MAY 29, 2021
Today marks a major milestone in our collective struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic — all industries are now permitted to fully reopen, and gathering limits are now rescinded in Massachusetts.
As someone who has been at the forefront of efforts to advocate for an equitable policy response to the pandemic — from leading efforts to pass the nation's strongest Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium last year, to organizing support for broader public health restrictions when they were necessary, to being an early critic of Governor Baker's vaccine rollout plan — today's milestone comes with a mix of emotions. Clearly, we have a lot to look forward to this summer! And yet, we cannot forget that Massachusetts has endured one of the worst Covid outbreaks in the nation — and as I originally reported last year, if Massachusetts was its own country, we would have had the highest per capita Covid death rate in the world.
Earlier this month, it looked like today's milestone was still several months away. But the fact of the matter is, the COVID vaccines have been incredibly effectively at preventing hospitalizations and death — and they also appear to be doing a very good job at limiting transmission and stopping the variants — so this enabled the CDC to change its general face covering guidance for vaccinated individuals back on May 13, and from that big decision, Governor Baker's subsequent reopening decisions have followed.
Personally, I am cautiously optimistic about where we now stand — and yet, I have also advocated for an approach that ties the final reopening steps to future vaccination milestones.
As it stands, 52% of Massachusetts residents are now fully vaccinated. We've made incredible progress over the past few months, but the science tells us we are still not where we need to be in terms of achieving herd immunity, and there are still serious vaccine equity concerns that we have yet to overcome. In this context, I like what Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is doing. In that state, Gov. Whitmer has tied their remaining reopening milestones to achieving increased rates of vaccination. For example, she has made the removal of the indoor mask and gathering orders contingent on 70% of that state's population getting at least a single dose of the vaccine.
As of this week in Massachusetts, 65% of our population has received at least one dose of the vaccine — so if we were following the model they are using in Michigan, we would probably be focusing more collectively on vaccine equity before lifting all restrictions. To be sure, the latest science tells us that people who are fully vaccinated are truly free to get back to normal in most settings. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that there's more work to be done to get to herd immunity, and we must also remain cognizant of the fact that Gov. Baker's vaccine rollout plan made it harder to achieve vaccine equity. More work remains to be done to ensure we are reaching everyone with the vaccine.
One more thing about these incredible vaccines — I'm very proud to say the 26th Middlesex District is the COVID-19 Vaccine Capital of the World! Both Pfizer and Moderna have locations in the Kendall Square area of the Cambridge and Somerville district I represent. We should all be proud and grateful for the local workers and researchers who have helped develop these vaccines, along with all those who participated in the clinical trials. That said, I am also advocating for the waiver of patents and intellectual property restrictions surrounding these vaccines. In places such as India and Japan, the pandemic continues to rage unabated. Here in the United States we should be promoting global equity and prioritizing the preservation of human life over the profit seeking motives of any pharmaceutical company.
Here are some additional updates from my State House office:
ALL INDUSTRIES ARE NOW PERMITTED TO REOPEN IN MASSACHUSETTS AS GATHERING LIMITS ARE RESCINDED
Effective today, the Face Covering Order has been rescinded by Governor Baker.
The Department of Public Health (DPH) will issue a new face covering advisory consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance. Non-vaccinated individuals are advised to continue wearing face masks and to continue distancing in most settings. The advisory will also recommend fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a face covering or social distance indoors or outdoors except in certain situations.
Face coverings will still be mandatory for all individuals on public and private transportation systems (including rideshares, livery, taxi, ferries, MBTA, Commuter Rail and transportation stations), in healthcare facilities and in other settings hosting vulnerable populations, such as congregate care settings. Face coverings will also remain required indoors for staff and students of K-12 schools and early education providers.
All industries will be permitted to reopen today. With the exception of remaining face-covering requirements for public and private transportation systems and facilities housing vulnerable populations, all industry restrictions will be lifted, and capacity will increase to 100% for all industries. The gathering limit will be rescinded. This will probably be seen most dramatically at tonight's Boston Bruins playoff game at the Garden, where a sellout crowd is expected.
All youth and amateur sports restrictions are now being lifted. Link to youth sports guidance.
In addition, there is now updated guidance for summer camps. Link to DESE guidance. Link to EEC guidance.
MUSEUM OF SCIENCE VACCINATION CLINIC — TODAY!
The Museum of Science is hosting a vaccination clinic for all individuals 12 and older who live, work or study in Massachusetts until 4 pm today. Visitors receiving a vaccine will be provided free parking and two free tickets to the museum, which can be used for a future date. Live demonstrations from Museum educators, raffles and other giveaways will be offered to those who come to receive their vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine will be administered at this clinic, and another clinic will be held on June 18 & 19 to facilitate second doses. Vaccine administration will be held in the Atrium outside the Charles Hayden Planetarium and Mugar Omni Theater. Advanced registration for an appointment is encouraged, but walk-ins are welcomed. Visit https://www.cic-health.com/mos to book an appointment.
HOMEBOUND VACCINATION PROGRAM
This week the state’s Homebound Vaccination Program expanded to support in-home vaccinations for all eligible residents who are unable to get to a vaccine site. This expansion will support continued vaccination of hard-to-reach populations. To book an appointment, call the Homebound Vaccination Program Central Intake Line at 1-833-983-0485. This line is available Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. The Central Intake Line is available in English and Spanish and will have translators available to support residents in approximately 100 additional languages.
After registering, individuals will be called within five business days by the state’s Homebound Vaccine Provider, Commonwealth Care Alliance, to schedule an appointment. It may take some time to get an appointment, and the quickest way to get vaccinated remains to schedule an appointment at a vaccination site by visiting VaxFinder.mass.gov. The Homebound Program is primarily using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a safe and effective vaccine that only requires one visit to an individual’s home. For individuals 12-17 years old who are homebound and would need significant support to leave the home to get to a medical appointment, the Homebound Program is offering Pfizer vaccines.
GOVERNOR BAKER TO LIFT STATE OF EMERGENCY ON JUNE 15
The Governor he has indicated that he will lift the COVID-19 State of Emergency on June 15. As noted above, this comes a lot sooner than anyone on Beacon Hill was expecting even a month ago. Therefore, we have our work cut out for us as we seek to maintain or extend some of the emergency provisions that are still needed, either in the short-term because they are important equity measures in light of the ongoing global pandemic, or on a permanent basis because they are simply good public policy.
Some of the items that I am actively working to advance on Beacon Hill are as follows:
- Eviction and Foreclosure Protections. During the FY22 budget process, we enacted an additional layer of protection to prevent summary process eviction cases from moving forward while tenants are actively seeking rental assistance. At the very least, we need to extend this basic layer of protection to give tenants an opportunity to maintain housing stability. In addition, I am currently working on legislation to cancel back rents by using the hundreds of millions of dollars in housing funds that we recently received as part of the American Rescue Plan, and I am also the lead co-sponsor of the COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill.
- COVID-19 Medical Bills. Even as we welcome the return to normalcy in Massachusetts, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the health care system in our country is terribly inequitable. This past week, Gov. Baker introduced legislation to cap COVID-19 medical bills until the beginning of next year. Under the Governor's plan, medical providers would not be able to bill patients for Covid-related emergency and inpatient care at rates higher than insurers paid until Jan. 1, 2022. Personally, I would like to go a lot further — we should cancel all medical debt in our country and work to implement a Medicare For All system with free healthcare at the point of service. I'm proud to say I am once again a co-sponsor of the Medicare For All bill on Beacon Hill this year.
- Supports for local restaurants. Concerns are now being raised that our emergency laws permitting to-go cocktails, limits on delivery fees for third-party apps like Grubhub and Door Dash, and patio and outdoor dining extensions on city property could now expire prematurely. I am working on new legislation to continue supporting our local restaurants and bars, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues in the coming days to address these concerns as soon as possible.
- Virtual (or Hybrid) Public Meetings. One of the few silver-linings of the Covid-era is how virtual public meetings have made it possible for more people to get involved with city and state government. People have been able to participate in City Council meetings from the comfort and convenience of home, and the House of Representatives finally started broadcasting all of its "informal sessions" and more of its committee hearings, giving the public a better view into the everyday work of the legislature. I strongly support continuing these programs, and I am co-sponsoring ACLU-backed legislation to modernize participation in public meetings. In my view, an ideal approach would be to allow for a hybrid model of public meetings, whereby people who wish to appear in person are able to do so, and people who want to participate remotely are allowed to do that, too. Governor Baker announced this week he will order an extension of the current virtual meeting model until September 1st — and I am hopeful we will adopt legislation this summer to enhance the state's Open Meeting Law by allowing for hybrid/remote participation in future public meetings.
These are just a few of the issues we are working on as the end of the State of Emergency draws near. The pandemic upended nearly every aspect of our lives, and as we move forward, we must remember that profound inequities in our society are what made the pandemic so bad in the first place, particularly for People of Color, immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities, and the working class. We must resolve to fully address these inequities and never forget the terrible lessons of the past fifteen months. I'm looking forward to continuing to do this important work in partnership with our community.
As always, please reach out to me directly with any questions, concerns, or suggestions. Here's wishing you and your family a safe and happy Memorial Day Weekend!
Yours in service,
Rep. Mike Connolly