COVID-19 updates

I share your concerns about the spread of the Corona virus (COVID-19) and, as you know, new information is coming out regularly. So, I am updating you on the latest news. You can also check the special state website for latest updates at https://www.mass.gov/covid19.

Current cases. In Massachusetts, there are a total of 7,738 cases of COVID-19, out of the 51,738 individuals that have been tested. As of Monday, Medway has 11 positive COVID-19 cases and Franklin had three. One hundred twenty-two deaths in Massachusetts have been related to the virus. The state’s capacity to test has been expanded so we expect that number to rise as more people get tested. For complete details, click here.

Producers and volunteers. To donate goods for use in Massachusetts’ response to the COVID-19 public health emergency: click here .  To provide information about goods you are looking to sell to support Massachusetts’ COVID-19 response efforts: click here.  To adapt your business to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): click here.  To volunteer to assist in public health, health care, and emergency response: click here.

Screenings available. MA residents who suspect they might have COVID-19 can now use this Buoy Health COVID-19 Web App, which will help to screen them based on a series of questions and connect them to a health care provider via telehealth. Click here to get to the site.

Office hours. Here is the video from our virtual office hours with Franklin Town Administrator Jamie Hellen and Franklin Town Council Chair Tom Mercer and other guests.

COVID-19 Text Alerts. Today, Massachusetts launched a text alert system called AlertsMA. The new messaging tool will allow residents to subscribe to real-time notifications by texting the keyword COVIDMA to 888-777.  After signing up, state and public health officials can send short messages and links to information directly to a resident’s cell phone or other mobile device.

Business closures and stay-at-home advisory. On Monday, Governor Baker outlined a stay-at-home advisory beginning Tuesday, March 24th at noon. The Governor ordered all non-essential businesses to close their physical operations to workers and customers. Grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, gas stations and other essential retail stores will remain accessible, and he said he would not be ordering people to stay in their homes. If you do go out or take a walk, Baker stressed that people should use “common sense” and observe social distancing. “Everyone is advised to stay home and limit all unnecessary activities,” Baker said. The new executive orders will remain in place until April 7. Essential businesses also include delivery and packaging operations, medical facilities and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Restaurants offering take-out food can also continue to operate. Medical marijuana dispensaries will remain open, but recreational pot shops must close. The governor also said the MBTA would continue to operate, but urged people to only use the T if necessary. The stay-at-home advisory was reassessed by Governor Baker on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and due to the expected surge of COVID-19 cases, this order has been extended until Monday, May 4, 2020. You may view executive orders here.

Restaurant Relief through the CARES Act. When the federal government passed the $2 trillion stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) it included several helpful provisions for small restaurants. The programs can be found by clicking here.

Manufacturing Emergency Response. In the effort to mobilize, organize, and operationalize critical path work streams necessary for Massachusetts manufacturers to pivot their operations to produce needed materials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 30, the leaders of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative including Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and Mike Tamasi, President and CEO of AccuRounds established the Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (M-ERT) to assist in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This work is being done in coordination with the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Response Command Center, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. To join the M-ERT’s Mission please click here.

Hotel/Motel Guidance. The DPH issued new guidelines around hotels, motels, inns, beds and breakfasts and other short-term residential rentals. Based on the updates to the essential business list, hotels, motels, and short-terms rentals can only be used for efforts related to fighting COVID-19. This includes frontline health workers or individuals who have been displaced from their homes. You can click here for the hotel/motel guidance

DPH testing. On March 13, DPH issued a guidance letter for testing of persons with suspect COVID-19 through the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory. This new system will enable Massachusetts to more quickly and effectively test and report out test results. This in turn will automatically make test results available to state epidemiologists, clinicians who have ordered the tests, and to local boards of health.

Testing ramping up. Massachusetts has a goal of conducting a minimum of 3,500 coronavirus tests each day and is on track to get to that level through an enormous increase in testing capacity by early next week (March 22-28). Quest Diagnostics in Marlborough is ramping up labs to be able to test 20,000 people per day across the country. CEO Steve Rusckowski said the company hopes to eventually be able to test 2,000 to 3,000 people a day in Massachusetts. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said that, using South Korea as a model, Massachusetts needs to be testing 3,500 people each day at a minimum. Massachusetts officials confirmed the state’s first positive COVID-19 case on Feb. 1.

Field Medical Station at DCU Center. In an effort to relieve pressure on the state’s health care system and provide additional medical capacity, the Baker-Polito Administration today announced that a field medical station with more than 200 beds is scheduled to be set up at the DCU Center in Worcester starting Wednesday. For more information, please click here.

Ongoing Blood Product Shortage. The Red Cross is facing a critical shortage of blood due to the cancelation of various blood drives across the state; however, the Governor has deemed blood and plasma donors as well as employees that operate these organizations as part of an essential service. If you are healthy, feeling well and are eligible to give blood or platelets and you are interested in donating platelets you can visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-733-2767 to schedule an appointment.

Capture2-virusUnemployment Insurance. The legislature enacted  a law that grants certain workers a waiver from the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. DUA may now pay unemployment benefits if a worker is quarantined due to an order by civil authority or medical professional; or leaves employment due to reasonable risk of exposure or infection, or to care for a family member and does not intend, or is not allowed, to return to work. The worker need not provide medical documentation and need only be available for work when and as able. Emergency regulations are being filed to allow workers to collect unemployment if a workplace is shut down and expects to reopen in four or fewer weeks; and also to waive the one (1) week waiting period for unemployment  benefits. For more information and to file a claim, click here. To further help claimants through the process of applying for benefits, DUA has made specific web page updates that include the latest guidance for employee qualifications and additional resources like contact forms and a COVID-19 specific unemployment claim handbook that can be viewed by clicking here.

Unemployment town halls. To help with the increased demand on the unemployment system and the increased volume or your constituent service staff, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Unemployment Assistance will be hosting daily virtual town hall meetings. DUA will take all who sign up through a step by step process of achieving a successful unemployment claim and take questions from claimants across the Commonwealth. You can participate online or by phone. Information for the virtual town hall is available by clicking here.

Employee rights. The Mass. Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division has produced a very helpful guide with frequently asked questions about employee rights and employer obligations as they relate to COVID19. You can view the FAQ’s by clicking here.

Banking relief. The chairman of the Financial Services Committee, under the leadership of Speaker DeLeo, sent a letter to the Commissioner of Banks in Massachusetts asking her to take emergency measures to protect residents. He specifically mentioned offering forbearance for mortgages, suspending debt collection activities, suspending small business credit payments, car payments, student loan payments and other debts, suspending evictions and foreclosures, and imposing a moratorium on all negative credit reporting. In response, the Division of Banks issued an order directing that institutions implement all reasonable and necessary change to provide relief to those adversely impacted borrowers during this state of emergency, and continuing thereafter, as necessary. These actions include, but are not limited to: Postponing foreclosures for 60 days; Forbearing mortgage payments for 60 or more days from their due dates; Waiving late payment fees and any online payment fees for a period of 60 days; Refraining from reporting late payments to credit rating agencies for 60 days; Offering borrowers an additional 60-day grace period to complete trial loan modifications, and ensuring that late payments during the COVID-19 pandemic do not affect their ability to obtain permanent loan modifications; Ensuring that borrowers do not experience a disruption of service if the mortgage servicer closes its office, including making available other avenues for borrowers to continue to manage their accounts and to make inquiries; and Proactively reaching out to borrowers to explain the above-listed assistance being offered. To read the full text of the order, click here.

COVID legislation. Several bills have been filed in the Massachusetts legislature relative to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The folks at InstaTrac, Inc., publisher of the MassTrac Massachusetts legislative tracking and information service, are offering this page as a free public service to allow you to track the progress of these bills. They will update the list by 10:30AM each business day. To access the site, click here.

Substance use disorder. Jen Levine and the team at the SAFE Coalition have put together a Resource Manual in the age of COVID-19 for those experiencing difficulties with substance use disorder and mental health. You can access the manual by clicking here.

All early education centers and daycares in Massachusetts will close starting Monday, March 23. The state will set up a program to provide childcare for healthcare, first responders, and other critical employees who have to go to work. The Department of Early Education and Care says it will continue to pay subsidized rates regardless of whether or not a center is open – parents will not lose their subsidy. You may read the Executive Order by clicking here.

The Governor also ordered a three-week suspension of all public and private schools (K-12), effective through April 7.

Higher Education. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Higher Education have recommended that colleges and universities, both public and private, continue to pursue strategies to reduce the need for students to be on campus, including suspending in-person classes and implementing institution-wide programs to shift to remote learning, technology enabled solutions, and other learning modalities to allow students to successfully complete course and degree requirements. Institutions should also pursue strategies to reduce the need for faculty and staff to be on campus by maximizing remote work opportunities, while maintaining essential on-campus services, especially for residential students who cannot safely return home. Higher education institutions in Massachusetts The New England Board of Higher Education has put together a web page which provides details about college closings throughout New England. You can view the data and get detailed information about any college or university in our area by clicking here. For the text of the guidance issued to higher education institutions by the DPH and DHE , click here.Capture3-vaccine

Price-gouging. The Attorney General’s Office promulgated an emergency regulation that addresses price gouging of necessary goods and services during the current public health crisis. The office has received numerous reports of extremely inflated prices for goods like hand sanitizer, face masks, and gloves.  Shortages of such goods have been reported across the country, placing a critical strain on members of the public as well as hospitals and medical facilities that rely on these essential products to protect their medical workers from infection and prevent the spread of disease. You can view the text of the regulation by clicking here.

There will be administrative tax relief measures for small local businesses impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, especially in the restaurant and hospitality sector. This tax relief includes postponing the collection of regular sales tax, meals tax, and room occupancy taxes due in March, April and May. These taxes will now be due on June 20.

Other relief for businesses. A number of resources have been put in place to aid businesses affected by COVID-19. To see the latest list for businesses, including low interest loans and other services, click here.

Census. You can complete the Census online, by phone, or by mail. The Census has paused field operations for the 2020 Census until at least April 1. Learn more by clicking here.

The Massachusetts Trial Courts are closed to the public, except for emergencies through April 6. You can read the full court order by clicking here.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles is extending the expiration date of certain credentials to reduce the number of customers in service centers and AAA locations. Learn more by clicking here.

Elections. Due to the COVID19 pandemic and in an effort to protect public health, the legislature voted on Monday, March 23 to allow cities and towns to postpone municipal elections. It will give cities and towns increased flexibility to delay local elections planned for the spring and allow voting by mail. Also, the House voted to reschedule special elections scheduled for March 31 to fill two vacant seats in the House and two seats in the Senate. The step comes as the calls from candidates and voting access advocates to delay certain deadlines, including signature gathering requirements, have mounted in light of government orders for people to keep their distance from one another to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Mass Cultural Council has put forward five items they will be doing to help the cultural sector in managing financial disruptions. Learn more by clicking here.

Governor Charlie Baker has ordered that all bars and restaurants in Massachusetts would no longer be permitted to offer on-premise consumption starting Tuesday, March 17 and through April 17. Restaurants are allowed to serve take-out only.

The Governor also banned gatherings larger than 25 people until April 6.

Retail stores can stay open as long as they have 25 people or less in them.

State Funding. Last week, the Legislature appropriated an additional $15M to cover costs associated with the state’s COVID-19 response, including “monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts by the department of public health, regional and local boards of health and other public instrumentalities.” The legislature and the governor had previously appropriated $95K to cover overtime costs at the state lab to speed up testing.

Capture1Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) has formed an Interagency Planning Working Group comprised of health, human services, public safety and several other government agencies to develop continuity plans for COVID-19. This working group is broken down into three subgroups that include 1) Support to First Responders Subgroup; 2) Logistics Subgroup, and 3) Mass Care Subgroup. These groups are tasked with developing strategies and coordinating support efforts related to COVID-19.  This follows the Department of Public Health’s infectious disease task force that was stood up in January.

2-1-1 phone service. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that Massachusetts 2-1-1 will now provide real-time COVID-19 information, resources, and referrals in multiple languages. Through this partnership with Massachusetts 2-1-1, DPH subject matter experts are expanding access to information 24/7, and empowering call operators to provide the latest information about the status of COVID-19 response efforts in Massachusetts. Residents with questions should dial 2-1-1 from any landline or cellphone. Callers dialing 2-1-1 will hear an automated menu of options. Callers press 2-6 for coronavirus. Residents can also reach 2-1-1 through a live chat  option on the website which you can visit by clicking here Mass 2-1-1 website. As of 9:00 AM today, Mass 2-1-1 has answered a total of 4,502 coronavirus-related calls since last Friday. There are 17 staff now answering calls, including staff from United Way and 7 staff members from DPH.

RoyLab stats (no relation). This site provides novel coronavirus live streaming with breaking news, a world Map and live counter on confirmed cases, recovered cases(COVID-19). To view it, click here.

Telehealth. The Division of Insurance issued an order on 3/16 regarding insurance coverage that all commercial and group health insurers cover all medically necessary telehealth services. The full order can be found by clicking here.

Resources for non-profit arts. The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) has been working closely with the Baker Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to aid local non-profits arts programs. MCC has created a helpful website to assist programs navigate this difficult time; that information can be found here. Furthermore, MCC is working with the Nonprofit Finance Fund to help programs who may find themselves struggling financially. Click here for the Nonprofit Finance Fund COVID-19 resources page.

