Mass records 599 deaths through Friday

Massachusetts headed into the weekend following a Friday afternoon report from the Department of Public Health that nearly 21,000 residents have confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 599 people have died from the respiratory disease.

More than 102,000 people in Massachusetts, a small fraction of the state's 6.9 million residents, have been tested for the disease, and confirmed cases here have doubled over the past week, with the projected surge in infections still yet to come.

Massachusetts has more confirmed cases than Portugal, Austria, Russia, Israel or South Korea, according to the global map that Johns Hopkins University researchers have been updating.

Researchers report more than half a million confirmed cases in the United States and more than 103,000 deaths globally, while more than 382,000 people around the world are classified by Johns Hopkins as havinig recovered from COVID-19.

"We are about to have a very difficult couple of weeks here in Massachusetts, and it could be three weeks and it could be four depending upon how this whole thing plays out," Gov. Charlie Baker said during his daily virus update on Friday.

Baker announced the state is issuing an advisory recommending that people wear a mask or face covering when not in their homes and when social distancing is not possible. People should especially wear masks at grocery stores and pharmacies, the governor said. "This protects you from others and protects others from you," Baker said.

Baker administration and hospital industry officials in recent weeks have declined to get into specifics about bed capacity ahead of the surge, but Baker on Friday drilled into that topic, offering specifics about the state'shospital bed capacity challenges.

The situation in nursing homes is becoming more dire, with 247 nursing and rest home residents having died to date.

"On behalf of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, we extend our deepest and sincerest condolences to the families of those residents and their caregivers," said Tara Gregorio, President of Massachusetts Senior Care Association. "The continuing rise in the number of fatal cases among the 38,000 frail elderly and disabled residents under our care is devastating to our residents, families and staff who are courageously battling the most horrific pandemic in our lifetimes."

Gregorio issued three requests:

-- Expand routine COVID-19 testing to include both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and frontline staff;

-- Immediately protect caregivers and residents by ensuring that all frontline staff have the necessary personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns, eye shields and gloves;

-- Establish emergency funding to immediately pay a "hero" wage to frontline nursing home staff and hire an additional 12,000 workers "to join us in fighting to protect our residents against this insidious and devastating virus."

"The COVID-19 virus is relentless and we are pleading for the tools we need to win this battle," Gregorio said.

Baker on Friday also authorized the activation of 3,000 more military personnel of the Massachusetts National Guard. There are now 5,000 activated members who the governor's office says "may be tasked with supporting requests from state agencies for equipment, logistics, warehousing and related duties," with local requests steered through state emergency management.