Updates from the tenth week of COVID-19 emergency in Massachusetts

MAY 21, 2020

It's been just over ten weeks since Governor Baker declared a State of Emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts — and of course, the main focus this week has been the start of "the reopening" on Monday.

For my part, the past week has been a whirlwind of advocacy and activity, starting with efforts I led to encourage the Governor to be more thoughtful and deliberate with his plans for the reopening — efforts that ultimately led to death threats being made against me on social media last weekend — and culminating on Monday with the Governor's announcement of his reopening plan.

In addition, last Friday I hosted a virtual Town Hall Meeting with some of our area's best housing justice advocates to discuss the Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium, and I submitted testimony in support of Universal Vote By Mail. Yesterday, I participated in a remote formal session of the House of Representatives, where we enacted legislation to help with infrastructure technology needs. And just this afternoon, I did an online Town Hall with Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville.

CALLING ON GOV. BAKER TO DELAY "THE REOPENING"

Last Friday, and again on Saturday, I drafted and sent letters to Gov. Baker calling on him to postpone his plans for "reopening" the state's economy on May 18. I was joined by 11 other Democratic lawmakers who signed on to these letters. As an aside, I put the word "reopening" in quotes because we should all recognize that for many frontline workers, the economy never actually shut down. 

Our letters called on Governor Baker to keep the Stay-At-Home advisory in place through June 1. Doing so would have given us time to focus on getting our seven-day average of positive test results in a more favorable position with respect to World Health Organization's (WHO) benchmarks, and it would have also provided us with a chance to build consensus and understanding about the reopening plan, making sure the voices of those most impacted by COVID-19 had a real seat at the table in the decision-making process.

To his credit, the Governor responded to questions he was asked about our letter, but for the most part, he declined to follow our suggestions. And so, as we could have imagined, the reopening plan ultimately faced a barrage of criticism upon its release (more about that below). And Massachusetts continues to endure one of the most severe localized COVID-19 epidemics in the world (more about that below, too).

Our letters to the Governor were featured in The Boston Globe on Saturday and also here on this Fox 25 Boston news segment.

DEATH THREATS IN RESPONSE TO LETTERS TO THE GOVERNOR

Unfortunately, late Saturday night, I received a series of threatening messages from an individual who identified as a Cambridge resident. It's been a sad situation, and it gave me the chills to be threatened with gun violence. Thank you to everyone who reached out to offer support and express concern, and thanks as well to city and state police who are now investigating the matter. I am doing okay and plan to continue advocating for the health, safety, and well-being of all of our Cambridge and Somerville constituents.  If you're wondering what happened, the incident was described here and here.

GOVERNOR BAKER ANNOUNCES THE START OF "THE REOPENING"

At 10:30 am on Monday, I participated in an online press conference with State Rep. Tami Gouveia and various nurses, grocery story workers, and experts from Mass. General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. We reiterated our call to Gov. Baker to slow down the reopening and listen to the voices of those most impacted by COVID-19. There's highlights from this event here in the Somerville Journal.

Then at 11 am, the Governor announced his plan for reopening the state's economy.

Click here for all the details on the Governor's plan, Reopening Massachusetts.

And click here for a one-page summary of the plan.

In short, the plan comes in four phases, with phase one starting this week. Each phase is expected to last at least three weeks, but may last longer, depending on how the state is doing according to six metrics found on a new Dashboard of Public Health Indicators

As of this week, the following businesses may operate or continue operating:

  • Manufacturing.
  • Construction.
  • Houses of Worship.
  • Hospitals and community health centers may expand to provide high priority preventative services, pediatric care and treatments for high risk patients.
  • All those businesses previously deemed essential may stay open and continue to operate, provided they comply with certain safety standards by May 25.

