only be used to house essential workers related to the fight against the coronavirus.
By the numbers
The number of people in Massachusetts who have died from COVID-19 rose to 89 on Tuesday, an increase of 34 deaths since Monday, according to the state Department of Public Health. More than 6,600 residents have tested positive.
Nearly 47,000 have been tested, and more than 560 have been hospitalized.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Prisoner release hearing
Massachusetts’ highest court is considering a bid to release certain pretrial and convicted inmates over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawyers were arguing via telephone conference Tuesday in the case that seeks the release of certain pretrial detainees as well as those serving sentences who are nearing the end of their term, vulnerable to COVID-19 or don’t pose a threat to the public.
Seven district attorneys said inmates should be considered for release on a case-by-case basis.
Another James Taylor gift
Singer James Taylor and his wife, Kim, have donated $350,000 to a hospital near their Massachusetts home to support the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The gift to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield announced Monday comes a week after the couple donated $1 million to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party has asked the party’s state committee to cancel the party convention scheduled for May 30 because of the threat from the coronavirus.
The committee is scheduled to meet remotely on Saturday.
Associated Press writers Steve LeBlanc and Alanna Durkin Richer contributed to this report.