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

Message from Rep. Connolly to our Cambridge and Somerville constituents — May 1, 2020

I hope this update finds you and your family doing as well as you possibly can after seven long weeks of COVID-19 emergency here in Massachusetts. Overall, we have made a good deal of progress in our struggle with the pandemic — but it's also clear we have a long, long way to go. There’s news of a surge of COVID-19 cases in Worcester this week and formal and informal reports of disproportionate impacts in East Cambridge and East Somerville, respectively. Alas, the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak remain severe across Massachusetts, particularly in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and within other vulnerable populations, including people who are experiencing homelessness, people who are incarcerated, and undocumented immigrants.

In any emergency situation, strong executive leadership is key. However, I continue to believe that Governor Baker has been too slow and too modest in his response. For example, he should have issued a statewide order for people to wear face coverings several weeks ago — but that order didn't come until just this afternoon. Unlike other governors in the hardest-hit areas around the country, Gov. Baker has too often been hesitant to order anyone to do anything — too often he relies on "advisories" or mere encouragement when a stronger message is what is necessary. As a result, despite the efforts we've made to avoid the worst imaginable outcomes, the fact remains we've seen little improvement in the overall situation.

For my part, I've spent the past week very focused on doing all I can to advance the legislature's response to the ongoing emergency, while also working with my colleagues and staff to respond to the particular concerns of our constituents in Cambridge and Somerville. 

Here are the latest updates from our virtual State House office:

Standing Up For Transparency as the House Advances Rules for Remote Legislative Sessions

This week the Massachusetts House started moving toward remote voting and remote participation as part of a planned return to full, formal legislative sessions. In the nearly 400-year history of the General Court, this is a remarkable and unprecedented move — but it's absolutely necessary in response to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency.

However, one major area of concern for myself and for several constituents and progressive activists was a proposal advanced by House Leadership on Monday to increase the threshold required to ask for a recorded roll call vote during remote legislative sessions — from 10% of the membership to 25% of the membership.

This particular aspect of the remote voting proposal would have made it more difficult to push for recorded votes on critical issues, so in keeping with my commitment to transparency, I'm pleased to report I was among the first to speak out about it — and I took the lead in working to maintain the existing standards for asking for a roll call vote.

After non-stop advocacy on Monday evening and throughout the day on Tuesday, a revised proposal was released on Tuesday evening to ensure we maintain the 10% threshold for a roll call vote. There's coverage of these efforts via the State House News Service and also in Commonwealth Magazine.

At the moment, we are now facing Republican opposition to finalizing these Temporary Emergency Rules — but I am hopeful we will overcome this opposition over the course of the next few days and get back to full, formal legislative sessions by next week.

I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in advancing these Temporary Emergency Rules to allow us to conduce remote sessions, as well as everyone who joined with me in building consensus for maintaining the 10% roll call threshold this week.

Overall this is a big step forward for our legislative process in response to COVID-19, one that should allow us to better address our constituents’ concerns while doing our job as legislators and promoting transparency and accountability in government.

More about the COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law

On Monday evening, I participated in a live Teach-In with members of housing justice organizations City Live/Vida Urbana and Springfield No One Leaves and legal advocates from Greater Boston Legal Services to review the details and answer questions about our best-in-the-nation Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium Law.

To watch the live Teach-In on Facebook, please click here.

House and Senate Pass Electronic Notary Bill

We recently passed An Act Providing for Virtual Notarization to address challenges related to COVID-19, which establishes requirements for authorized notary publics to use electronic video conferencing for documents requiring notarization, including wills, nominations of guardian or conservator, caregiver authorization affidavits, trusts, durable power of attorney, health care proxies, or documents related to a mortgage or other conveyance of title to real estate.

The bill now been signed into law by the Governor.

