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With COVID still lurking, other illnesses add to parent woes

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With COVID still lurking, other illnesses add to parent woes

By CATHARINE RICHERT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — It’s a busy morning in Mai Huynh and Christopher Birkholm’s Minneapolis home as they get their 18-month-old, Franny, and 3-year-old, Clinton, out the door.

“Both kids headed back to day care last week,” said Huyhn.

But it’s a precarious situation.

Since August, both Franny and Clinton have had to stay home about six times between the two of them with illnesses that mimic COVID-19. Pointing to Clinton and Franny, Birkholm explained that sometimes it’s a double, triple — even quadruple — whammy.

“He had RSV, but she had RSV, parainfluenza and rhinovirus — all at the same time,” said Birkholm.

And each time their kids get sick, Huynh said she and Birkholm have to scramble for COVID tests and child care, and figure out how to manage work at the same time, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

“When the kids are sick, it’s just these conversations that we have have turned into negotiations over who has to take care of the kids,” said Huyhn, who works at an elementary school and has limited flexibility to stay home.

In a season when the sniffles can’t be ignored, the ensuing confusion can leave parents in a bind juggling some challenging logistics: Do they send their kids to school while sick even if they test negative for COVID-19? Who will take time off from work to watch the kids? And will yet another hour of TV to entertain them really ruin them for life?

A fourth wave of COVID-19 is colliding with an early start to RSV season, as well as other respiratory viruses that typically crop up this time of year, said Mayo Clinic pediatrician Dr. Angela Mattke.

It’s a pattern that may hold for months and that could further strain an already strapped health care system, she said.

“It’s going to make it extremely difficult in these winter months if we’re seeing COVID-19 peaks, if we’re seeing influenza, we’re seeing other circulating viruses like RSV, coronavirus,” Mattke said. “We’re going to see a large influx of sick kids to doctor’s office emergency room visits to hospitals.”

The state Health Department says it’s seeing 3,000 new COVID-19 cases a week in children under 12 — a high-water mark for the pandemic. And many hospitals are at capacity, including pediatric centers in part because of an unusual rise in other respiratory illnesses in kids.

Many kids, including Franny and Clinton Birkholm, weren’t in school or a day care setting until August of this year.

Mattke said because kids were isolated and masked for so long, they’re now getting exposed to viruses they probably would have encountered earlier — and it’s happening all at once.

During the pandemic, there was an almost complete reduction in viruses like RSV, Mattke said.

“Now we’ve seen relaxed social distancing measures, relaxation on masking, and so the viruses just are primed to spread because we have a lot of people that maybe have never been exposed to especially RSV virus,” she said. “And a lot of kids who haven’t been exposed to other viruses, and so that’s why we’re seeing such a large increase in the number of circulating respiratory viruses.”

In St. Cloud, nurse Breanna Olsen is in the midst of another round of child care struggles. Her youngest’s day care has been closed again after a case of COVID cropped up among students.

She doesn’t know how much longer her son will be home, as more kids from the same day care test positive.

For now, she and her husband, who is a teacher, are cobbling together care, calling on grandparents and taking time off, too. But it’s hard because both work in professions that can’t be done from home — and both industries are suffering staff shortages.

“My husband gets a set number of days off a year, which can roll over, so he has more than you know that for the year,” Olsen said. “And for me, you can only call in so many shifts, and then you don’t get your raise next year. So we’re always like, ‘OK, whose turn is it?’ ”

In Huynh and Birkholm’s house, Birkholm typically watches the kids because he already works remotely for an e-commerce company.

Birkholm said he loves having extra time with the kids.

“But eventually I have to do work and join meetings and it’s really hard to do when you got three days in a row of sick children at home,” he said.

Birkholm said that even finding a COVID test for his kids eats into his day. They have to call the doctor every time because their kids are too young to do saliva tests offered at community testing sites.

And then he has to take the kids to the doctor, wait for results — and even though COVID tests are free, those doctor’s visits often come with a charge.

While Birkholm has taken on much of the child care, Huynh said she feels stuck between two walls of what she describes as self-inflicted guilt: If she’s at work, she feels bad that she can’t take care of her sick kids. If she’s at home, she feels guilty because her school is already short-staffed.

“And so it’s just this constant feeling of letting people down,” she said.

Mattke said there’s no silver bullet for protecting kids this fall from COVID-19 and other illnesses. It will be months before COVID-19 vaccines are available to all kids under 12.

Testing kids for any symptoms — even if it’s just congestion — helps catch COVID cases early, and will go a long way in protecting others from catching the virus.

And Mattke says the single best way to protect kids from illness this fall is for anyone who is eligible to get a flu shot and COVID-19 shots.

Both, she said, offer powerful protection against illness.

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Report: Amid COVID, demand for lab space surges, leading to higher rents

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Report: Amid COVID, demand for lab space surges, leading to higher rents

Demand for Boston-area lab space is surging, but the supply is scant, leading to soaring rents, according to a new report.

Demand is far outpacing available space in the Boston area, with a record number of large biotech and drug companies seeking 100,000 square feet amid a global race for new drug development, according to the report from CBRE, a Dallas-based commercial real estate services and investment firm.

“The Boston lab market is expanding at an unprecedented pace,” said Jonathan Varholak, the firm’s vice chairman. “With over $9.3 billion of venture capital funding having flowed into Boston area life science firms in the first three quarters of this year, demand from startups is at an all-time high. We’re seeing record-setting rents and historically low vacancies as a result.”

The vacancy rate for existing lab and research and development space is just 1.1% in the Boston-Cambridge market, as average asking rents soar, jumping 7.5% to $94.62 per square foot in September compared to March 2021.

In Boston and Cambridge, where vacancy is 0.1% and 0.3% respectively, the average asking rents are now $100.00 per square foot in Boston and $112.79 in Cambridge, according to CBRE. The leasing of lab space has been pushed into the suburbs, including Watertown and Route 128 West.

“As we see in housing, space is scarce,” said Joe Boncore, CEO of the industry group MassBio. “But as we add more space to the economy, we expect the price of lab space to level off.”

Ten million square feet of lab space is under construction in the Boston area, which includes 9.3 million square feet of “spec” construction, where developers broke ground with no tenants signed at the time, the report said. Six million square feet is expected to deliver by the end of next year, and 3.2 million square feet is being converted from other uses such as office or warehouse space.

In Boston, life sciences employment has grown faster than the U.S average over the past 15 years, although Boston has only about a sixth of the life sciences employment as Middlesex County, including Cambridge, Waltham, Lexington, among others. Yet Boston has grown more rapidly over the past year: 7.5% vs. 5.2%, according to CBRE.

“Life sciences labs quickly have become a highly sought-after property type for both tenants and investors,” said Ian Anderson, CBRE’s Americas Head of Office Research. “This intense demand for lab space is the natural result of a global push for new medicines begetting strong funding and hiring in the life sciences sector.”

Global demand for vaccines for COVID-19 and viruses like it has led to initial public offerings for life sciences companies in the on pace for a record year, raising roughly $13 billion, according to CBRE.

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MBTA to cut back bus routes Dec. 19, citing workforce shortages

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MBTA to cut back bus routes Dec. 19, citing workforce shortages

Amid a national workforce shortage cutting across industries, the MBTA has not been spared.

The agency announced that, starting Dec. 19, bus service and Mattapan line service will be scaled back to accommodate employee attrition, which is outpacing new hires.

“Like other transit systems across the country, the MBTA is experiencing significant challenges in attracting the workforce needed to meet demands for service,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said. “The MBTA is budgeted for a full level of service, and ready to add back services when we have hired and trained new bus and train operators.”

Poftak added in his comments that teams at the MBTA are working to streamline the hiring process and encouraged those interested in applying to head to mbta.com/apply.

The MBTA’s winter schedule will focus on maintaining service for routes with “durable ridership,” on routes with crowded buses and on supporting those returning to in-person work and school. The routes will also be adapted to new, COVID-induced travel patterns.

Buses will reduce in frequency by about one in every 20 scheduled trips, with many of the changes reducing frequency on weekdays, especially in the morning.

Several other bus changes are going into effect later this month. Route 111, with service to and from Woodlawn, will operate a simplified service pattern this winter, and Routes 62 and 76, which run between Alewife and the Bedford VA Hospital, will resume rush-hour weekday service.

The MBTA will hold a public information session Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. to discuss the changes. People can learn more about the affected routes at mbta.com/servicechanges.

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First snowfall of the season for many in Massachusetts could impact evening commute

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First snowfall of the season for many in Massachusetts could impact evening commute

It’s time to dig out your winter boots and snow brush for your car.

Wednesday will bring the first snowfall of the season for many across the Bay State, as meteorologists predict a widespread 1 to 2 inches of snow, with lower amounts along the coast.

While the light snowfall totals look to be minor, much of the snow will fall during the evening commute, so officials are urging people to plan for extra travel time and slow down on the roads.

“Not only will you be safer on snow if you curb your speed, you’ll have greater ability to stop if you need to,” said Mary Maguire of AAA Northeast. “Allow for more distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. This will provide you with more stopping distance if you need to brake.”

The best chance for accumulation looks to be between 4 p.m. and midnight, and the best shot for higher snow amounts would be toward the Worcester Hills.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation advised people to clean snow off their vehicle, and to make sure their windshield wipers work and they have windshield washer fluid.

“So ask any Cop who has been on the job for few years which day normally has the most motor vehicle crashes? Answer: First snowfall of the year,” the Hanson Police Department tweeted. “Slow down, be safe, and keep your insurance rates down.”

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