Letter to colleagues urging support for Shelter In Place in response to the COVID-19 emergency


Honorable Colleagues:

We are facing the collapse of the healthcare system in Massachusetts in a matter of days or weeks, and it is imperative that Gov. Baker quickly move to issue an order to Shelter In Place for the purpose of suppressing the spread of COVID-19. 

Right now, the Baker Administration is responding to this imminent catastrophe in a similar way to how they would respond to an approaching blizzard or hurricane. There's a great deal of effort being made with respect to preparing the apparatus of state government and coordinating with our municipal and federal partners — and that is all necessary and good.

However, COVID-19 is not like a weather-related natural disaster. Unlike falling snow or blowing wind, we actually have the ability to control, suppress, and practically eliminate the incidence and spread of coronavirus.

Suppression has to be our main and overriding focus right now. Every day and every hour that goes by where aggressive suppression isn't our primary focus — and every time residents of the Commonwealth are having unnecessary interactions in close proximity with each other — there's more potential for the virus to be unnecessarily spreading.

The continued transmission of COVID-19 is a catastrophic problem, because this virus doesn't spread in a linear fashion. It spreads in an exponential fashion. Every three days, we can expect the number of cases to double. 

Physicians have told us COVID-19 is some 10 times more contagious than the flu, and that as many as 1 out of every 5 people who are infected will contract a serious pneumonia that will require hospitalization. Epidemiologists have suggested that Massachusetts could see 10,000 cases or more by the end of this month. Our hospitals are on track to look like war-zones in the coming days or weeks. 

It must be noted that other countries around the world are generally better prepared to deal with such a pandemic. Our inability to quickly deploy testing will go down in history as a great tragedy. Our lack of preparedness and our already-fractured social safety net means the outcome in the United States could be much worse than what we've already seen in China and Italy or other places around the world.

Unfortunately, too many of our fellow residents remain uninformed or have been taking a caviler attitude toward this emergency situation. To be clear, George Q. Daley, the Dean of Harvard Medical School, has called the outbreak of COVID-19, "the single most threatening pandemic to arise in the last century." Yesterday, I called on local broadcast media to cancel all of their regular programing and focus entirely on instructing the public on how to limit the spread of the virus.

At present, the Baker Administration hasn't been able to provide anything close to an accurate count of the number of cases in Massachusetts — yesterday the Boston Globe reported that experts believe the Administration's numbers are wildly off — and just as concerning, the Baker Administration hasn't shared any of their modeling or their projections for how they expect this to play out in the coming days and weeks. 

Yesterday, like many of you, I participated in a conference call with Secretary Sudders. What I heard on the call was troubling because so much of the presentation was focused on the details of managing the response to the disaster. Only a few words were said about the need to "flatten the curve" — but right now, the folks in Italy are warning us that every minute that goes by where we are not incredibly focused on suppression means that more lives will be lost.

As I said on the call yesterday, we need everyone possible to Shelter In Place right now as part of a very aggressive strategy to suppress the explosive spread of this virus — and from there we can figure out all the other details to make this situation workable for the next few weeks at least. And in making this call, we must also take immediate action to provide space for people to quarantine and provide people who are experiencing homelessness with space of their own.

If we continue on the current course, where we are all working around the clock to figure out the details while suggesting an incomplete program of social distancing, the virus can be expected to continuously spread in an exponential fashion, resulting in the breakdown of our healthcare system and other critical systems, thereby making it ultimately impossible for us to address any of other details in the first place. 

Also, it should be noted: once we decide to Shelter In Place, the outbreak of the disease will continue to get worse for another two to four weeks before it starts to get better, as additional cases incubate and become apparent. We’re probably going to end up Sheltering In Place anyways, so we might as well start now and save more lives and better preserve our operating capacity.

Right now at a Star Market in my district, I am told that at least three elderly people continue to go to work. I'm about to call the manager and tell them that is not acceptable, particularly given the high-traffic nature of our grocery stores and the risk this disease poses to older people. And in Somerville, I am told crews continue to work on the Green Line Extension project. Again, this is unacceptable, as some of the workers could have coronavirus without even knowing it — and every person who is infected can spread the virus to several other people.

At 11:30 am, a group of state and local colleagues will be sending the attached letter to the governor calling for a Shelter In Place order. The strategies called for in the letter are drawn from what they are doing in the San Francisco Bay Area, where some 7 million people were ordered to Shelter In Place on Tuesday. Please take a look at this website and scroll through it as it explains this new policy: https://sf.gov/stay-home-except-essential-needs 

Thank you for all that you are doing, and please be safe and be well.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly