As we conclude the final week of April and enter a new month, I want to thank you for the strength, sense of community, and spirit of giving you have consistently exhibited over the past seven weeks. There is no getting around the fact that COVID-19 is a great tragedy, one that will define our time and impacts all generations. That being said, things will get better: we will be able to go to work, dine at restaurants, and laugh with our friends in-person again. With each day that passes, we grow closer to these times. Governor Baker announced this week that Commonwealth residents have flattened the curve. This announcement could only be made - and lives were saved - because each one of you has chosen to make great personal sacrifices to keep your high-risk family members, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, safe. This is a massive accomplishment that we achieved together. Thank you.
As you likely know, Governor Baker extended the stay-at-home advisory and closure of non-essential businesses order to May 18th. Both previously had an expiration date of May 4th. These extra weeks will allow the state to plan a safe, phased re-opening of the economy, allowing us to return to some semblance of normal without causing massive outbreaks and having to completely shut down again. Massachusetts still has some of the highest COVID-19 rates in the nation, by far. While we have flattened the curve, we seem to have hit a plateau in cases, hospitalizations, and death rates. These numbers will need to drop steadily for at least a few weeks before re-opening can begin. Therefore, while we all deal with cabin fever as the weeks drag on and the weather gets nicer, it is absolutely critical we continue to follow all state guidelines and orders. Compliance now means more normalcy later.
Please see the below updates on the state's COVID-19 response since my update last week:
Current Cases of COVID-19
The Department of Health (DPH) updates the MA DPH COVID-19 Dashboard daily around 4 pm. The dashboard includes trend data in a variety of areas (information on case rates, testing, geography of confirmed cases, etc.) death related data, and specific data on COVID-19 hospital census information, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes (with known clusters) and PPE distribution.
Find the dashboard, as well as the city and town data,
Essential Services Order Extended
On April 28th, Governor Baker extended the emergency order requiring all businesses and organizations that do not provide "COVID-19 Essential Services" close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public until May 18th. Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until May 18th.
Stay at Home Advisory
Governor Baker also announced on April 28th that the DPH stay-at-home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are strongly urged to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person to person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered high-risk should limit social interactions with all people as much as possible.
Face Mask Order
On May 1st, the Baker-Polito Administration announced an order requiring everyone in Massachusetts to wear a face covering in public - including in businesses, outdoors, or on public transportation - if they're unable to socially distance themselves from other people. The order will take effect on Wednesday, May 6th and is aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The order says violators may face a fine up to $300, but Governor Baker will leave enforcement up to local officials. People will have to cover their nose and mouth if they're unable to keep a six-foot distance from others. The requirement does not apply to children 2 years old or younger or those with medical issues that otherwise prevent them from wearing a mask. DPH will develop guidelines for children 3 to 5 years old.
The Administration continues to urge people not to buy medical-grade masks, such as N95 masks, which are needed by healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the pandemic. There are many great online tutorials on mask-making using common household materials. See the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) instructions
Executive Branch Employee Guidance
On April 28th, the Baker-Polito Administration extended the guidance issued to Executive Branch employees on protocol during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure state government can continue to provide key services while protecting the health and safety of the public and the Executive Branch workforce. Under the guidance, all employees performing non-core functions who are able to work remotely should continue to do so until May 18th.
Reopening Advisory Board
On April 28th, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the formation of the Reopening Advisory Board, which will be Co-Chaired by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. The Board brings public health officials together with leaders from the business community and municipal government from across the Commonwealth. The group is charged with advising the Administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics. It will meet with key stakeholders and solicit input from a variety of constituencies over the next three weeks to develop a report by May 18th that will include DPH-approved workplace safety standards, industry frameworks, and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders. This report is due on May 18th, but the Administration has made it clear that public health data and guidance from healthcare experts will dictate the timeline of the re-opening process.
The 17-member Advisory Board is composed of 3 public health officials, including DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, three municipal officials, and 11 leaders from the business community, including MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack. Members of the Advisory Board bring a range of perspectives to the table, such as an understanding of workplaces and workforces and insights into key areas like financial markets, education, manufacturing, and transportation.
Comments from the public are encouraged and can be submitted to the Advisory Board here.
On April 30th, the Baker-Polito Administration announced that the statewide force to trace the close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 has contacted about 5,000 individuals. Governor Baker also said about 1,000 people are working as part of the contact tracing program, a collaboration with Partners in Health. Tracing is a key element of efforts to mitigate the spread of the disease. When the effort was launched, it was projected that each person who has COVID-19 would have about 10 close contacts, but it has turned out that most people only have 2 close contacts, which Governor Baker said means efforts to stay home and socially distance have been working. MA officials are continuing to watch for a downward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations, but the number of patients needing hospital care has been fairly consistent for the past 2 weeks.
If you see MA COVID TEAM come up on your phone as an incoming call, please pick it up and provide the relevant information to the caller.
Further Support, Resources, and Accountability Measures for Nursing Facilities
On April 27th, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a second round of funding up to $130 million for nursing facilities to support COVID-19 response efforts over the next two months, as well as increased funding of $44 million for residential congregate care service providers. This funding will support staffing costs, infection control, and PPE. In addition to increased financial support, the Administration has implemented required testing for staff and residents of nursing facilities.
Additional support services: The Commonwealth will offer temporary staffing assistance for all nursing homes in need. This includes clinical response teams of 120 nurses and CNAs deployed in teams of 10 during emergency situations, crisis management support, and deployment of the MA National Guard. These efforts will be supported by a centralized infection control performance improvement center established by the MA Senior Care Association.
Increased financial support for nursing facilities: The Administration is releasing a second round of funding for two months for nursing homes that meet specific requirements and accountability measures. The funding is dependent on required COVID-19 testing of all staff and residents, regular infection control audits, appropriate allocation of funding, and the public release of facility performance and funding use. Further details about this second round of funding available for nursing facilities include:
- Required testing: Facilities must test all staff and residents and report results to the state. Facilities are also encouraged to identify and pursue testing avenues with area hospitals, EMS, or other providers. The state's mobile testing program is available for those facilities unable to set up testing.
- In-person clinical audits: Facilities will be regularly audited in-person for infection control and accountability, and each will receive a baseline audit during the first two weeks of May. These clinical audits will be conducted using a 28-point Infection Control Checklist, based on DPH, CDC, and industry guidance. This checklist includes infection control, PPE supply and usage, staffing, clinical care, and communication requirements. Facilities will be scored into three ratings: in adherence (green), in adherence but warrants inspection (yellow), and not in adherence (red).
- Funding accountability: Funding release is dependent on accountability measures, including audit ratings and appropriate funding allocation. Facilities must use this funding for staffing, infection control, PPE, and other supports that directly benefit staff, including hotels for staff retention and infection control.
- Staffing supports: The Commonwealth will provide temporary staffing assistance to all nursing homes during the COVID-19 public health crisis, including clinical rapid response teams to provide urgent, short-term staffing for facilities in need, crisis management experts, and the deployment of the MA National Guard to aid with logistical, environmental, and other supports. The state will also contract with staffing agencies to support facilities that are otherwise unable to access staffing agencies.
- Infection control performance improvement center: The MA Senior Care Association and Hebrew Senior Life, in coordination with other industry providers, will lead an infection control performance improvement center to ensure accountability and provide assistance to facilities that are struggling with infection control capability. The performance improvement center will provide infection control protocols and trainings and PPE supply chain and management support, as well as identify, triage, and provide infection control specialist support and intervention.
- Public reporting: All performance measures and funding use will be publicly reported using a mandatory reporting template, and the Commonwealth will provide consolidated information in the testing completion status by facility, COVID-19 case counts, mortality of staff and residents, and audit results. These reports will be due shortly after June 30th, and the Commonwealth will then compile and deliver a public report.
Increased Support for Residential Congregate Care Service Providers
The Baker-Polito Administration is providing a second phase of increased funding - $44 million - across purchase of service residential congregate care service providers during the COVID-19 outbreak. This funding builds on the $95 million in increased funding announced on March 30th, bringing the total funding for these providers to $139 million, and will support increased staffing costs, infection control, and PPE. To mitigate many residential congregate care service providers' expenses related to the COVID-19 surge, Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) agencies will increase the monthly reimbursement for May and June services for an additional 15%, in addition to the previously announced 10% increase. Further support to address provider needs during the surge include mobile COVID-19 testing expansion and coordination with MEMA to get PPE to providers. EOHSS agencies work with 238 residential service providers throughout the Commonwealth to ensure the health and well-being of over 20,500 individuals reflecting diverse populations, including children, youth, and families, and individuals with physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Read more here.
New COVID-19 Public Health Data Released
Secretary Sudders announced that DPH will, for the first time, make available the underlying data files DPH uses each day to produce one of the most comprehensive daily report of any state in the country. The Secretary noted that the release of the files was part of a continued effort to expand the amount and type of data released to the public. The data files will be updated and posted daily with the dashboard report for the public, researchers, and media to download. Find the data files here.
Unreported COVID-19 Deaths
On April 29th, Governor Baker said he generally agrees with the CDC that COVID-19 deaths are probably being undercounted in the hardest hit states, including Massachusetts. New data released on April 28th suggested the number of people who died of all causes was roughly 50% higher than normal from March 8th through April 11th in seven states, including Massachusetts. Asked about the CDC data, Governor Baker said public health officials in the state have begun the work of determining whether any deaths prior to the one reported on March 20th should be attributed to the virus. The Governor said the effort is being undertaken by the coroner's office in conjunction with the chief medical examiner. In breaking down the CDC data, the New York Times reported that deaths in MA were 120% of the 5-year average during the March 8th to April 11th timeframe, meaning there were about 1,200 more deaths than average.
Homeless COVID-19 Isolation Sites
The Commonwealth's COVID-19 Command Center and MEMA have stood up regional isolation and recovery sites located in hotels across the state. Currently there are sites in Lexington, Pittsfield, Taunton, Northampton, and Everett. These locations are for individuals who:
- Are homeless (people who normally sleep at a shelter, on the street, for whom home is unsafe due to violence, or who do not have a permanent address) AND
- Who are COVID-19 positive OR have a medical provider's note recommending isolation and can safely isolate without medical supervision.
These sites are for individuals who have mild or moderate symptoms and do not need hospital level of care or nursing facility level of care. Medical treatment is not provided on-site. These locations cannot support individuals who need assistance with activities of daily living. For shelter providers located outside Boston, please call 617-367-5150 between the hours of 7am-7pm. The intake coordinator will determine eligibility, register an individual for the program, and have the guest placed and transported to the nearest Isolation and Recovery location that has availability. For shelter providers located in Boston please call 617-534-5050.
Emergency Solutions Grants for Residents Experiencing Homelessness
The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) on April 30th announced the availability of $16.4 million in special Emergency Solutions Grant COVID-19 (ESG-CV) funding, as authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). ESG-CV funds are to be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic among individuals and families who are homeless or receiving homeless assistance and to support additional homeless assistance and homelessness prevention activities to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. Examples of DHCD's priorities include, but are not limited to, costs to de-populate existing shelters by identifying, leasing, and/or establishing alternative shelter locations, hotel/motel vouchers for persons who are unable to access traditional emergency shelter facilities and increase operational costs due to COVID-19. These grants represent the latest effort in the Administration's ongoing strategy to address homelessness as outlined
MA National Guard
Key missions of the MA National Guard include support to medical/healthcare facilities, deploy mobile test teams statewide, supporting the pick-up and distribution of PPE, and security/law enforcement support. As of April 29th, 1,754 members of the MA National Guard and 178 members of the MA Air National Guard were actively supporting the COVID-19 response - a total of nearly 2,000 members.
Unemployment System Update
The Baker-Polito Administration continues to work hard to get people the unemployment benefits they need to help families get through these difficult times. In just a few short weeks, DUA has created and grown an enormous infrastructure to help people who are suddenly out of work. This has been done through the traditional unemployment system and the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program that was created by the federal CARES Act.
PUA was created to help workers who don't fit into a category that would make them eligible for traditional unemployment benefits. This includes independent contractors, the self-employed, and workers who participate in the gig economy. The federal government enacted the PUA program with the passage of the CARES Act but left it to states to implement. MA was one of the first states to successfully launch the program and start paying claimants. So far, the system has seen well over 100,000 applications. The benefits paid include an extra $600/week, part of another federal CARES Act benefit the state implemented. The PUA program also has a robust customer service component, including a call center and an online "chat bot" that helps people through common issues on the application process. In just over a week, the PUA call center has connected with nearly 80,000 constituents over the phone, and the online help tool has helped resolve over 200,000 individual issues with people's applications. The Administration will continue to pay out benefits for workers who don't qualify for traditional unemployment through the PUA program. You can learn more about this program here.
Traditional unemployment system: As of late April, over 650,000 people have applied for traditional unemployment since mid-March, and, as of last week, the Commonwealth is paying benefits to over 400,000 people - an unprecedented number. Managing this volume of claims and applicants has required DUA to exponentially expand their operations. Before the crisis, DUA had a 50-person call center. Today, DUA has 1,200 call center staffers working remotely to help people through the application process. The customer service component of the traditional unemployment system also includes daily virtual town halls, which can help people through common issues on the application. As of the end of April, they have been attended by over 200,000 people. Town halls are available in English and Spanish. DUA will continue to work overtime, including weekends and every night until 8pm, to help people with both of these unemployment programs.
SBA Resumes Accepting PPP Applications
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) began accepting applications for the second round of funding of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) from lenders on Monday, April 27th. It is critically important that small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic work with their lender to apply for the PPP loan as soon as possible. Businesses can access the SBA's Find a Lender tool
I serve on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means and there is still uncertainty about when the state budget might be debated, let alone what funding levels it will offer. The possibility of a joint budget proposal coming from both the House and Senate committees, rather than individual versions from each branch, has been proposed as an option. The $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 spending plan filed by Governor Baker in January was based on a projected $31.15 billion in tax revenues. With many businesses closed, residents advised to stay at home, and unemployment claims skyrocketing, experts have predicted $4 billion to $6 billion less in tax collections. The next budget proposal to emerge - whether it comes from the House or through some sort of joint process - will give a better picture than Governor Baker's budget (filed in January) of where appropriation levels are likely to land. There is also a likely possibility the state will adopt one-twelfth budgets, which allocate enough money for a month of operations before a full budget is in place.
Strengthening Local & Regional Public Health System Legislation
House Bill 4503, An Act relative to strengthening the local and regional public health system, which I filed with my colleague Representative Garlick, was signed into law by Governor Baker on April 29th after its enactment in the House and Senate. The legislation supports collaboration between local boards of health and neighboring municipal public health departments to deliver high-quality and efficient public health services such as disease control, emergency preparedness, restaurant inspection, sanitary code enforcement, and suicide prevention and substance use disorder outreach. Specifically, the legislation seeks to strengthen local public health in three ways:
- Establishes the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) program: A competitive grant program that provides funding to public health departments to increase sharing of services across municipalities, strengthen service delivery capabilities, and improve system accountability and data reporting.
- Ensures the local public health workforce has access to training: Provides board of health officials and staff with free educational and training opportunities four times annually in regions across the state.
- Sets new statewide public health standards: DPH will develop a set of minimum standards for foundational public health services to improve the quality of and create uniformity within the public health services of the Commonwealth.
The legislation builds on the work of the Special Commission on Local and Regional Public Health, a 25-member body of public health and municipal experts established in 2016, of which I was a member. The Commission released a 2019 report identifying ways for municipalities to overcome barriers and provide quality public health services to residents. The report
found that of the 105 towns with fewer than 5,000 residents, 78% lacked full-time staff and more than half had no health inspector. The report also found inconsistencies in training and credentials of local health department staff members and a lack of consistent data reporting across communities.
Virtual Notarization Legislation
On April 23rd, Governor Baker signed into law House Bill 4668, An Act providing for virtual notarization to address challenges related to COVID-19. The bill would allow notaries to use video conferencing technology to perform some of their duties during the COVID-19 emergency. In order to virtually notarize a document, which would streamline many business transactions during the public health crisis, notaries and signers of the document would have to swear they are physically present in MA and the physical paper would then be delivered to the notary by mail, courier, or other means.
May is Mental Health Month
From loneliness and situational depression resulting from isolation, anxiety from the fear of the illness, grief from losses, to worrying about economic security, our mental well-being and that of our loved ones is under great stress right now. Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health.
- If you or someone you care about are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness or anxiety or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, CALL2Talk is a resource available through 2-1-1 line.
- In March, the Administration launched the Massachusetts Network of Care, a searchable behavioral health directory of services and organizations dedicated to helping preserve and protect your mental health. The website connects MA residents with information in multiple languages on behavioral health services and treatment in their communities - including more than 5,000 organizations - searchable by keywords and zip codes.
With the Governor's stay-at-home order extended to May 18th, all passenger and motorcycle road tests (Class D and Class M) have been cancelled through Monday, May 18th. They previously had been cancelled through May 4th. Commercial Driver's License (CDL) road tests are still being conducted. Find up-to-date information on extensions, cancellations and service changes
2020 Census Digital Action Weekend
It is Census Digital Action Weekend, an effort to flood the internet with #2020Census to drive people to
to complete their 2020 Census questionnaire. Please take a few minutes to fill out the census if you have not already done so. The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding every year, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade.
Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services:
We are very fortunate to have
Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services, a private, non-profit counseling and social services agency that provides a diverse offering of programs and services that help to strengthen and support youth and families. No one who needs help is turned away, regardless of ability to pay. If you need help, you can reach them at 508-845-6932 or
, or learn more here.
SYFS, like so many other non-profits, has been financially decimated by the pandemic. A significant portion of SYFS revenue is generated from generous donations and sponsorships. The annual gala, the largest fundraiser to support their work, had to be canceled this coming May. Please learn more by
watching the brief video here
and join me in donating to SYFS to help them survive in this critical time of crisis.
Local Food Pantries
: St. Anne's Human Services and the Westborough Food Pantry continue to request the donation of grocery store gift cards that they can provide local residents who need supplemental food assistance.
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.
Reliable Information Sources
For the most up to date case counts in the US and for general information regarding best practices during this crisis, please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website
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.
They will not overload you with messages. The average so far has been a few texts a day.
husetts 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 staff the hotline 24/7 and translators are available in multiple languages. You can also visit the MA 2-1-1 webpage here
Both Shrewsbury and Westborough are providing regular updates on their websites and FB pages.
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
, my cell number is
, and my email is
. Anna's email is
and her cell number is
While this email is not exhaustive of all that the Commonwealth is undertaking to battle COVID-19, I hope that the information is relevant and helpful. My prior weekly emails can be found on my website,
in the "Updates from Hannah" section and I will continue to post regular updates each day 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.
11th Worcester District
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