WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The rift between Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and the state’s teachers unions deepened Thursday as the Republican bristled at calls to take additional steps to vaccinate educators before ending virtual education in favor of in-classroom learning.
On Wednesday, the administration announced that it was designating four days when the state’s seven mass vaccination sites will offer first doses only to K-12 teachers, childcare workers and K-12 school staff.
The special vaccination days are March 27, April 3, April 10 and April 11.
The state also announced that beginning this week, teachers are eligible to receive vaccination shots under state guidelines.
Labor leaders have also called for a program to would let firefighters administer vaccine shots to teachers at their schools.
Baler bristled at pressure from the unions, saying his administration has from the beginning targeted vaccines to those most vulnerable at getting seriously ill or dying, including older residents, those in congregate care facilities and medical workers battling the disease.
“I am not going to be in a position where I take vaccine away from people who are extremely vulnerable, who have multiple medical conditions, and are over the age of 65 to give it to a targeted population,” Baker said at an afternoon press conference. “We’re just not going to play that game.”
Nearly two dozen Massachusetts businesses that temporarily lost their liquor licenses for violating state rules meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus also received a total of almost $1.4 million in state COVID-19 relief grants.
Of the 57 restaurants, bars, and other businesses whose liquor licenses the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission suspended over COVID-19 breaches, 23 received grants, The Boston Globe reported.
They included a Springfield strip club where state inspectors found maskless strippers giving lap dances, a Gardner hotel that hosted more than 400 guests for a pair of weddings, and a Weymouth bar where the owner when confronted by licensing officials responded “no government is going to tell me how to run my business.”
The grants were administered through the quasi-public Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp.
A spokesperson for Mike Kennealy, the state secretary of housing and economic development and the MGCC’s chair, defended the program, saying it is the largest of its kind in the country to provide direct aid to businesses.
“All businesses met eligibility requirements when applying for MGCC grants, and MGCC expects all businesses to adhere to all applicable safety protocols in place to minimize transmission of this virus,” said Michael Verseckes, the spokesperson.
State Sen. Eric Lesser, who co-chairs the Legislature’s committee on economic development, said many businesses that never violated the rules did not receive grants.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at nearly 1,600 on Thursday, while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 42.
The new numbers push the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 16,218 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to about 564,000.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were fewer than 700 people reported hospitalized Thursday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 170 in intensive care units.
The average age of those hospitalized was 64. There were an estimated 26,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.
The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 8,723.
More than 2.3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 1.5 million first doses and 776,000 second doses.
About 820,000 people have been fully immunized and about 2.8 million doses have been shipped to the state.
The school superintendent in Massachusetts' second-largest city says she will seek a waiver to rules announced earlier this week by state education officials requiring districts to move to full-time, in-person learning by April.
Worcester Superintendent Maureen Binienda told The Telegram & Gazette on Wednesday the district already has a plan for a return to the classroom and she doesn't want to disrupt it.
The state is requiring a return to full-time, in-person classes for elementary school students on April 5 and for middle school students on April 28. The return date for high school students remains undetermined.
Binienda said she will seek a waiver to put off the start of full-time, in-person learning for kindergarten through eighth grade in Worcester until May 3.