House Passes Long Term Care Facility Data Bill

This legislation requires long term care facilities, assisted living residences, and elderly housing facilities to provide daily reports to their local department of health or to the Department of Public Health (DPH), detailing the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in their facility; directs DPH to aggregate this data, along with demographic information, and provide weekly reports to the legislature.

The bill now moves to the state Senate for further consideration.

Disparity in COVID-19 Cases in East Cambridge Draws Concern

The City of Cambridge now reports COVID-19 case data by zip code, among other variables, which can be viewed here. It has recently been reported that normalized case counts in East Cambridge are significantly higher than the citywide average. I am monitoring this disparity and continuing to collaborate with city and state public health officials in response.

For more about the concerning numbers from East Cambridge, please see this recent Cambridge Day article.

Standing in Solidarity with Harvard Workers

I am proud to support the efforts of the 40 Billion for What? campaign which a group of Harvard students recently launched. We are calling on University administrators to use their financial resources to provide protections for workers and students during the COVID-19 crisis. I support this effort because all Harvard workers deserve paid sick time, hazard pay and necessary PPE as they face this crisis while doing essential jobs on campus. For more information, please see this article in The Crimson.

House Convenes Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Working Group

Last week the House convened a meeting of a recently formed working group on sexual assault, domestic violence, and the COVID-19 crisis, led by Reps. Marjorie Decker and Claire Cronin. A diverse group of experts was assembled including representatives from courts, district attorneys' offices, law enforcement, victims rights advocates, and healthcare providers.  A common theme of concern emerged that victims of domestic violence may not be aware of resources that remain available to them during the state of emergency, so there is a continuing need to reach out to current and potential victims to increase awareness and access to available services. 

In order to assist the promotion of awareness in our district, the group put together two graphics which constituents are encouraged to share. Click here for national and state resources and here for local resources.

In addition, the Trial Court has set up the following page for COVID-19 Resources for Abuse Protection Orders and Harassment Prevention Orders, and the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration developed the following resource guide which may be helpful given the concerning overlap between domestic violence and substance use. 

State and Federal Policy Updates

  • The Governor's emergency order requiring 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 will be extended until May 18th. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until and the Stay At Home advisory until May 18th.
  • The Governor has also announced the formation of a 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. This 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 two 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. While this report is due on the 18th, the administration has also made clear that public health data and guidance from health care experts will dictate the timeline of the re-opening process. A member list can be found here.
  • The Department of Public Health has issued guidance related to the operation of nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers, and agricultural supply stores. Such establishments that provide food producing plants for human consumption are now deemed essential.
  • Governor Baker issued an order extending the closure of all public and private schools through the end of the school year, and the closure of all non-emergency child care programs until June 29, 2020 in an effort to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth. This order expands the March 25 order suspending normal educational operations at schools and non-emergency child care programs. The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) established a process to approve Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs to serve families of first responders, medical personnel and essential workers. Emergency Child Care programs approved by EEC will continue operating. Currently there are 523 emergency child care programs statewide serving families of essential workers. Weekly attendance averages about 2,500 children in these programs across the Commonwealth.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE) is deferring scheduled repayments for its No-Interest Loan Program for a duration of four months to support relief efforts during the COVID-19 public health emergency. These deferments will help approximately 12,000 students that participate in the $5 million program annually funded through the repayment of loans. All no-interest loan accounts currently in repayment will automatically be placed in a deferment from April 2020 through July 2020. This deferment will not count toward the program’s permissible 36 months of available deferment. More information can be found here.
  • In partnership with Quest Diagnostics and the Mass League of Community Health Centers, the Administration announced further efforts to increase COVID-19 testing through community health centers. In rolling out increased testing, community health centers in areas of high need that have the ability to increase their testing capacities will be prioritized.
  • The Administration announced expanded access to high-speed internet for unserved cities and towns throughout Massachusetts that do not yet have a completed last-mile broadband network. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech, KCST and local internet service providers will offer communities new WiFi hotspots, building off the Commonwealth’s MassBroadband 123 fiber-optic network. These WiFi hotspots will provide unserved communities with a temporary 250 megabit per second wireless hotspot, allowing increased broadband access for residents, families and students impacted by COVID-19. This program will be offered free of monthly charge to eligible communities until September 1, 2020. Citizens who use these hotspots must continue to follow social distancing protocols, and the towns and ISPs will post clear signs with the DPH guidance. MassBroadband is providing support to local ISPs as needed, and is tracking these hotspots as they come online and posting them online here
  • As a reminder, certain constituents recently became eligible to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which is a new program open to the following workers: Self-employed individuals, including gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors, those seeking part-time employment, claimants that have an insufficient work history to qualify for benefits, and claimants that have been laid off from churches and religious institutions and are not eligible for benefits under state law. To apply for PUA, click here. As always, if you need further assistance in applying for this or any other state benefit, please reach out to our office. And please see this updated FAQ if you have questions.
  • In federal news, please see this IRS web page to track the status of your CARES Act stimulus check, if eligible, and if you have any questions, please see these FAQs.
  • Also in federal news, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is accepting Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applications. It is critically important that small businesses impacted by COVID-19 work with their lender to apply for the PPP as soon as possible. Click here for a published a list of institutions that provided loans to Massachusetts companies in the first PPP round and all entities from the SBA’s approved lenders list, categorized by asset level. If you need help applying in a language other than English, please click here.

Public Health Updates

  • According to the Massachusetts Tracking Site, 289,636 tests have confirmed 64,311 cases of COVID-19 resulting in 3,716 deaths as of today, May 1st. This site is updated daily around 4pm. This includes 761 cases in Cambridge and 597 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 has recently begun releasing daily reports on Hospital bed capacity and PPE distribution.

Cambridge Updates 

  • The City's facial covering advisory has been made mandatory. Face coverings must be worn in all public places, businesses and common areas of residential buildings. The order took effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, April 29, and applies to everyone over the age of five years old, with exceptions in alignment with guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control or Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Violations may be punishable by a $300 fine.
  • Sound Trucks have been deployed to Expand COVID-19 Prevention Outreach.
  • The City has issued updates on Temporary Restrictions on City Public Meetings, City Events, and City Permitted Events Due to COVID-19 through May 31, 2020.
  • The start of the street cleaning season has been delayed until May 18.
  • 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
  • If you haven't already, head over to the COVID-19 Data Center. This dashboard is intended to present data to the community in a format that is more mobile and user friendly.

Somerville Updates 

  • The City's facial covering advisory is now mandatory. The new order requires anyone over the age of two to wear a clean face mask or face covering when in any indoor or outdoor space that is open to the public. The order, which has the unanimous support of the City Council, went into effect on Wednesday, April 29, and a one-week grace period will be granted to allow the community time to comply. For more information, click here.
  • 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.
  • The Welcome Project has launched an Immigrant Assistance Fund which is designed to assist those immigrants who are not captured by state and federal recovery policies (i.e. those who do not qualify for unemployment or a stimulus check). The fund will help immigrants in Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Medford, and Malden. You can donate here or apply for assistance here.
  • The Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) Somerville Hospital branch has expanded COVID-19 drive-thru testing to serve all residents at the 33 Tower St. parking lot. People coming to the tent for testing will need to schedule an appointment by calling (617) 665-2928. Please note: the service is drive-thru only to start, and we are awaiting details for residents who don't have a car. No children under 8 years of age. Please keep your windows rolled up upon entry into the lot, and please bring a picture ID. Additionally, CHA anticipates walk thru or bike thru testing for people without a car will be available soon. For the latest updates and more information, please see the CHA COVID19 newsletter.
  • In COVID19-related news, the Emergency Department at Somerville Hospital is changed over to an Urgent Care Center yesterday, April 30th. 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 - please note this should not act as a substitute in case of emergency.
  • To apply for unemployment benefits visit this website, then give us 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.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly