Massachusetts reported 77 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday

Although Massachusetts has not seen an ongoing dramatic escalation in COVID-19 cases the same way New York has, Gov. Charlie Baker cautioned Wednesday that the state is still on the "upward slope" with the worst yet to come.

The Department of Public Health reported the largest single-day increase in confirmed cases yet at 1,588, bringing the total number of infections to 16,790 on Wednesday. Another 77 fatalities since Tuesday have been linked to the virus as well, and the death toll now sits at 433.

State officials started to publish demographic data on cases and deaths Wednesday, hoping to give the public a clearer sense of whether the pandemic has created disproportionate impacts as many other areas have reported. However, more than half of cases still marked race or ethnicity as "missing" or "unknown," making it difficult to draw conclusions.

In preparation for the surge in cases that could come over the next two weeks, Baker on Wednesday filed legislation that would eliminate legal liability for health care workers as they face the likelihood of helping patients in field hospitals and other unfamiliar settings.

Attorney General Maura Healey will step in and conduct her own investigation into a string of deaths tied to an acute coronavirus outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, she announced Wednesday, adding a second extensive review of a crisis that has resulted in a leadership change and public outcry.

The financial ramifications of the crisis are becoming more dire as well. A Boston-based think tank estimated the unemployment rate in Massachusetts could hit 25 percent. Low-income, vulnerable residents are inundating social safety net programs with three to four times as many applications as just a few weeks ago.

That picture will become even more clear Thursday morning, when the federal Department of Labor will release weekly unemployment claim data, which for the past two weeks have demolished previous records.

Longer-term questions remain unresolved, too. State higher education officials warned Wednesday that institutions across the system are struggling under the costs of going remote and may not recoup some of those losses if fall enrollment lags.

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