Massachusetts starts vaccinating veterans home residents

BOSTON (AP) — With a thumbs up and a round of applause from staff, Air Force veteran Robert Aucoin on Tuesday became the first resident of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“Great, great, leading the way,” Aucoin, 78, said through his Snoopy mask after getting the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
Aucoin, who has lived at the state-run home since 2018, served from 1961 to 1965 and worked as the control tower operator at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina during his service, according to the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
The state has made it a priority to get the residents of both the Holyoke facility and the Chelsea Soldier’s Home vaccinated after the coronavirus tore through both facilities for veterans who require long-term care in the spring.
Staff vaccinations also started Tuesday.
“Administering vaccines to our frontline health care workers and now some of our most vulnerable residents in the Soldiers’ Home provides relief and hope that there are brighter days ahead for all,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.
The Holyoke home had one of the country’s deadliest virus outbreaks at a long-term care facility. Seventy-six residents died after contracting the virus in the spring and a 77th died earlier this month.
More than 30 residents of the Chelsea home died after contracting the disease.
An investigation into the Holyoke outbreak by a formal federal prosecutor hired by Baker found that management at the home made several “utterly baffling” decisions that helped the disease run rampant.
Two former top administrators have pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence charges connected to the deaths.
In Chelsea, World War II veteran Dominic Pitella, 94, was the first resident to be vaccinated.
Pitella, a former corporal and cook with the 559th Air Service Group, served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He has lived at the home since 2018, according to state officials.
“I’m hopeful this will help everybody,” Pitella said in a statement.
The field hospital set up in the DCU Center in Worcester has treated 161 COVID-19 patients in 22 days, just one patient shy of the total treated in the six weeks the facility was open in the spring, officials said.
“What we are seeing is that the second wave is much more impactful than the first wave this past spring,” Peter Lancette, director of the field hospital’s operations and the facility’s assistant chief nursing officer, told The Telegram & Gazette for a story Monday. “We continue to stay ahead of the patient volume but are bracing for a potential drastic increase in cases due to holiday travel.”
The field hospital that operated from April 9 until May 28 treated 162 patients, Lancette said.
A UMass Memorial Medical Center spokesperson said Monday there were 38 patients in the facility.
A moratorium on nonessential evictions for public housing residents in Boston is being extended until March 1, officials said Tuesday.
The Boston Housing Authority’s ban on nonessential evictions was set to expire at the end of the year, but officials said it will continue to help residents struggling during the pandemic.
“The vaccine is on its way, and there’s cause for optimism going into 2021, but now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. There were reasons we put this moratorium in place, and those reasons are still with us,” Kate Bennett, administrator of the Boston Housing Authority, said in an emailed statement.
The only evictions that will be allowed are those related to criminal activity and those necessary to “protect the health and safety” of residents, employees and others, officials said.
State public health officials reported more than 3,600 new confirmed cases on Tuesday and 58 new confirmed deaths.
The total number of cases in Massachusetts since the pandemic began now stands at over 346,000, and the death toll has risen to 11,958.

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