Updates from the ninth week of COVID-19 Emergency in Massachusetts

MAY 13, 2020

Here are the latest updates from our virtual State House office on following the ninth week of the COVID-19 emergency in our Commonwealth.

Tune in Friday for a Housing Stability Virtual Town Hall Meeting

This Friday at noon, Rep. Mike Connolly will host a Virtual Town Hall Meeting to discuss the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium that was recently signed into law by Gov. Baker. Tune in to hear from local housing advocates and legal services attorneys about what the new law means for residential and small business tenants, and landlords, and what steps will be needed to ensure housing and community stability after the COVID-19 emergency is over.

The event will be moderated by Rep. Connolly and feature commentary and conversation with:

  • Karen Chen, Executive Director, Chinese Progressive Association
  • Lisa Owens, Executive Director, City Life/Vida Urbana
  • Joseph Michalakes, Staff Attorney, Greater Boston Legal Services
  • Steve Meacham, Organizing Coordinator, City Life/Vida Urbana
  • Ellen Schachter, Director, Somerville Office of Housing Stability

If you have questions or housing related topics you would like addressed, please email Mike.Connolly@MAHouse.gov or feel free to post in the Facebook Live feed during the stream noontime broadcast on Friday.

If you don't have Facebook, you can also watch the Virtual Town Hall on Ch. 8 CCTV in Cambridge as well as on the CCTV website. The event will also be rebroadcast on local television and online. You can RSVP for the event here.

COVID-19 Testing Now Available to All Cambridge and Somerville Residents 

Cambridge constituents will be pleased to know Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) is offering COVID-19 testing to all Cambridge residents via a stand-alone testing center at the CHA East Cambridge Care Center located at 163 Gore Street. This service for Cambridge residents launched Friday, May 8. Cambridge residents eight years of age and older are welcome, regardless of insurance or immigration status. Individuals must call to set up an appointment using a new hotline number: 617-665-2928. More information about universal access to COVID-19 testing for Cambridge residents is available here via the City of Cambridge

Somerville constituents also have universal access to COVID-19 testing through CHASince April 27, COVID-19 tests have been available to all Somerville residents by appointment at the Crown Street parking lot adjacent to Somerville Hospital. As with the Cambridge testing program, individuals must call to set up an appointment using the hotline number, 617-665-2928.

In addition, the City of Cambridge announced yesterday that it will further expand COVID-19 testing for Cambridge residents via a new mobile testing pilot program that will initially be launched in The Port neighborhood and in all senior housing buildings overseen by the Cambridge Housing Authority. More information about mobile testing in The Port is available via the City of Cambridge.

You do not need to be symptomatic or have health insurance to get a free test, and immigration status will not be checked for testing. For more information, check out our State House blog.

Governor Baker announces "the start of reopening" on Monday

Perhaps the biggest news so far this week is that the Governor has suggested he may let the Stay At Home advisory expire on Monday, and he may also allow the current framework of essential and non-essential businesses expire as well.

In place of the current restrictions, a new set of guidance is expected to be produced by the Governor's Reopening Advisory Board (more about that below), and we are told that details on this new guidance will be made available on Monday, May 18.

While Rep. Connolly is as eager as everyone else to see the end of the lockdown, and while we would love to see life return to normal as soon as possible, we are continuing to urge the Governor to proceed with caution. And we are not alone — scientists are also warning that it's too soon to "reopen" the economy.

Consider the fact that the number of new COVID-19 cases has jumped upward in each of the past two days. And to be sure, we have been witnessing an overall downward trend over the past two weeks. But very serious questions remain in terms of access to testing statewide, and the prevalence of this extraordinary contagious and dangerous virus is still relatively high across our state.

For example, today Massachusetts confirmed 1,165 new COVID-19 cases. And for comparison, the entire nation of Germany saw 933 new cases yesterday — and just as a result of that figure, Germany reintroduced its lockdown in affected areas. The last thing we would want here is to have spent the past two months facing such hardship, only to see a major resurgence of the virus once restrictions are lifted. So Rep. Connolly continues to urge caution.

The best thing we can do for the economy is to make sure the public health crisis is under control. As always, Rep. Connolly will continue to keep a close eye on this situation and will use his position to advocate for the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our community. 

Letter to the Governor to diversify the composition of the Re-Opening Advisory Board

Last week, Rep. Connolly joined with colleagues in sending a letter to Governor Baker urging him to diversify the membership of the Reopening Advisory Board to include representation from organized labor, community groups, education, and the public health sector.

While we appreciate the Governor convening an advisory board on reopening and his stated commitment to taking an evidence-based approach to moving forward, it is vital that members of our community who are most impacted and most at-risk during this pandemic have a seat at the table to help guide our state’s plans.

The letter specifically requests the addition of voices from organized labor, public health, mental health, and medical professionals, as well as K-12 teachers and employees, non-profits, immigrants, and a senior-serving organization.

Additionally, the letter requests the board develop a plan for working with the Massachusetts Legislature on implementing public health and economic recommendations. The full letter can be viewed here.

Rep. Connolly's Testimony on Decarceration and COVID19

Last week, Rep. Connolly submitted written testimony to the legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of H.4652, An Act regarding Decarceration and COVID-19. The legislation was filed by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and is co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and 27 others.

The Judiciary Committee conducted their hearing by "written testimony only" so as to maintain physical distancing. Rep. Connolly is proud to co-sponsor this legislation, which builds on his advocacy in support of decarceration as a response to COVID-19.

According to Greater Boston Legal Services, COVID-19 has created a dire situation for the thousands of people who are currently incarcerated in Massachusetts. To wit:

Jails and prisons are like cruise ships or nursing homes, where COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Over 600 incarcerated people and staff from Massachusetts jails and prisons have already tested positive for the new coronavirus. If we ignore this problem, everyone who is incarcerated could get infected and a staggering number will die.

The SJC has used its power to let out a very small number of people held pre-trial, but 95% of incarcerated people are still incarcerated and at risk. H. 4652 starts addressing this problem by releasing people who are particularly susceptible to the virus, who are nearing the end of their sentence, and who are incarcerated for minor violations. The bill also ensures that all incarcerated people have access to cleaning supplies and ways to stay in contact with their families. 

You may view a copy of Rep. Connolly's testimony here.

Two District Non-Profits to Receive Community Impact Funding

Rep. Connolly is pleased to announce Union Square Main Streets in Somerville and the East End House in Cambridge will receive community impact grants to bolster the work they are doing to help our community combat this pandemic. 

View a Recent Massachusetts Peace Action Town Hall

Last week, Rep. Connolly joined Reps. Elugardo and Sabadosa and Senator Eldridge for a town hall hosted by Mass. Peace Action.

Topics such as how to support healthcare workers, low wage earners, tenants, and small business owners were discussed as well as other legislative work happening across the state. 

Letter Advocating Increased Testing Capabilities in Harder Hit Communities

Rep. Connolly recently sent a letter to the Governor asking him to prioritize deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard’s COVID-19 testing capabilities in low income, senior, and all public housing communities.

We know there are stark disparities in access to treatment and with respect to pre-existing conditions that correlate strongly with lower-income communities of color in particular — and increased access to testing will help to better address these disparities.

The letter can be viewed here.

Opposition to Governor Baker Designating the Weymouth Compressor Station as Essential

Rep. Connolly participated in a week of action organized by Sunrise Boston and the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS) in opposition to Governor Baker deeming the construction of the Weymouth Compressor Station as essential during the COVID-19 emergency.

You can read more about these actions here. For background, this compressor station is being build by Enbridge, to connect pipelines bringing fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canada for export outside of the United States. This project has never been essential for Massachusetts residents, and definitely is not essential to build during a pandemic.

Beware Third Party Websites When Accessing State Services + Additional Service Updates

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) is cautioning customers to use only Mass.Gov/RMV when they are trying to renew a license or registration or process any business transactions online.  Customers may inadvertently come across unofficial third-party websites or "mimic sites" that advertise similar services but have no affiliation with the RMV.

Customers can use the helpful hints listed below to determine whether the website they are using is the official site for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.

  • Massachusetts uses the abbreviation “RMV.” Any website using the phrase “Department of Motor Vehicles” or “DMV” should be avoided.
  • Make sure the Commonwealth’s seal is located somewhere on the page. This will help ensure that it is an official government website. If it cannot be found, customers should leave the site immediately.
  • Always read the fine print and look for key phrases such as “for-profit” or “privately owned” at the top or bottom of the third-party websites which may note that they are not affiliated with the Commonwealth.
  • The Registry will never charge a customer to check the status of a license, registration, or title. If the site requires payment to access this information, it is an unsecured mimic site.
  • At Mass.Gov/RMV, a customer will never be charged to access Registry forms and information, but unofficial third-party sites may charge for this service. Their information is also not guaranteed to be accurate.
  • The Registry never charges for address changes. If a customer uses a mimic site, the change cannot be guaranteed to have actually gone through.

Additionally, as of Monday, May 4th, constituents can schedule a reservation online 7 days in advance for one of the open Service Centers.  Previously, they could only schedule a reservation 3 days in advance. Please visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/rmv-covid-19-information for up to date information on extensions, cancellations, and service changes.

Updates on Contact Tracing

The Administration recently joined with Partners in Health and local public health officials to provide an update on contract tracing efforts through the COVID-19 Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) launched last month

The initiative focuses on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, building on COVID-19 Response Command Center efforts to leverage public health college students to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health.

If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the MA COVID Team will reach out by phone to connect the confirmed case with support and resources necessary for quarantine, and to identify any close contacts that may have been exposed. As the CTC continues its contact tracing work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that Massachusetts residents answer the phone when a contact tracer calls or texts. Contact tracers will only reach out from phone numbers with 833 or 857 area codes, and the phone’s caller ID will say MA COVID Team.

To learn more about the MA COVID Team and the Community Tracing Collaborative, visit www.mass.gov/MATracingTeam.

House Passes Legislation to Ensure the Fiscal Health of the Commonwealth

During the first-ever remote voting formal session last week, Rep. Connolly and colleagues passed legislation to authorize necessary state borrowing during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The legislation, An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline, authorizes the State Treasurer to borrow in anticipation of tax receipts by the end of Fiscal Year 2020 and to repay those sums by June 30, 2021. This action is necessary due to the delay in tax revenue as a result of the extended deadlines of income tax filings and payments to July 15, 2020, which were extended because of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The session, which included remote voting, was the first held following the passage of Emergency Rules enabling Members to vote and debate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More information about Rep. Connolly's participation in the session is available here via the Somerville Journal.

Green Line Extension Bus Replacement Service – Lechmere to North Station

As a reminder, GLX improvements will require Green Line service between Lechmere and North Stations to be interrupted for approximately one year beginning May 24, 2020. This is to remove, rebuild, and relocate a section of viaduct and construct a new Lechmere Station. 

Structural upgrades will be completed by two separate MBTA entities— GLX and the Lechmere Viaduct Rehabilitation Project —working in close coordination with one another. Ultimately, the two projects will allow more trains to pass over the elevated structure providing both new branches of GLX with high capacity service.

  • During the closure, Green Line service between Lechmere Station and North Station will be provided via replacement bus service.
  • Existing commuter bus routes (69, 80, 87, & 88) will continue regular service to their usual terminus at the existing bus garage at Lechmere Station during Green Line service outage.
  • Pavement markings on Charles River Dam Road will be temporarily reconfigured during the track outage to include all-day dedicated bus lanes in both directions.
  • The replacement bus service plan, which preserves the existing bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, also maintains two vehicular travel lanes on Charles River Dam Road, and one left-turn lane in the Cambridge-bound direction.
  • When this segment of viaduct / station work is complete, Green Line service will be restored from North Station to the new Lechmere Station.
  • Final completion of the GLX project, including two additional, new Green Line branches—to Union Square in Somerville and to Medford/Tufts Station in Medford—is anticipated by December 2021.

For more detailed information on meeting notices and construction updates, please visit Mass.gov/GLX or email info@glxinfo.com.

For urgent matters, please call the GLX Hotline at 855-GLX-INFO (459-4636).

Other Updates

  • According to the Massachusetts Tracking Site, 410,032 tests have confirmed 80,497 cases of COVID-19 resulting in 5,315 deaths as of today, May 13. This site is updated daily around 4pm. This includes 856 cases in Cambridge (for a more granular look at local data, click hereand 719 cases in Somerville. For the latest National case counts and other pertinent information, please visit the CDC website. And please note: due to testing capacity, the number of actual cases is likely higher than what has been reported.
  • The Department of Public Health also releases daily reports on Hospital bed capacity and PPE distribution.
  • As a reminder: Governor Baker issued an Order effective Wednesday, May 6 requiring face masks or cloth face coverings in public places where social distancing is not possible. This applies to both indoor and outdoor spaces. Exceptions include children under the age of 2 and those unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition. Read the full DPH Guidance.

Cambridge Updates 

  • The Cambridge Public Health Department has made the difficult decision not to hold its annual Hoops ‘N’ Health sports tournament and health fair in its traditional format at Hoyt Field
  • The City and De Novo will hold their next Virtual Immigration Legal Screening Clinic on May 20, 2020.
  • A New Small Business Relief Program of both grants and loans for rent, salaries, utilities and cost of goods has been announced, check here for eligibility.
  • The Memorial Day parade and public observance is cancelled this year.
  • The City Manager recently appointed a Construction Advisory Group.
  • Restaurants approved to sell groceries have been added to this list showing which businesses are open/closed, offering takeout/delivery/online sales, etc.
  • As a reminder, the City is accepting applications for the Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund for COVID-19, income eligible Cambridge residents can apply for funds to assist with rental payments, utility bills, and other household needs. To check eligibility requirements and apply, click here. The deadline to apply is 5 pm on Friday, May 15.

Somerville Updates 

  • The City of Somerville is now distributing 100,000 civilian three-ply masks with a focus on getting masks to people most vulnerable to COVID-19. Because these masks can only be reused a limited number of times, the City is also putting out a call for donated cloth masks that can also be distributed to residents. For more information about this drive and initiative click here.
  • As a reminder applications for support are now being accepted for the donation-funded Somerville Cares Fundjointly launched by Mayor Joe Curtatone, the United Way, and the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS). The Somerville Cares Fund will provide emergency financial assistance to individuals and families during the COVID-19 public health crisis to meet needs such as food, housing, medicine, funeral costs, and other essential expenses. To check eligibility and apply, click here.
  • As a reminder, the Emergency Department at Somerville Hospital recently changed over to an Urgent Care Center. This will have no effect on COVID19 testing and treatment as that care is coordinated separately. For a list of FAQs on this change, please click here.

Resources

  • For questions, real-time COVID-19 information, resources, and referrals in multiple languages dial 211.
  • To receive updates from the State on your phone, text COVIDMA to 888-777.
  • If you need help with medical insurance call the Health Care for All Hotline at 1-800-272-4232.
  • For help making healthcare decisions regarding COVID19 based on any symptoms you might be exhibiting, visit this tool from Buoy — but please note this should not act as a substitute in case of emergency.
  • To apply for unemployment benefits visit this website, and then give our virtual State House office a call. Step by step instructions can be found here in English and here in Spanish. The Department of Unemployment Assistance continues to offer virtual town halls, to sign up and see the latest schedule click here.
  • Frontline healthcare workers should check out these resource from the Attorney General's Office for information on PPE, priority testing, free/discounted meals, and housing options. 

Ways to Help

  • The Department of Public Health is seeking volunteers with any level of medical, or allied medical support experience. If you would like to sign up, please click here.
  • Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets are urged to make an appointment to donate blood or components as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
  • To donate goods for use in Massachusetts' response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, please click here.
  • To provide information about goods you are looking to sell to support Massachusetts' COVID-19 response efforts, please click here.
  • To adapt your business to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), please click here.
  • Donate to the Somerville Cares COVID-19 Relief Fund here.
  • Donate to the Welcome Project's Immigrant Assistance Fund here.
  • Donate to the Cambridge Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund here.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. We are always available via phone at (617) 722-2060 or email at Mike.Connolly@MAHouse.gov. Please be advised our State House office line is being forwarded to our work-from-home spaces.

Please stay safe and be well and let's all continue to do our best to support those in need and help flatten the curve.