Here are some of people's most pressing concerns with the Governor's plan:

  • Child care — perhaps the most glaring omission is the lack of planning for the provision of child care. Day care centers across the state remain closed until at least June 29, and schools are closed for the remainder of the academic year.
  • Worker rights and health information privacy — another concern is how the plan calls on workers with underlying health conditions to share private health information with employers so that the employer (who is also often the health insurance provider) can figure out a safe way for the employee to work. I appreciate the intent here, but we need to ensure we are maintaining health information privacy.
  • Houses of Worship — there's been several reports that church services — which often involve larger groups of people, possibly singing in buildings that may not have the best ventilation — can turn into hotspots for coronavirus transmission. The Governor's plan allows churches to operate up to 40% capacity — but many churches have said they will nevertheless remain closed for the sake of public safety.
  • Public transportation — as the economy reopened this week, the MBTA continued to run on a limited schedule. There's no plan to return to normal service for at least another couple of months. This has already led to scenes of passengers standing shoulder to shoulder in packed buses in Chelsea, completely violating physical distancing recommendations. In addition, while passengers are being told to wear face coverings, the T is still letting people ride even if they have no reason not to cover their faces.

At his press conference on Monday, the Governor justified his approach to the reopening plan by saying, "We’re playing a game with the virus and the economy" — but as I told WBUR that evening, when he says that, what I hear him saying is that he and his Reopening Advisory Board (which consists largely of corporate executives and doesn't include any of the frontline workers most impacted by the pandemic) are literally deciding how to balance "death and the economy."

I agree with our Congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley, when she suggests that people most impacted by these decisions should get to have a seat at the table in the decision-making process. For her part, Rep. Pressley made a statement on Tuesday saying she also thinks the Governor has been moving too fast with the reopening.

MORE PERSPECTIVE ON COVID-19 IN MASSACHUSETTS AND IN THE U.S.A.

How severe is the localized COVID-19 epidemic in Massachusetts?

Here in the Bay State, we’ve confirmed 90,084 cases and 6,148 deaths since March. By comparison, China, the world’s most populous country, has reported 82,967 cases and 4,634 deaths since December. And if Massachusetts was its own country, we would rank 11th worldwide in COVID-19 fatalities, ahead of Mexico, India, Russia, and some 200 other nations.

To be sure, COVID-19 has been notoriously difficult to track, so there’s widespread agreement that our numbers are under-representative. And while many have questioned the accuracy of China’s numbers as well — the sad fact remains that COVID-19 could objectively be called a uniquely American tragedy. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States far exceeds the figures for any other nation.

The question for all of us should be — here in one of the richest states in the richest country in the history of the world — why are our outcomes so much worse than everywhere else? From my perspective, the answers to this question include neoliberal capitalism, racism, anti-intellectualism, and Donald Trump.

Just last night, the New York Times reported the if the U.S. had begun imposing social distancing measures just one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new research from Columbia University. For our part, we were begging Gov. Baker to issue a Stay-At-Home order in mid-March, but it took us a good week before he finally issued the Stay-At-Home advisory.

HOUSING STABILITY TOWN HALL ON CCTV

Last Friday, I hosted a Town Hall Meeting online and on Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) Ch. 8 to discuss the current Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium, the work we had to do to make it possible, and the work that remains to be done going forward. Joining me for the Town Hall was an all-star lineup of some of our area's best housing justice advocates and organizers, including:

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

The Housing Stability and COVID-19 Town Hall is being periodically rebroadcast on both CCTV as well as SCATV in Somerville, and you can also watch it online here.

LECHMERE STATION CLOSES THIS SUNDAY

Reminder to our East Cambridge and Somerville constituents — the soon-to-be-replaced Lechmere Station will close for the last time this Sunday. It will be replaced by bus shuttles on dedicated bus lanes to North Station for now — and a new Lechmere Station will open as part of the Green Line Extension project next year. More information is posted here in Cambridge Day and on my State House blog.

PILOT EPISODE OF INDIGNATION

Local journalism and independent media are vital to our community, so I was delighted to be the featured guest on the pilot episode of InDIGnation last week. This new online video program is a thirty minute recap of the week's news by DigBoston editors Jason Pramas and Chris Faraone. You can watch me discuss the Governor's reopening plan and housing justice issues here on YouTube.

TOWN HALL MEETING WITH REP. DENISE PROVOST

This afternoon, I participated in a conversation on Somerville Community Access Television with State Rep. Denise Provost. We talked about our concerns with the reopening, child care needs, evictions, updates on the Green Line Extension, and more. You can watch it on YouTube 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 — 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 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.

Here's wishing you a happy (and physically distant) Memorial Day!

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.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly