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Read the statement from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse on the 11 deaths at the Soldiers’ Home

“This is a difficult day for our city, and it is almost certain that more difficult days will follow.”

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe, File

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The flags in Holyoke are at half mast on Tuesday in remembrance of the 11 veterans who died at the Soldier’s Home, with at least five testing positive for COVID-19, the city’s mayor, Alex Morse, said in a statement.

“This is a difficult day for our city, and it is almost certain that more difficult days will follow,” Morse said Monday evening. “Today is a painful reminder that while many people will experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, there are those among us who are at much higher risk, and we must be vigilant in our care for ourselves to ensure the safety of all.”

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The superintendent of the state-run Soldiers’ Home, Bennett Walsh, has been placed on paid administrative leave, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Val Liptak, RN, currently the CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, is taking over running the home, where another 11 surviving residents and five staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Boston Globe.

“We have also implemented an onsite clinical command team comprised of medical, epidemiological, and operational experts responsible for the comprehensive and rapid response to the outbreak of COVID-19,” Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services Dan Tsai said in a statement.

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Morse said he was alerted to the worsening outbreak at the veterans home on Saturday, and that he will be providing city residents with updates on the situation moving forward. The mayor called the situation “devastating” and said he is “grief-stricken” for those who have died.

“I want to thank Lieutenant Governor Polito and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sudders for taking immediate action upon my request, but most importantly, thank you to the nurses and staff at the Soldiers Home who cared for those whom we have lost, and who continue to care for those in need,” he said.

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The mayor urged residents to be vigilant in practicing social distancing to protect those at high risk for severe illness from the virus.

“While we need distance from each other now, we are in this fight together,” Morse said.

Read the mayor’s full statement on the deadly outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home below:

It has been devastating to hear about the full extent of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home. While I am grateful that the State is now taking swift action to ensure residents and staff get necessary care and treatment, I am grief-stricken for those we have already lost, and my heart goes out to their families and friends. The devastating impact of this virus on an individual is made worse by the limitations on their loved ones to mourn and grieve in traditional ways for those who have passed. To the families who have lost a loved one, know that all of Holyoke shares your grief. I’ve requested that flags in the City be lowered to half mast tomorrow morning in their honor, for their service to our country, and to our community.

This is a difficult day for our city, and it is almost certain that more difficult days will follow. Today is a painful reminder that while many people will experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, there are those among us who are at much higher risk, and we must be vigilant in our care for ourselves to ensure the safety of all. I call on all Holyokers to consider your actions, to be sure to follow social distancing to the best of your abilities, to contact your friends and loved ones, and to take care of yourselves both physically and mentally. While we need distance from each other now, we are in this fight together.

Secretary Sudders and her team have agreed to provide the City with frequent updates as the situation at the Soldiers Home unfolds, and I aim to continue to update the public with what we learn. It is in large part thanks to the outreach of staff from the State-run facility to my office on Saturday that I was alerted to the growing issues at the Soldiers’ Home. I want to thank Lieutenant Governor Polito and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sudders for taking immediate action upon my request, but most importantly, thank you to the nurses and staff at the Soldiers Home who cared for those whom we have lost, and who continue to care for those in need.


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