Dear Friends,

As you are by now well aware, the Commonwealth, the entire United States and much of the world has entered into an unprecedented public health emergency. COVID-19 will affect our way of life for months to come. Not only will our public health system be pushed to its limits, but we are already seeing significant economic fallout, much of which is harming small businesses and our already most vulnerable Commonwealth residents. I want to reassure you that your public officials are painfully aware of the stress the COVID-19 is causing you in every capacity. We are working round the clock to try to mitigate the negative effect the virus will have on your physical, mental, and financial wellbeing. 
 
If I can stress one thing, it is that I am here to listen to your concerns and do everything in my power to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. Your elected officials in every level of government - municipal, state, and federal - are communicating all day every day and working together to navigate this crisis. While the next few months will be difficult and involve immense sacrifice, I am confident we will get through this together. 
 
This past Tuesday, 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 of the day. You can see the first page of the update for Wednesday, March 18th below and access the full report  here.

On Wednesday, I took part in a Virtual Town Hall Meeting held by UMass Memorial Healthcare that included over 550 attendees being briefed on the healthcare planning, testing capacity, current in-take status and the immediate needs of the hospital system. The biggest single issue facing the health care system at the moment is the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). The state is working hard at trying to source and procure more PPE, as is the federal government, yet to date the state has only received 10% of the request that was made to the federal government from the National Stockpile. We are also working with our contacts in the life sciences and in construction industries and I know several local groups working to source PPE from overseas. Our healthcare workers cannot be on the front lines of this pandemic without the proper protective gear. 
 
I also took part this week in a White House conference call led by the Vice President to brief over 1,000 state and local leaders on the federal response to the pandemic and their focused efforts to help states respond, as well as an overview of the economic stimulus package being planned. Many of the same people who join the President and the Vice President for the daily press briefings were on the call providing updates. The federal government is focused on expanding telehealth to all 62 million Medicare beneficiaries without requiring a co-pay so as to allow for medical care to elderly without having to be in person, reducing the possible spread of the virus. They are restricting nursing home access to only essential staff and they are also looking to expand paid family leave to all Americans. Finally, FEMA has been elevated to Level One status in all states and territories. 
 
Conversations with Hannah
This past Sunday, I taped a special episode of "Conversations with Hannah" focused on the work of all levels of government to battle the coronavirus with Senator Mike Moore and some of our local Shrewsbury officials, including Board of Selectmen Chair Maurice DePalo, School Committee Chair Sandy Fryc, Assistant Town Manager Kristen Las, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joe Sawyer, Board of Health Chair Steve Vigeant and Dr. Michael Hirsh, the Medical Director of the Central MA Regional Public Health Alliance.  We discussed the federal, state and local efforts, including the steps taken by both the Town Manager's office and the Shrewsbury Public Schools, to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Dr. Hirsh also provided an overview of the many steps the healthcare system has taken to be prepared for the anticipated influx of patients battling the coronavirus. I am grateful to Shrewsbury Media Connection for taping the show. You can also watch it here on YouTube:


Working Remotely
As of Tuesday, March 17th, the State House itself is closed to the public. Myself and my staff began working remotely at the end of last week for the foreseeable future at the recommendation of Speaker DeLeo. Our office suite at the State House was in fact closed on Tuesday of this week for cleaning when we were alerted that a House employee who had been in our offices briefly last week had tested positive for COVID-19.
 
Anna, my Legislative Aide, and I 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.govAnna's email is Anna.Darrow@mahouse.gov and her cell  number is 802-373-2294.
 
Current Cases of COVID-19
In Massachusetts, there is a total of 328 cases of COVID-19 as of today. 3,100 have people have been tested state-wide in the State Public Health Laboratory and the commercial labs that are now online. You can get more on the daily update of cases and how many cases by county  here . Today's information is below.
Expanded Testing Capacity
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.

The site is not open to the general public for drive up testing. The next few days the center will be focused on a pilot with public safety and healthcare professionals who have been ordered to get a test. When the site is open to broader testing it will only be for people who have been ordered a test by a medical professional and the goal is for it to be by appointment so as to manage the traffic, which will be queued at the UMass parking lot on South Street. 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.


Emergency Funding
Last week, the Commonwealth passed and the Governor signed into law $15 million in supplemental funding through emergency legislation to fight COVID-19.  The funds, held in reserve, will support the Commonwealth's monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts against the 2019 novel coronavirus by the Department of Public Health, regional and local boards of health, and other public entities, with $5 million already released this week.
 
Unemployment Benefits
The Governor also filed a bill earlier this week, H2599, to waive the one week waiting period for unemployment benefits and the Legislature passed the bill and it was signed into law by the Governor today. This legislation applies to 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. For more information and to file a claim, click here.
 
Town Governance & Elections
Several bills have been filed to address issues arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, including H.4572,  An Act to address challenges in town governance resulting from COVID-19. This legislation would give flexibility to towns to declare a 30-day postponement of a Town Meeting due to a "public health emergency" and to accommodate extending the date of Town Meeting beyond the existing statutory cut-off of June 30th.  It would also allow quorum to be reduced as a short-term measure to permit the most pressing business occur with a reduced number in attendance and allow towns that are unable to finalize a budget before the start of the new fiscal year to continue month-to-month spending on essential operations at the same level as the fiscal year just ended.

I submitted written testimony yesterday encouraging the Committee reviewing this legislation to also allow towns the ability to postpone local/town elections as there is currently no other remedy in the law that allows for the postponement and rescheduling of municipal elections other than a court order. This past Monday Representative Dykema and I worked with the Town of Westborough to get a last-minute court order postponing their previously scheduled local election the following day.

Not only was the Board of Selectmen concerned about the fact that with one voting location for all five precincts the number of poll workers alone in the room could be more than 25 people, some of the poll workers themselves indicated that they were not comfortable performing their duties given the COVID-19 crisis and fear of virus spread among them, especially since many of the poll workers were in the high risk older population. 
 
Moratorium on Evictions
Legislation is also pending that would prohibit evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 crisis, provide emergency cash assistance to certain qualified households, establish emergency funding for homeless services, and allow municipal officials to impose limitations on the operations of businesses in their city or town.  
 
I have signed onto the following bills as a co-sponsor and will continue to work with my colleagues to see them become law: 

S2602/HD4927 An Act relative to emergency hazard health duty  - This legislation would allow all individuals considered 1st responders who contract, have symptoms of, or otherwise become affected by COVID-19 to have their medical condition or incapacity to work presumed to be work-related and considered to be on duty time, allowing for continued compensation. No first responder will have to use sick time, vacation time, or personal time to cover COVID-19 related incapacitation, and they will receive regular pay throughout the entirety of the incapacitation. 
 
SD2870/HD4934 An Act providing certain state employees sick leave for COVID-19 related absences  - This legislation provides that any employee of the Commonwealth who is absent from work due to COVID-19 infection, quarantine, or isolation as directed by a physician or authorized public health authority and does not have sufficient earned sick leave time for the absence will be granted sufficient sick leave time to ensure any such absence is paid. 
 
Small Business Assistance 
Multiple initiatives are being undertaken to mitigate the devastating effect the COVID-19 outbreak is predicted to have on small businesses. Led by the Baker-Polito Administration, the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) is capitalizing and 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
 
On Wednesday, March 18th, the Baker-Polito Administration announced administrative tax relief measures for small local businesses impacted by COVID-19. The relief includes postponing the collection of regular sales tax, meals tax, and room occupancy taxes that would be due throughout the remainder of the spring, instead having them be due on June 20th. All penalties and interest that would otherwise apply will be waived. These measures are expected to be finalized by Friday, March 20th. 
 
The Economic Injury Disaster 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. More information, including eligibility and how to apply, is available here.  

In addition, I have signed onto a letter being sent from legislators to the Division of Insurance to request the following two actions are taken to protect small businesses: 
 
1. Suspend insurers from requiring liquor liability insurance payments from businesses impacted by Governor Baker's Order prohibiting on premises consumption of food and drink.

2. Establish guidelines that the COVID-19 pandemic is not an "act of God" for the purposes of Businesses Interruption Insurance.
 
State of Emergency - What does this mean? 
Governor Baker declared a State of Emergency a week ago Tuesday March 10th, granting the Governor and other state officials with additional flexibility and powers to protect the residents of the Commonwealth in the event of imminent threat of a natural or man-made disaster. In essence, the declaration of a State of Emergency places more power in the hands of the Executive Branch, allowing it to act more swiftly and authoritatively for the immediate safety of all Commonwealth residents. The following clickable links provide additional information: 


Some important provisions of the State of Emergency: 
Limited gatherings:  The Governor has banned gatherings of more than 25 people or more. This ban does not apply to grocery stores. The President advised against gatherings of 10 people or more, although they have not been banned to date. For more information, click here.

Restaurant limits : All restaurants, bars, and other eating establishments are closed, except for pickup and delivery, through Monday, April 6th. Please consider ordering take out or delivery from our local restaurants during this time, as many of them are entering a time of severely reduced business and devastating impacts. Another way to support local restaurants and bars during this time of crisis is to purchase a gift card to use in the future once the closures have been lifted. The business will get your money now, when they need it most, and you will be able to enjoy a night out later when it is safe again. 
 
Nursing home restrictions : All public visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities are banned in order to protect our seniors, who make up the highest risk population for COVID-19. 
 
Elective surgeries : All hospitals must cancel any non-essential elective procedures until further notice in order to make room for and dedicate more resources towards patients suffering from COVID-19. 
 
State park playgrounds and other facilities : The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has closed playgrounds and fitness areas located throughout the state parks system until Wednesday, April 1st. However, all state parks across the Commonwealth remain open and available for the public to visit, provided visitors are not gathering in large groups. All state-run ice staking rinks have also been closed.
 
Temporary Open Meeting Law Modifications
In addition to the State of Emergency declaration, last week the Governor also  announced an emergency order temporarily modifying the state's open meeting law in order to all state, quasi and local governments to continue to carry out essential functions. It relieves the requirement that a quorum of members be physically present at a public meeting and that during this period members may all participate by remote or virtual means.
 
Public Health
Commercial insurers, self-insured plans, and the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) are required to cover medically necessary telehealth services related to COVID-19 testing and treatment without cost-sharing of any kind. Telemedicine care is now covered by MassHealth for all behavioral and physical healthcare.
 
Hand sanitizer may now be compounded and sold over the counter at licensed pharmacies. 
 
The Board of Registration in Nursing has acted swiftly to mitigate the potential upcoming shortage of nurses by expediting the process of reciprocal license applications for nurses licensed in another jurisdiction to allow applications to be processed in a single business day. 
 
Administrative requirements have been relaxed so as to allow physician's assistants who previously worked on elective surgeries to be used elsewhere in the hospital under a different supervising physician. 
 
Pharmacists are now allowed to administer certain medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder, which normally can only be done by a nurse. 
 
Local Board's of Health must disclose the addresses (but no other information) of people diagnosed with COVID-19 to the official in charge of emergency calls in the jurisdiction; this information can only be used for responding to emergency calls and must be kept confidential. 
 
Public Utilities 
Under the guidance of the Baker-Polito administration, the Department of Public Utilities has suspended all shut-offs of gas and electric utilities, including Municipal Light and Gas Plants, for customers during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. 

Education K-12
Elementary and Secondary schools have been suspended, effective March 17th to April 7th. School closures do not apply to residential and day schools for special needs students. Some school districts have chosen to extend this suspension. It is critical that students, their families, and staff treat this time not as one would a snow day or normal day off but practice social distancing and stay home unless necessary to leave, such as to go to the grocery store or pharmacy. Although young people have so far presented as a very low-risk population for COVID-19, they have the ability to pass the virus to older adults who statistically do not fare as well upon contracting the virus. Thus, it is important to keep students at home until this crisis passes to prevent it from spreading rapidly through schools and having children bring the virus home to their parents and grandparents. 
 
The government is working very hard to ensure that children who rely on school meals continue to receive meal assistance during this time of crisis. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has already received a partial waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowing school districts with more than 50% of students eligible for food assistance to continue receiving this food assistance during closure. The Commonwealth realizes that only continuing food assistance to schools with the 50% or more of in-need students is not enough and acknowledges that every student relying on school-provided food assistance should be able to continue to access it during this time. DESE is working closely with USDA to facilitate this, and the Legislature is currently assessing the possibility of stepping in to ensure funding that would enable all students who rely on school meals to continue to receive meals. 
 
The Baker-Polito Administration and legislative leaders are working with education stakeholders from across Massachusetts on the issue of MCAS testing which would normally commence soon for many of our students.  While I do not have an update yet, please know that this topic is a high priority.
 
Early Education and Child Care Centers
Governor Baker has also issued an Executive Order requiring all early education centers and family childcare providers to close, effective Monday, March 23rd. In response, DESE issued emergency procedures to open Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs to provide priority access for families of first responders, medical staff, and others critical to fighting COVID-19. Find the Executive Order here.
 
Higher Education
Higher education institutions have not been mandated to to close/suspend operations but have been encouraged to do online classes. Campuses with dorms will allow students with extenuating circumstances to stay onsite and provide limited food options to those students. For students with work study, there is federal guidance that allows students to still be paid under certain conditions.

Food Access & Insecurity
On the call with the White House today, we were assured that the supply chain for grocery stores is intact and that restocking is happening each day, though not all items may be on the shelves due to larger than normal quantities of specific items being purchased by some buyers.
 
Multiple stores across the Commonwealth are offering additional hours during which only seniors can shop with the goal of lowering their risk of COVID-19 infection. Starting Thursday, March 19th, all Stop & Shop locations have reserved 6am-7:30am daily for customers 60 or over, or anyone with a weakened immune system. Price Chopper is open for seniors every day 6am-7am. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Market Baskets will be open from 5:30am to 7am for customers ages 60 or over. Shaw's and Star Market will reserve time for senior citizens and other at-risk populations, such as pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems from 7-9am every Tuesday and Thursday. Finally, starting Friday, March 20th, all Roche Bros. stores will be open from 7-8am specifically for elderly and disabled customers. 
 
The Federal Government has passed that includes additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which one out of nine MA residents currently rely on for access to fresh, local, and healthy food. The Legislature will assess gaps in supplement federal SNAP funding in the coming days once the USDA has outlined their guidance and funding.
 
The legislative sub-committees appointed to review and prioritize legislative action is also looking at ways to loosen food donation requirements in order to encourage people to donate food to those in need, including taking up one of my bills filed this session H.1475,  An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need. This legislation eliminates some of the unnecessary barriers prohibiting and dissuading food donation and allows farmers a tax deduction for donated crops.  Changes are also being considered to classify farmer's markets and farm stands as grocery stores to allow them to remain open during this time. 

Local Food Pantries & Resources
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.


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
 
Domestic Violence
During a time in which we are told to stay at home, those suffering from domestic violence are at a higher risk than ever, and some may need to alter their safety plan. The National Domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233. For those unable to speak safely, log into thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 2252. 

Court System
The Massachusetts Trial Courts are closed to the public, except for emergency through April 6th. Find more information here.

Transportation
Effective Tuesday, March 17th, all MBTA trains and buses will run on a Saturday schedule, reducing service to limit mass gatherings of people and therefore the spread of COVID-19. The MBTA has also increased frequency of cleaning and sanitizing all stations and vehicles. More information about MBTA services during this time can be found  here
 
RMV  
The RMV has granted a 60-day extension on 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.

Census
You are able to complete the Census  online, by phone or by mail.  I completed it online last week and it was very easy and quick. The Census has paused field operations for the 2020 Census until at least April 1. 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 the MA Government resource page here and  the  CDC's page  here
 
Massachusetts 2-1-1
Massachusetts residents are urged to use 2-1-1 for information, resources, and referrals regarding COVID-19. Operators are staffing this hotline 24/7 and translators are available in multiple languages. As of 9:00 AM today, Mass 2-1-1 has answered more than  6,100 coronavirus-related calls since last Thursday, March 12. There are 17 staff now answering calls, including staff from United Way and 7 staff members from DPH. 

Both Shrewsbury and Westborough are providing regular updates on their websites and Facebook pages.

Shrewsbury:


Westborough:


So much is changing 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 am mindful of how overwhelming these past two weeks in particular have been and I am worried like you about our vulnerable residents. I am also grateful for the all public safety and health care workers on the front lines of this 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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