BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's administration announced the formation of an advisory group Wednesday to help the state prepare to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one becomes available.

The group includes medical professionals, public health experts, elected officials, community leaders and infectious disease specialists.

The group’s main task will be to advise the administration — including the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the COVID-19 Command Center — on communication, distribution, and equity issues relating to a COVID-19 vaccine.

The state has actively been working on planning for a COVID-19 vaccine since early August, according to a press release from the administration.

The work of the advisory group builds on the state’s experience in distributing approximately 3 million vaccine doses each year and will help strengthen efforts to equitably allocate, distribute and administer a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

The Department of Public Health is currently adding another 1,000 clinical sites to 3,000 sites already on the state’s vaccine registry to help streamline the distribution and tracking of the vaccine.

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HOUSING STABILITY PLEDGE

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced a “housing stability pledge” Wednesday that he said aims to prevent evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic once a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ends on Oct. 17.

The pledge asks landlords to honor the federal eviction moratorium; create payment plans with struggling tenants; help connect tenants with resources; and work with tenants with housing vouchers, Walsh said in a press release.

This pledge will aid tenants who are unable to pay their rent due to loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Walsh, who said 25 landlords have already signed the pledge,

The pledge asks landlords to commit to preserving as many tenancies as possible by honoring a declaration issued by a federal moratorium that protects tenants who are behind in their rent payments from being evicted until Dec. 31.

The moratorium covers tenants who owe rent but have not engaged in nuisance or criminal behavior.

Signing the declaration does not relieve tenants from the obligation to pay rent.

Property owners signing the pledge promise to engage with tenants, learn about their specific situations, and create a payment plan that works for them. If a repayment plan is unrealistic, landlords are asked to work with renters to secure government or philanthropic rental assistance.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

Massachusetts reported 19 newly confirmed coronavirus deaths and more than 500 newly confirmed cases Wednesday, pushing the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 9,342 and its confirmed caseload to more than 133,800.

The seven-day weighted average of positive tests remains just over 1%. The true number of cases is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were more than 500 people reported hospitalized Wednesday because of COVID-19, and more than 80 in intensive care units.

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FAUCI AT HOLY CROSS

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, told current students at his Massachusetts alma mater to remain optimistic in the face of the “nightmare” coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci, a 1962 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, took questions from students for about 40 minutes during a virtual meeting on Tuesday.

The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force acknowledged that this relationship with President Donald Trump is challenging.

“That’s something that I would say is a day-by-day challenge,” he said. “But it’s working.”

He told students to remain upbeat and said he thinks the world will likely see a vaccine for the coronavirus by the end of the year.

“One of the things we have to be careful about is despair,” he said. He told students to remain hopeful because the pandemic is going to end.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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