A day after reporting no COVID deaths in the daily report for only the third time since deaths were first reported in the commonwealth, Massachusetts public health officials confirmed 13 new coronavirus deaths on Wednesday.
Wednesday's report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health brings the death toll to 17,357. Another 355 deaths are considered probably linked to COVID.
The latest report on the daily COVID metrics noted 626 more cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state at 654,734, DPH data shows. This marks the sixth day in a row that the newly confirmed COVID cases have been under 1,000.
Many of Massachusetts' COVID metrics, including the average number of coronavirus cases, average coronavirus test positivity and average number of confirmed deaths reported each day, have been falling since the end of March, according to trends posted to the Department of Public Health's interactive coronavirus dashboard.
The seven-day average of positive tests on Wednesday ticked down to 1.25%.
The number of patients in Massachusetts hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 cases decreased, to 428. Of those currently hospitalized, 114 are listed as being in intensive care units and 76 are intubated.
Health officials' projection of active COVID-19 cases decreased again to 16,685 from 17,519 on Tuesday.
A total of 3,050,054 people have been fully immunized in Massachusetts, according to the department. Gov. Charlie Baker is aiming to reach 4.1 million fully vaccinated by the beginning of June.
More than 6.9 million total doses of COVID vaccines have been administered in Massachusetts as of Wednesday, including nearly 3.9 million first doses and more than 2.8 million second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. More than 226,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered.
Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday that children ages 12 through 15 will be able to start receiving Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shots in Massachusetts as soon as Thursday. The state will begin delivering shots into the arms of the 400,000 Massachusetts residents who fall into that age slot after an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Wednesday to recommend Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for use in kids ages 12 to 15.
The young people will be able to book appointments or use walk-up access to get the shot, Baker said.
"We want to make sure that we get everybody eligible to be vaccinated, vaccinated,'' the Republican said.
Baker made the comments after touring a Norwood facility of Moderna, which is also seeking permission to offer a COVID-19 vaccine to 12- to 15-year-olds. Baker said the administration is seeking input from pediatricians and primary care physicians and said regional health collaboratives will also play a role in delivering shots to young people.
The Food and Drug Administration this week cleared the expanded use of the Pfizer vaccine shots, citing evidence the shots worked as well in those 12 to 15 years old as those 16 and older. States had been waiting for Wednesday's recommendations from advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pfizer is not the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects -- data the FDA will need to scrutinize.
The Baker administration also announced Wednesday that employers who want to help their workers get COVID-19 vaccines can take part in the state's new Employer Vaccination Program.
The program offers two main options.
The first allows group appointments at mass vaccination sites starting May 17. Employers can request a block of appointments at any of the state's seven mass vaccination sites. The minimum number of appointments required is 10. There is no maximum. Registration requires demographic information. Insurance and identification are not required at the time of registration or appointment if not available. Employers can set up a table at the site to have an onsite presence for employees which can be coordinated with the site operator. Sites are available seven days a week. Most vaccination appointments take less than 30 minutes, including the 15-minute observation period.
The second option allows employers to request a visit by a mobile on-site employer vaccination clinic. The option is limited to companies who have 35 or more confirmed workers who will obtain a vaccination at an on-site pop-up clinic. A vaccination provider will come to the employer host-property to vaccinate individuals and return three to four weeks later to deliver second doses. Employers in communities with vaccination rates below the state average will be prioritized. On-site clinics begin as soon as May 17.