Open Meeting Law. On March 12, Governor Baker issued an emergency order making modifications to the state’s Open Meeting Law to allow state, quasi and local governments to continue to carry out essential functions during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Franklin information portal. Franklin is closing its schools and municipal buildings (with some exceptions). You can read the TA and Superintendent’s letter by clicking here. You can view other information on Franklin’s portal by clicking here.

Medway information pages. The Medway Public Schools will be closed, beginning Monday, March 16. You can view the Medway School Department’s update page by clicking here. The town’s health page can be accessed by clicking here.

Plainridge racing. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously to postpone the start of live harness racing at Plainridge Racecourse — the only track that will host live racing in Massachusetts this year — until at least June 1.

Personal hygiene is important. Common sense steps to take include washing your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and clean things that are frequently touched. You can also help keep others safe by staying home if you are sick. If you need to contact a healthcare provider call ahead first or use telehealth services.

Practice social distancing. Help protect others and yourself by keeping your distance people (try to maintain a distance of 6 feet). This can help protect those who are older, and people living with chronic conditions. Try to avoid crowds as much as possible. Don’t shake hands or hug. Try to stay connected with others through calls/FaceTime/online chats and other forms of social media.

Boston Public Health Commission has information on the virus, the need for social distancing and handwashing available here.

Managing Stress in Uncertain Times. Take a break from constant news monitoring MilfordDailyNews_20200325_stop_spreadabout COVID-19. Take care of your body, eat healthy, get some physical activity, and enough sleep. Deep breathing, stretching and meditating helps. Take time to unwind and do activities that you enjoy. Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you’re feeling. Click here for a resource providing emotional support.

Pet & Animals. Can my pet get COVID-19? What can I do to help animals and shelters during this crisis? The Society of the United States has developed a COVID-19 shelter toolkit. This is a live page that is being continuously updated with new resources and information as the situation develops.

MBTA Service Changes. Effective March 17, 2020, all MBTA services will run on a reduced schedule until further notice, in the interest of the health and safety of our riders and employees. See full details by clicking here.

Temporary Closure of State Parks’ Athletic Fields and Courts. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has temporarily closed athletic fields and courts, such as basketball, tennis, handball, pickle ball, and bocce, throughout the state parks system effective today, March 24, 2020 until Tuesday, April 7, 2020, at which time the closure will be reassessed. Importantly, all state parks across the Commonwealth remain open and available for the public to visit. DCR reminds residents and visitors to avoid gathering in groups of ten or more people, maintain social distancing, and practice healthy personal hygiene to stop the spread of the virus. Similarly, DCR has extended the closure of agency-owned ice rinks, visitor centers, campgrounds, playgrounds, fitness areas, and bathroom facilities until Tuesday, April 7, 2020, which will also be reassessed at that time. The temporary extension of the closure of these facilities is consistent with an emergency order issued by Governor Charlie Baker on Monday, March 24, 2020 and reassessed on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Verizon Service. During this unprecedented period challenging the world’s health and economy, Verizon announced today, for the next 60 days, they will waive late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus. In addition, the company will not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus. For more information, click here.

Eversource: Eversource has been monitoring COVID-19 closely and is working proactively to address the concerns of its employees, customers and the communities we serve with one overarching goal: to ensure we continue to provide the safe, reliable and essential service that customers need during this unprecedented time. To decrease any financial hardship our customers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eversource has postponed disconnections for nonpayment for residential and business customers across its electric, natural gas, and water operations.

National Grid. National Grid has implemented additional steps to protect customers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to ensure the safe, reliable delivery of electricity and natural gas across its Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island service areas. On March 13 it temporarily suspended collections-related activities, including service disconnections, to lessen any financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional information on National Grid’s pandemic preparedness and a customer Q&A can be found here.

Further guidance and recommendations. Health-related guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for various audiences can be accessed by clicking here. I wish you the best as you navigate this public health crisis.

NYTimes e-book. As Covid-19 cases continue to be confirmed, the New York Times has developed a free book that will help reduce your risk and do your part to protect others. The bookaddresses what to do if you feel sick and are worried it may be the coronavirus, what scientists have learned about how the virus infects and attacks cells, how to talk to children and teens about the outbreak, what to do if you’re worried about the stock market and much more. To view the book, click here.

Google resource page. Google has launched a new website and enhanced its search options for people seeking information about the new coronavirus. You can view that site by clicking here.

Please look out for your friends and neighbors and stay informed with the links above.

If you have additional questions or need additional information, please let me know. I am not a medical doctor, so please contact your health care provider if you have specific health concerns. But I am happy to try and chase down any policy or state government related questions you might have. You can reach my State House office at 617-722-2030 or email me at Jeffrey.Roy@MAhouse.gov.