Small business fund launched; vets home resident dies

BOSTON (AP) — Help is on the way for Massachusetts small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday announced $668 million in new state funding for restaurants, retailers, and other small businesses.
The Republican said the state will begin rolling out assistance to businesses as soon as next week, regardless of what happens with the federal COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress.
He said the state effort builds on a program run by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, which awarded nearly $49 million in grants to more than 1,100 small businesses earlier this week.
Baker said thousands of applicants that sought but didn’t receive those initial funds will be prioritized and won’t have to reapply for the new round of state funding.
The $668 million will also be used to create a new program targeting industries hit hardest during the pandemic, he said.
Among them: restaurants, bars and catering companies; indoor recreation and entertainment establishments; gyms and fitness centers; photographers, videographers, and other event-support professionals; personal services and retail.
Baker said the new program will provide grants of up to $75,000 to help businesses cover employee salaries, rent, utilities and debts. Applications will be accepted starting Dec. 31; the winners will be announced in February.
A look at other coronavirus developments in Massachusetts:
VETERANS’ HOME
A resident of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who had lived at an off-site skilled nursing facility since April died last week after testing positive for the coronavirus this month, state officials said.
The man died at Holyoke Medical Center on Dec. 16, marking the first COVID-19-related death of a veteran who had lived at the home since June, Masslive.com reported Tuesday.
The virus had been blamed for the deaths in spring of 76 veterans who lived at the state-run care center, one of the country’s worst outbreaks at a long-term care facility. Some residents who tested negative for the virus were moved to Holyoke Medical Center in April in an attempt to control the outbreak.
Two former top administrators at the Holyoke home have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence charges connected to the deaths.
Brooke Karanovich, a spokesperson for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that 21 veterans remain at Holyoke Medical Center. Her statement did not say how the veteran who died contracted the virus.
Residents are now being vaccinated, she said.
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COMMUTER RAIL SERVICE
The company that operates the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s commuter rail system is extending its reduced service schedule through at least Jan. 8, officials said Wednesday.
Keolis Commuter Services said the service reduction originally announced on Dec. 14 that was supposed to continue until Dec. 27 is needed because so many employees were out because of pandemic-related reasons.
Instead of 541 trains per weekday, there will be only 246 trains per weekday. All lines and stations are affected.
Commuter rail ridership has been approximately 13% of its pre-pandemic levels, and during the holiday weeks in December, ridership is historically low.
Keolis has made several safety changes during the pandemic, including enhanced sanitization and air filtration on rail cars.
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WORCESTER BUILDINGS CLOSE
Worcester City Hall and several other municipal facilities are closing to the public in response to the continued rise of COVID-19 cases in the city, City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. announced Wednesday.
The closures begin Thursday and will run until Jan. 11.
The Senior Center, Worcester Public Library, Department of Public Works and Parks offices, and the building that houses Inspectional Services, the Division of Public Health and Fire Prevention are also being closed to the public.
“We all have a role to play and city government must lead by example in mitigating the risk of exposure and further community spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Augustus said in a statement.
Most city employees will be working remotely during this period and bills can be paid online.
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VIRUS CASES
Massachusetts health officials reported 81 additional deaths and about 4,500 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The state Department of Public Health also said more than 81,000 people are currently infected, with more than 2,000 of them hospitalized.
Massachusetts has reported 11,630 deaths and more than 322,000 cases of the virus since the pandemic started.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate has remained steady at just over 5% for the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Its seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has declined, from about 4,892 new cases a day on Dec. 8 to 4,716 on Dec. 22.

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