Dear Friends,

As we enter another week of our new normal living in the time of COVID-19, I wanted to share with you some important changes and updates on the government's actions in response to the virus outbreak in the Commonwealth. Local, state and federal government leaders continue to collaborate and communicate to address the enormous issues presented by this crisis. We have also all been inspired as we see people lean on one another for support, offer help to the most vulnerable members of our community, work together to help protect our healthcare workers and acknowledge that by sacrificing some of our freedom of movement, we are very clearly saving lives.  

There is, of course, still much to be done to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, both on our public health and our economic well-being.  Yesterday Secretary Sudders who leads the Command Center held a briefing call with legislators and today I participated in another White House conference call to update state and local leaders on the federal response to the pandemic. You can link to the briefing materials provided on that call  here.

I assure you that your elected officials have been working hard to implement the best policies and guidelines as quickly as possible, keeping the immediate safety of Commonwealth residents as our paramount concern. Please see the information below for changes since the update I shared last week and you can view that prior update at
  here .

Schools and Non-Emergency Child Care Programs
Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order extending the closure of all public and private schools, and all non-emergency childcare programs, until May 4 in an effort to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth.    This closure applies to all center-based child-care and family child-care programs. It does not apply to residential special education schools, community group homes, temporary shelters, transition-to-independent living facilities, teen parent programs, and DYS secure facilities. 

Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs will be the only child-care programs that are allowed to operate during this time. This prioritizes public health and safety while maintaining critical service. Priority is given to people including but not limited to health care workers, essential state and human service workers, COVID-19 health workers, grocery store employees, emergency response personnel, law enforcement, transportation and infrastructure workers, sanitation workers, DCF-involved families, and families living in shelters.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, all families should keep children out of group care settings to the greatest extent possible. Please do not contact an emergency childcare program unless you require emergency, back-up, or drop-in care. Emergency Child Care Programs are for when all other non-group-care settings have been exhausted and families have no other options.

The full guidelines can be found here.
 
A list of all MA Exempt Emergency Care Child Programs can be found here.
 
Pharmacies and Grocery Stores
Today, the Department of Public Health issued a new order to support pharmacies and grocery stores and their employees during the COVID-19 public health emergency. This order will require grocery stores and pharmacies to:
  • Provide at least one hour per day of shopping for adults over 60-years-old.
  • Offer sanitation options, such as hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, as available, to clean shopping carts and points of frequent contact.
  • Appropriate social distancing policies, including a marked "Social Distancing Line," beginning six feet away from all checkout counters.
  • Close any self-serve food stations.
  • Instruct store employees who are ill to stay home, and for stores to accommodate employees who fall in the high-risk category with alternative assignments to limit exposure.
Reusable Bags & Single Use Plastic Bags
The Governor's order announced today also includes important changes in how items are bagged in grocery stores and pharmacies. 
  • Grocery store and pharmacy employees shall not perform bagging of retail products if reusable checkout bags are used and customers at grocery stores and pharmacies shall not use reusable checkout bags until further notice.
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies, food banks and emergency food programs, including those currently subject to municipal ordinances or regulations banning single-use plastic bags, may choose to use recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags or single-use plastic bags.
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies may not assess a charge for recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags or single-use plastic bags.  
 You can read the order here.
 
Stay-At-Home Advisory
On Monday, March 23rd, Governor Baker and the Department of Public Health issued a stay-at-home advisory, effective until April 7th, 2020.  The advisory advises people to stay at home other than to venture out for essential activities, such as going to the grocery store, pharmacy, or for physical exercise. While it is an advisory, not an order, and therefore does not carry any civil or criminal penalties, the Department of Public Health and Governor Baker strongly encourage people to follow the guidelines to cut down on community spread and ultimately save lives. The more people we can prevent from getting sick now, the less strain we will put on our healthcare system and the better care you and your loved ones will receive when and if you are hospitalized for COVID-19. Staying at home unless necessary to leave will save lives and protect the people you care most about. You can read the  DPH Public Health Advisory as issued to provide guidance regarding Stay-at-Home and Safe Practices  here.
 
