BOSTON (AP) — Nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other congregate care facilities in Massachusetts are now allowed to welcome more visitors and resume group activities for residents given high vaccination rates, the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services said in a statement Wednesday.
These changes align with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
About 86% of residents in the state's long-term care facilities have ben fully vaccinated while 98% having received a first dose, the agency said.
Residents can now welcome visitors in their rooms without social distancing when both are fully vaccinated, although masks are still required. Also, activities that require residents to be closer than six feet apart — including card games, dining, and watching movies — can also resume if residents are fully vaccinated.
Visitors who are not vaccinated can still visit, but only in designated spaces where social distancing can be maintained.
Attorney General Maura Healey joined 11 other state attorneys general in calling on Facebook and Twitter to crack down on the spread of disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine on their social media platforms.
In letters sent Wednesday, the attorneys general urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to enforce company guidelines against vaccine disinformation with a goal of preventing needless infection.
“Facebook and Twitter should be doing everything they can to help our nation fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Healey said. “Instead, they are failing to prevent the spread of deadly lies from anti-vaxxers and undermining our efforts to effectively fight this virus.”
The attorneys general said the companies have failed to be aggressive enough in removing anti-vaccine voices from their platforms.
They also said Facebook has failed to consistently apply misinformation labels to posts that dispense anti-vaccine disinformation and has allowed “anti-vaxxers” to skirt its policy of removing misinformation that health experts have debunked.
Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever said in a statement Monday that the company has updated “our policies to remove millions of pieces of misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines from Facebook and Instagram – including 2 million since February alone.”
Since the beginning of COVID-19, Twitter has expanded and increased its efforts to make sure reliable health information is easily accessible, including removing more than 22,400 tweets and challenging 11.7 million accounts worldwide, a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement Monday.
Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are set to testify at a congressional hearing Thursday.
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
The number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by more than 1,800 Tuesday, while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 54.
The new numbers push the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 16,632 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to more than 584,000.
The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were more than 600 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 150 in intensive care units.
The average age of those hospitalized was 63. There were an estimated 27,000 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 8,879.
More than 1.1 million people in Massachusetts have been fully immunized.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Nearly 60 school districts across Massachusetts received permission from the state education commissioner to delay the resumption of full-time, in-person learning for elementary school-age children, which the state set for April 5, authorities say.
The 58 districts that received a waiver include Brockton, Chelsea, Springfield, and Somerville. Commissioner Jeffrey Riley is still weighing the requests of 10 other districts, including Boston and Worcester — the two largest in the state — The Boston Globe reported.
Riley also denied requests from six districts, which the state would not identify.
“We are pleased that 90% of districts will have their elementary schools back fully in-person by April 5, with all elementary schools in the Commonwealth fully in-person by May 3,” Riley said in a statement Tuesday.
The state has directed middle schools to fully reopen by April 28 and is still accepting waiver requests. A return date for high schools has not been scheduled.
Parents retain the right to keep their children in full-time distance learning for the remainder of the school year.
School districts granted the waivers welcomed the news, but not everyone was happy.
“It feels like they are playing with our kids’ future,” said Caitrin MacDonald, a mother of three children in Somerville. “This is politics over education.” MacDonald said she worries about her children falling behind in their classes and the toll of social isolation during the pandemic.