Closure of All Non-Essential Businesses
Governor Baker also ordered all businesses and organizations that do not provide "COVID-19 Essential Services" to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public as of Tuesday, March 24th at noon until Tuesday, April 7th at noon. All businesses and organizations forced to close due to this order are encouraged to work remotely. A list of businesses considered "essential" at this time still includes grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants (provided they only offer take-out and delivery services). A full list of businesses that may stay open can be found here
 
If you are wondering whether or not your business falls into the "COVID-19 Essential Services" category, please read the document in the link above. If, after reading the document, your question remains, you can request designation as an essential business here
 
Further questions on essential services can be directed to covid19.biz@mass.gov
 
Limited Gatherings
The Governor has banned gatherings of more than 10 people. This ban does not apply to grocery stores or outdoors spaces, like a park or athletic field, although activities such as touch football and pick-up basketball should not take place, as they can easily spread the virus. The order does include community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, and any similar event or activity that brings together more than 10 people in any confined indoor or outdoor space. Find more information here.
 
Utility Shut-Offs Prohibited
On Tuesday, March 24th, the Baker-Polito Administration announced further action to support ratepayers during the COVID-19 outbreak, directing the Department of Public Utilities to issue an order prohibiting investor-owned utility companies from shutting off gas, electric, and water utility service to any customers for failure to pay a bill or a portion of a bill until the State of Emergency is lifted. The order also prohibits investor-owned utility companies from sending communications that threaten to shut off gas, electric, or water service to any of their customers. See the order here.
 
Testing updates
Governor Baker announced that 10 additional labs, in addition to the state public health lab, Quest Diagnostics, and LabCorp, are now testing for the virus. Additionally, the state has ordered an additional 1.1 million swabs for the tests that have been in short supply, ensuring that our medical professionals will not be hindered in performing tests on patients suspected of being sick with COVID-19.
 
Personal Protective Equipment
Procuring more personal protective equipment (PPE) for our healthcare personnel remains the number one priority for all of us and the state has ordered equipment from national and international suppliers including 3.3 million N95 masks, as well as solicited donations from the life sciences industry, construction industry, vocational schools, colleges and universities, Massachusetts dentists and countless other businesses and entities that have N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns and gloves that can be donated. The state has received 17% of its request from the strategic national stockpile and the Department of Public Health has made 89 deliveries to healthcare institutions as of March 24th. 
 
The lack of enough PPE stems from several contributing factors, including the current worldwide, unprecedented demand, insufficient reserves in the national stockpile, the necessity of PPE usage by personnel in congregate care settings with high risk populations where PPE is not traditionally required, and the high churn rate of PPE usage in healthcare delivery settings given that insufficient testing capacity and length of time before results were confirmed required healthcare institutions to err on the side of caution when presented with and treating a patient exhibiting symptoms.
 
In this unprecedented time, I am grateful to all who have worked to help provide these critical resources. Our front-line healthcare personnel must be protected by this essential equipment to ensure that they stay healthy while they work tirelessly to help get us healthy. There have been so many examples of people volunteering to help, from searching for suppliers, raising funds, and making masks to be donated - thank you all! I am also especially grateful to folks who emailed after my last update with leads on PPE suppliers that I submitted to the state Command Center and to local healthcare institutions, offered donations from their own businesses, local Chinese-American leaders who have donated supplies, the Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers Union for their help,  and to Home Depot who donated today to UMass after I reached out to them a few days ago to request a donation.   
 
COVID-19 Response Command Center
Last week and again on March 24th, Secretary Mary Lou Sudders, who the Governor appointed to lead the COVID-19 Response Command Center, held a conference call with Legislators to provide several timely updates and to solicit our feedback on what challenges we were hearing about in our communities. The Command Center also provides us with a Daily Situation Report with important updates at the end of each day. You can see the first page of the update for Tuesday, March 24th below:


Current Cases of COVID-19 
In Massachusetts, there is a total of 1,838 cases of COVID-19 as of today, March 25th. 15 people have died and 103 are hospitalized. 19,794 people have been tested state-wide. You can get more on the daily update of cases and how many cases by county here  https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-cases-quarantine-and-monitoring. Today's information is below:


Expanded Testing Capacity: Shrewsbury CVS
As many of you may have seen, the CVS in Shrewsbury at 720 Boston Turnpike (Route 9 eastbound) has a large tent set up. The White House reached out to CVS to help in the federal effort to expand testing centers and CVS chose locations based on the size of parking lots and ease of egress, not for any reason specific to current or suspected size of coronavirus infected population.

I visited the CVS testing center on Friday, March 20th with Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Senator Mike Moore for a briefing and walk-through. We met with Emmanuel Kolady, the SVP/Head of CVS Health Stores Eastern US, Alisa Ulrey, the District Vice President of Stores, and the CVS employees staffing the test site, as well as the US Public Health Services folks deployed by the federal government with only a few hours of notice to set this test site up, some from as far away as Kansas. 

The site is not open to the general public for drive up testing. The center is currently focused on testing public safety and healthcare professionals who have been ordered to get a test by a medical professional and who have an appointment.  The traffic for appointments is queued at the UMass parking lot on South Street and CVS is working with our police department and UMass public safety to ensure that traffic flows appropriately to the site. 

Additionally, the CVS store itself is now closed for the time being and all pharmacy requests have been transferred to the CVS at 197 Boston Turnpike (Route 9 westbound) in Shrewsbury.

I am grateful to the Shrewsbury Police Officers who are onsite managing security and safe egress and to the Town of Shrewsbury for being a terrific partner in helping open this site. The safety precautions for the public health professionals staffing the test site are strong. 

Please remember the site is not open to the public. 


Unemployment Benefits and How to Apply
The Legislature passed and the Governor signed  into law legislation that removes the one-week waiting period  for unemployment benefits for individuals who have become separated from work as a result of circumstances relating to or resulting from the outbreak of COVID-19 or the effects of the Governor's March 10, 2020 declaration of a State of Emergency. 
 
To help with the increased demand on the unemployment system and the increased workload on its employees, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Unemployment Assistance is hosting virtual town hall meetings in which attendees will be taken through a step by step process of achieving a successful unemployment claim. Town halls will also include a time for questions from claimants across the Commonwealth. I participated in one of these virtual town hall meetings this past Sunday and I found it be very informative and helpful. Sign up information for the virtual town hall is available here, and please note they will be offered in multiple languages. 
 
Finally, to further help claimants through the process of applying for benefits, specific web page updates have been made that include the latest guidance for employee qualifications and additional resources like contact forms and a COVID-19 specific unemployment claim handbook. You can file a claim and view the handbook here.
 
Legislative Update

Municipal Elections Legislation
On Monday, March 23rd the House and Senate enacted and the Governor signed into law S2608, An Act granting authority to postpone 2020 municipal elections in the Commonwealth and increase voting options in response to the declaration of emergency to respond to COVID-19, which authorizes cities and towns to move municipal elections previously scheduled for May 30th or earlier to a new date, provided the election takes place prior to June 30th. This legislation grants municipalities the authority to reschedule local elections as necessary to protect the health and safety of voters, poll workers, and volunteers. 
 
Communities that choose to delay their local elections will be required to post the vote authorizing the change of date and a sample ballot on their official municipal website at least 20 days prior to the rescheduled election, and to take other reasonable steps to notify voters of the date change.  New voters will be allowed to register up to 10 days prior to the election.
 
To encourage voter participation, Senate Bill 2608 provides for both absentee and early voting.  Absentee ballots will be accepted until noon on the last business day immediately preceding the rescheduled election date.  Qualifying voters who wish to vote early by mail can file an application with their local election official requesting an early voting ballot.
 
The bill also contains provisions allowing elected municipal officials whose terms would otherwise have expired to continue to serve until the new election takes place and a successor is elected and qualified.
 
The House also adopted two orders on March 23rd - H4582 and H4583 - rescheduling the two March 31st, 2020 House special elections to June 2nd, 2020. The Senate adopted similar orders, postponing their special elections from March 31stto May 19th.
 
Municipal and School District Flexibility Legislation
On Tuesday, March 24th, the Governor filed HD4974,  An Act to further address challenges faced by municipalities, school districts and state authorities resulting from COVID-19, which provides for additional deadline extensions and flexibility for town and school operations. Provisions include:
  • Suspending the cap on hours and compensation for retired employees collecting a pension for hours worked during the state of emergency, allowing municipalities to tap qualified workers when their workforces might be disrupted.
  • Permitting establishments licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption to sell wine and beer by take-out and delivery, provided that the wine or beer is sold in the original sealed container, is sold in the same transaction as a purchase of food and is not over certain volume limitations.
  • Modifying the local permitting process during the state of emergency by:
    • Providing that no permit is automatically granted, approved, or denied because a local permitting authority is unable to act within a time period required by law.
    • Providing that any permit that is currently valid will not lapse or expire during the state of emergency and suspends any time limitation on such permits during the emergency.
    • Allowing applications for permits to be filed electronically, to eliminate the need for in-person filing.
    • Suspending any requirement that a hearing on a permit application be held within a certain period until 45 days after the end of the state of emergency.
  • Extending municipal tax deadlines by allowing municipalities to waive late-payment penalties for 4th quarter tax bills, which are due May 1. In addition, municipalities could change their tax bill due date from April 1 to June 1.
  • Allowing municipalities to extend the deadline for property tax exemptions and deferrals. The current statutory deadline is April 1, and this would allow municipalities to extend it to June 1.
  • Modifying the MCAS by permitting the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education upon recommendation of the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify or waive the required competency determination for high school graduation. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education would also be allowed to modify or waive the MCAS testing requirement.
  • Extending a Student Opportunity Act deadline by permitting the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to extend the April 1, 2020 deadline for each district to submit its first 3-year plan to address "persistent disparities in achievement among student subgroups."  
Public Safety Overtime Legislation
On March 24th, Senator Michael Moore and I filed legislation, SD2886 and HD4977, An act providing emergency assistance for municipal public safety overtime, that recognizes the critical role municipal public safety officials play in combatting the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts. The bill would require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to establish a grant program to fund cities and towns' overtime costs for police officers and other municipal law enforcement with arrest powers, fire department members, emergency medical technicians and municipal personnel with authority to enforce public health regulations.  Our bill acknowledges that cities and towns may have significant additional costs to cover for overtime pay and this bill will allow for a grant program to be structured to reimburse for those unplanned costs. 
 
Small Business Assistance 
Multiple initiatives are being undertaken to mitigate the devastating effect the COVID-19 outbreak is predicted to have on small businesses. 
 
SBA Recovery Loan Fund : The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) has capitalized and is administering a $10 million Small Business Recovery Loan Fund to provide emergency capital up $75,000 to MA-based businesses hurt by the crisis. Loans are immediately available and no payments are due for up to 6 months. Find out more information, including eligibility and how to apply, at MGCC's website here.
 
Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program
This loan program, facilitated by the U.S. Small Business Administration, offers up to $2 million in low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits heavily impacted by COVID-19. EIDL loans will defer payments for the first year of the loan - a change from the initially-reported loan structure, which allowed payment deferral for just 4 months. More information, including eligibility and how to apply, is available here
 
Housing Stability
The Baker-Polito Administration announced steps to keep vulnerable families in their homes, preserve the health and safety of low-income renters and homeowners, and prevent homelessness due to reduced or lost income. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is moving to temporarily suspend terminations of federal and state rental vouchers under their purview. The Division of Banks has issued new guidance to Massachusetts financial institutions and lenders urging them to provide relief for borrowers and will advocate for a 60-day stay on behalf of all homeowners facing imminent foreclosure on their homes.  You can learn more about the guidance  here.
 
Local Food Pantries & Hunger Resources
Project Bread:  Project Bread's food source hotline is the only comprehensive statewide information and referral service in MA for people facing hunger. The hotline is 1-800-377-1292 and more information can be found here
 
Local Food Pantries : I have spoken with Elaine Leblanc at St. Anne's Human Services and Phil and Donna Kittredge at the Westborough Food Pantry and the greatest help you can provide to them is donating grocery store gift cards that they can distribute to those in need. Both St. Anne's and WFP will not be conducting normal operations (allowing folks to come in and select food) due to the risk of the virus spread to the volunteers, many who are in a higher risk group, and the clients. Instead the pantries will focus on providing gift cards and they anticipate that due to some people being unable to work demand will be higher than usual for supplemental food.

You can drop off gift cards in the Rectory Mailbox at St. Anne's or mail them to 130 Boston Turnpike Road, Shrewsbury, MA 01545 and you can mail the Westborough Food Pantry at PO Box 502, Westborough MA 01581 or drop them off gift cards at the Westborough Town Clerk's office at Town Hall.

 
Registry of Motor Vehicles 
The RMV has granted a 60-day extension on all driver's license renewals for all licenses expiring between March 1st and April 30th but no extension for vehicle registrations, which can be renewed online. In addition, the annual motor vehicle safety and emissions inspection expiration dates are being extended as follows: 
  • All non-commercial vehicle inspection stickers that expire on March 31st 2020 must be inspected by May 31st, 2020 and all non-commercial vehicle inspection stickers that expire on April 30th, 2020, must be inspected by June 30th, 2020; 
  • Non-commercial vehicles that are issued a failed inspection sticker that is due to expire in the month of march 2020 must be re-inspected by May 31st, and non-commercial vehicles issues a failed inspection sticker due to expire in the month of April 2020 must be re-inspected by June 30th. The one free re-test for these vehicles is also extended to May 31st or June 30th provided the re-test is performed at the same inspection station that performed the initial inspection. However, regardless of the date of inspection, vehicles issued a failed inspection sticker due to a safety defect shall not be operated until appropriate repairs have been completed, and;
  • All motorcycle inspection stickers originally set to expire on May 31st must be inspected by June 30th. 
The RMV is also extending the time during which newly registered vehicles must be inspected, which is typically within 7 days of the date of registration. Any newly-registered non-commercial vehicle purchased between March 1st, 2020, and March 31st, 2020 must be inspected by May 31st. Any newly-registered non-commercial vehicle purchased between April 1st, 2020, and April 30th, 2020 must be inspected by June 30th. 
 
Class D and M road tests for permit holders remain postponed at all locations through Monday, April 6th while CDL road tests continued to be administered. Learner's permits dated between March 1st, 2020 and April 30th, 2020 will continue to have an active status until 60 days after the printed expiration date. 8 Service Centers remain open to the general public with new ticketing protocols to adhere to social distancing. The Milford and Wilmington locations are now open to process exclusively CDL transactions. 
 
Appointment only reservation system:  Effective Tuesday, March 24th, an appointment-only reservation system has been implemented for certain necessary and required in-person transactions at the RMV's right open and operating Service Centers. These essential transactions include certain CDL transactions and some new registrations. Appointment reservation times will be available on a rolling basis up to two business days in advance here . The Milford and Wilmington RMV Service Center's will remain open to exclusively perform walk-in commercial transactions for CDLs and permits and CDL road tests will continue to be administered. 
 
Suspension Hearings and Reinstatement Procedures : Effective Monday, March 23rd, suspension hearings will be conducted by phone. Applying for and initiating a suspension hearing to seek reinstatement will continue to require an in-person visit to an RMV Service Center. Hearings are being conducted at Boston/Haymarket, Brockton, Fall River, Springfield, and Worcester. 
 
60-Day Extension of CDL Medical Certificates : CDL Med Certs that have expired or will expire after March 1st will have a 60-day extension applied to prevent license downgrades and elective medical visits during the State of Emergency. 
 
Suspending Issuance of New REAL IDs and Non-Commercial Permit Exams : At the direction of the federal government, there will be a delay of the October 2020 REAL ID compliance deadline. Effective March 25th and until April 7th, the RMV is also suspending the issuance of new REAL IDs and knowledge/written exams for non-commercial learner's permits, both of which are currently required, but non-essential, in-person transactions. 
 
Census
You are able to complete the Census  online, by phone, or by mail. I completed it two weeks ago and it was very quick and easy. Though field operations are paused for the 2020 census, Massachusetts is currently outpacing the nation in filling out the census online. Learn more on this order here.
 
Where to get the most reliable information
 
For the most up to date case counts in MA, the US, and for general information regarding best practices during this crisis, please visit here or here
 
In Massachusetts: There are several ways, in addition to the ones mentioned previously in this email, to stay informed:

News alert text service: Text COVIDMA to 888-777 to receive updates on the state's coronavirus response. Once you register, and public health officials will be able to send short messages and links to information directly to your cell phone. 

Massachusetts 2-1-1: Massachusetts residents are urged to use 2-1-1 for information, resources, and referrals regarding COVID-19. Once you choose a language, dial 26 to access the COVID-19 information line. Other dial in options provide information and referrals about critical resources and needs. Operators are staffing this hotline 24/7 and translators are available in multiple languages. You can also visit the MA 2-1-1 webpage here

Locally: Both Shrewsbury and Westborough are providing regular updates on their websites and FB pages:

Shrewsbury:
 
Westborough:
 
Contacting my Office
As a reminder, the State House itself is closed to the public and my Legislative Aide Anna Darrow and I are working remotely. We are fully accessible via email and we are constantly checking our office voicemail. You can reach our office number at 617-722-2810, my cell number is 617-448-7304, and my email is  Hannah.Kane@mahouse.gov. Anna's email is  Anna.Darrow@mahouse.gov and her cell number is 802-373-2294
 
So much continues to change in our world each day, and while this email is not exhaustive of all changes, I hope that the information is relevant and helpful. I will continue to post regular updates on my State Representative Facebook page. I remain grateful to all workers who go to work each day to help us through our time of crisis. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I can be of assistance.


With sincere gratitude,
Hannah Kane
State Representative
11th Worcester District

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