COVID-19 End of Week Update + Contact Tracing 5/10/20

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Happy Mother's Day and National Nurses Week (May 6-12) and National Hospital Week (May 10-16). ​​

I hope this finds you and yours healthy and in good spirits. As we continue to grieve those we've lost, our hearts remain full and grateful for what we once shared and what we have now.

Two weeks ago, Governor Baker established the Reopening Advisory Board. This group is charged with advising the administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics. To submit comments to the board, click here to access the form.

As we begin to hear of plans to reopen, we know the wisest public health path involves physical distancing and robust testing and contact tracing.

Launched last month, the state's Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC) focuses on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine. Remember, if an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the MA COVID Team will reach out by phone to connect the confirmed case with support and resources necessary for quarantine, and to identify any close contacts that may have been exposed.

As the CTC continues its contact tracing work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that residents answer the phone when a contact tracer calls or texts. Contact tracers will only reach out from phone numbers with 833 or 857 area codes, and the phone’s caller ID will say MA COVID Team.

PLEASE ANSWER THE CALL TO HELP KEEP OUR COMMUNITIES SAFE.

Since calls began on April 12, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have participated in contact tracing. Staffed with more than 1,600 tracers, the Tracing Collaborative has reached nearly 14,000 confirmed cases and established more than 7,500 of their contacts since calls began on April 12.

The good news is, so far, in part due to effective social distancing measures, the median number of contacts reported by each confirmed case remains approximately two.

Please continue to be kind to yourself and others during these challenging times.

Warmly,

Liz Malia

MA State Representative, 11th Suffolk

liz.malia@mahouse.gov

State Updates

5/5 - The Administration updated its essential services FAQs page to allow some small non-essential businesses to fulfill online and phone orders.

5/5 - To date, Massachusetts distributed 8.5 million pieces of PPE including masks, gloves, and ventilators. If you have PPE to sell or donate, the state is continuing to collect equipment to support the response effort.

5/5 - RMV customers can now schedule a reservation online 7 days in advance for an open service center. Previously, you could only schedule for 3 days in advance.

5/6 - Starting today, the Governor’s order regarding the use of cloth face coverings goes into effect. Residents over the age of two must wear a face mask or covering in all public places where maintaining proper social distancing is not possible.

5/6 - Today, MA was awarded $3.9M under FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program through the CARES Act. This funding is meant to support organizations that feed, shelter, and provide critical resources to people experiencing, or at-risk of experiencing, hunger, homelessness.

5/7 - The Registry of Motor Vehicles cautioned customers to only use the RMV’s website when trying to renew a license or registration or process any business transactions online. Customers should avoid using any unofficial third-party websites that are offering RMV services to ensure that their personal and financial information is protected.

5/8 - The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released guidance for Advanced Placement testing for school districts. This guidance permits schools to open for the test, but only for a limited number of students who are unable to take the test at home due to inadequate access to a computer or internet connectivity. For this and previous guidance issued around competency requirements for the class of 2020, click here.

5/8 - The Governor shared an update regarding care capacity in the Commonwealth. Hospitals continue to have the capacity to care for all medical conditions, including those suffering from heart attacks or strokes. Those with ongoing medical needs should continue to seek care. The Governor's administration and the Mass League of Community Health Centers are launching a COVID-19 public awareness campaign to encourage residents to continue to seek care for medical conditions and remind individuals not to delay treatment due to COVID-19.

Unemployment

The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) continues to offer virtual town halls that provide information on how to apply for unemployment assistance.

Recently, the DUA posted information on returning to work as it relates to unemployment insurance. You can find guidance for workers here and for employers here.

Legislative Updates

This past week, Massachusetts joined a regional consortium of 7 states that will work together to find and purchase personal protective equipment, COVID-19 tests, ventilators, and other needed medical equipment.

Additionally, the MA House agreed upon temporary emergency rules and voted remotely for the first time in the institution's history, ensuring that the Commonwealth’s essential legislative business continues during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

This coming week, I look forward to voting again remotely on the final enactment of the bill that will allow our state treasurer to borrow funds to balance the FY20 budget and to repay those sums by June 30, 2021, so that hopefully the state can avoid cutting government services due to the delay of state income tax filings.

Whether in full formal session or previous informal sessions, the MA House of Representatives has acted on several pieces of critical legislation since the State of Emergency declaration on March 10. The list of those bills is below.

COVID-19-Related Enacted Laws

  • An Act making $15 million in Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2020 to Provide for Supplementing Certain Existing Appropriations Relating to the Coronavirus (H.4561)

  • An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, School Districts and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 (H.4586)

  • An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 (H.4616)

  • An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the COVID-19 Emergency (H. 4615)

  • An Act Granting Authority to Postpone 2020 Municipal Elections in the Commonwealth and Increase Voting Options in Response to the Declaration of Emergency to Respond to COVID-19 (S.2608)

  • An Act Authorizing Waiver of the One Week Waiting Period for Unemployment Benefits (S.2599)

COVID-19 Legislation Awaiting MA Senate Action

  • An Act Relative to Long Term Care Facility and Elder Housing COVID-19 Reporting (H.4667)

  • An Act Addressing COVID-19 Data Collection and Disparities in Treatment (H.4672)

  • An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline (H.4677)

City Updates

Mayor’s 5/8/20 Update

Case numbers as of Thursday, May 7:

  • Massachusetts: 73,721 cases and 4,552 deaths.

  • Boston: 10,598 cases, 486 deaths, and 2,882 recoveries.

Case trends in Boston:

  • The Mayor noted that Thursday marked the first time Boston has had more confirmed recoveries than new cases reported. This means that the total number of active cases went down for the first time since the crisis began. He cautioned that one day of data does not mark a trend or turning point, but it's an encouraging sign.

Testing update:

  • As of Thursday, May 7, a total of 36,702 people have been tested in the City of Boston, which is over 5% of the city’s population.

  • The overall positive test rate is down to 30.3%, from 32.1% last week.

  • There are now more than 20 testing sites operating across Boston’s neighborhoods.

  • As the Mayor announced on Wednesday of this week, the City now has a plan to consistently test 1,500 people per day in Boston, by continuing to support community health centers, continuing to conduct universal testing of Boston’s homeless population, expanding mobile testing, and introducing universal testing of additional high-risk groups, including first responders.

Food access:

  • On average, the City and its partners are distributing nearly 25,000 free meals daily Monday-Thursday, with more than that on Fridays to get people through the weekend.

  • A total of 806,000 youth meals have been distributed at more than 65 sites citywide, and 15 adult sites are now operational.

  • Hours and locations for meal sites are available on the City’s Food Resources Map.

Boston Hope Medical Center:

  • The field hospital at the BCEC is currently treating 156 patients, including 74 on the respite shelter side, and 82 on the hospital side. Altogether, roughly 630 sub-acute COVID patients have been treated at Boston Hope to date, which is helping area hospitals maintain ICU capacity.

New milestone for the Boston Resiliency Fund:

  • As of Thursday night, the Boston Resiliency Fund had raised more than $30 million from more than 5,700 donors.

  • So far, more than $16 million has been distributed in the form of grants to support 180 organizations.

  • $8.3 million has gone to provide children, families, and seniors with food and other basic needs.

  • $5.9 million has gone to provide healthcare to the vulnerable, and provide support for front-line workers.

  • $2 million has gone to bringing learning technology into the homes of Boston’s children while school buildings are closed.

  • The fund had an initial goal of $10 million, and in less than two months, it tripled that goal. It continues to support the deepest needs in Boston’s communities, including those identified by the City’s COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force.

  • In all, the Fund and its grantees have helped 130,000 families with basic needs.

  • The Fund continues to accept donations and statements of interest.

Update on the Rental Relief Fund:

  • The Fund made $3 million available for residents who lose income and do not have access to unemployment benefits.

  • For the past two-and-a-half weeks, the City’s nonprofit partners have been processing eligible applications, and contacted every approved applicant.

  • Next week, the City will distribute over $820,000 to more than 300 families to cover rent for April, May, and June.

  • Applications will continue to be processed, and additional funds distributed, in the weeks to come.

  • Anyone who needs rental housing assistance should contact the Office of Housing Stability at 617-635-4200.

Announcement about summer events:

  • The Mayor addressed the City’s plan for public events in the coming months.

  • He reiterated his commitment to public health and safety, and said that he does not envision a point this summer when it will make sense to have large crowds in close contact for prolonged periods of time.

  • He announced that parades and festivals will not take place this summer in the City of Boston, up to and including Labor Day on September 7.

  • The City will consider smaller events on a case-by-case basis.

  • The Mayor expressed his desire to give organizations as much notice and clarity as possible, and said that if an event brings crowds together in close contact, including concerts, road races, or flag raisings, organizers should start looking at alternatives now.

Tribute to Zoila Weddborn:

  • A well-known Boston resident and activist, Zoila Weddborn, passed away due to the COVID virus on Thursday afternoon.

  • Zoila worked for 40 years as a nurse at Boston Medical Center, where she received her final care and treatment.

  • In recent years, she was a City Hall greeter, a dedicated and dynamic volunteer at many Age Strong Commission events, and a dear friend to many people in Boston.

  • The Mayor offered his condolences to Zoila’s family, including her daughter, Tina Chery, founder of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a non profit named in honor of Tina’s son and Zoila’s grandson, a young peace activist who lost his life to gun violence.

  • The Mayor joined Tina and other survivors and supporters for the annual Mother's Day Walk for Peace held virtually Sunday, May 10 at 9am. https://www.mothersdaywalk4peace.org

Mayor’s 5/6/20 Update

Case trends in Boston:

  • The Mayor opened with a summary of data to illustrate how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the city.

  • The number of COVID-19 patients in Boston ICUs continues to decrease gradually.

  • The city’s expanded medical capacity is allowing hospitals to maintain expanded ICU capacity. As of Tuesday night, there were 166 patients at Boston Hope, including 81 on the homeless respite side, and 85 on the hospital side. Altogether, nearly 600 patients have been treated at the facility.

  • Overall, Boston’s average daily new cases have leveled off, and there are some indications that cases are going down.

  • The Mayor reiterated that Boston is moving in the right direction, because the precautions are working. But he cautioned that the curve is bending slowly, and there’s still progress to be made before the city can launch a recovery plan. The only way to get to that point is by staying focused on physical distancing and safe practices to slow the spread of the virus.

State order on face coverings:

  • The state order on face covering goes into effect today. Everyone over the age of 2 should wear a face covering whenever they leave their home; and if they remove it for whatever reason, they should put it back on when they are anywhere near other people.

  • The Mayor referenced situations in other parts of the country where enforcement has been uneven or inequitable in communities of color. He stressed that, while the state policy allows fines for non-compliance, the purpose of this guideline is to empower people to keep their family and community safe. The city’s approach is to support people, not punish them, especially if they are financially struggling.

  • The city’s focus for compliance will be on buildings where the public visits, such as grocery stores. Any store that is open should be requiring this.

  • The Mayor also reminded everyone that the state order on face coverings includes exceptions for those who have breathing challenges; those who rely on lip-reading to communicate; and those with certain mental health diagnoses.

  • If anyone needs help finding or making face coverings, please reach out and call 311.

New testing benchmark and plan to expand testing:

  • The Mayor outlined a new plan to expand testing by sharing a commitment to meet a new testing benchmark, and the city’s strategy to get there.

  • The city’s goal for the coming weeks is to reach at least 1,500 tests per day, on average, across Boston. Before last week, Boston was testing at less than half that rate. Even after a significant increase in testing last week, the city is still several hundred daily tests short of that mark.

  • The city is launching a multi-pronged approach to hit the new mark:

  • First, the city will continue to expand testing at Community Health Centers.

  • The Mayor noted that the Boston Resiliency Fund has dedicated over $1 million to expanding testing access at CHCs, starting in the most severely impacted communities.

  • This week, the city is moving forward with testing at 2 centers in Jamaica Plain, and 1 in Charlestown.

  • The city’s goal is to increase testing by 50% across all health centers in the next month, while also expanding partnerships with hospitals.

  • Second, the city is expanding Mobile Testing capacity in Boston.

  • This will help fill gaps in access for certain neighborhoods and in environments where the risk of transmission is highest.

  • This work will be launched this month, with a goal of testing at least 150 people per day, 6 days a week.

  • Third, the city will conduct surveillance testing for groups at risk of faster spread and more severe impact. That means testing everyone in a select population to monitor infections and provide responses over time.

  • The city has started universal testing for Boston’s homeless community—which will soon be complete.

  • The next steps will be universal testing for other high-impact populations and sites, including first responders.

  • Ultimately, the goal is to do repeat testing for key populations and locations, on a rotating basis, as reopening and recovery move forward.

  • The city will continue antibody testing, which is key to understanding the path of the virus. This week Mass. General will complete testing in the 1,000-person study. The data will be shared next week. The city will then move forward with antibody testing for first responders and other key populations.

  • The Mayor stressed that the city will continue to be in conversation with the state on testing resources—and also to advocate for measures like testing capability in primary healthcare settings and broader criteria to allow more people to get tested.

  • Equity will be prioritized in all of this work, with targeted outreach across communities and in multiple languages.

  • Residents can find up-to-date information on the city’s map of testing sites at boston.gov/coronavirus.

Relief for small businesses:

  • The Mayor said that while the city is working to get in a position to begin reopening, we are also working to support residents through the various disruptions and hardships this virus is causing.

  • So far, the Small Business Relief Fund has distributed $2 million to 561 small businesses most impacted by the pandemic.

  • The city is adding $5.5 million to fully fund all eligible grant requests that were submitted during the application process. That combines newly available federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as commitments from Citizens Bank and Eastern Bank.

New partnership supported by the Boston Resiliency Fund:

  • The Mayor also announced a new partnership to empower local small businesses to provide food to residents in need.

  • Commonwealth Kitchen, a nonprofit in Dorchester that helps local food businesses launch and grow, has shifted to focus on emergency food relief through a program called Common Table.

  • They are working with local, minority-owned restaurants on a delivery plan to meal sites and group residential settings.

  • The city will support this program with a significant grant from the Boston Resiliency Fund, as well as partnership from our Office of Economic Development.

  • In total, the Resiliency Fund has raised $29.4 million from nearly 5,500 donors. Over $16 million has been distributed so far. More than half of that has gone to food and basic needs for children, families, and seniors. Millions more have gone out to vulnerable populations, front-line responders, and testing access.

Reminder to military veterans and families:

  • The Mayor reminded everyone that the city’s Veterans’ Services office is fully operational and here to support veterans and families.

  • The city continues to provide financial assistance through a state-local partnership under Chapter 115 of Massachusetts law.

  • Benefits include financial aid for food, housing, clothing, and medical care to veterans with limited incomes and their dependents.

General reminders:

  • The Mayor urged anyone who is experiencing a medical emergency to call 911. The city’s EMTs and hospitals have the capacity and ability to treat everyone.

  • The Mayor reminded people to please discard PPE properly—such as gloves, masks, and face coverings.

  • He also reminded everyone to take the 2020 US Census. This will chart the next 10 years in federal funding for Boston, which is distributed based on population count. Residents can fill out the form received in the mail or do it online at my2020census.gov. It’s safe and secure for everyone. Please call 311 if you need guidance or more information.

Mayor’s 5/4/20 Update

Case trends in Boston:

  • Mayor Walsh provided some additional data to illustrate the current state of the coronavirus outbreak in Boston.

  • The daily increase in cases has been roughly steady for some time.

  • The number of people in ICU care for COVID-19 at Boston hospitals has been gradually going down.

  • At the same time, Boston hospitals are still operating at around 120% of normal ICU capacity.

  • The city is still relying on Boston Hope Medical Center at the BCEC to help make that space available. As of Sunday night, there were 161 patients at Boston Hope, including 63 on the homeless respite side, and 98 on the hospital side. Altogether, 548 patients have been treated at the facility. This is allowing hospitals to maintain expanded ICU capacity.

  • Mayor Walsh expressed that Boston is moving in the right direction, but that this is not a time to ease up on the precautions we are taking to prevent the spread of the virus.

Continued outreach efforts:

  • This weekend, City of Boston Neighborhood Liaisons and community partners began distributing new COVID-19 information booklets with information on how to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak. This information is available in 7 languages. In total, they will be distributing about 70,000 of these booklets to places like convenience stores, banks, and food distribution sites. They are following the recommendations of the The City’s Health Inequities Task Force, to target neighborhoods with the greatest needs.

Statewide face covering mandate:

  • The Mayor reminded residents that Governor Baker has issued an executive order requiring all Massachusetts residents over the age of 2 to wear face coverings in public and wherever physical distancing is a challenge, including at grocery stores, retail stores, and on public transit. This order goes into effect on Wednesday, May 6.

New steps and new progress to expand testing access:

  • So far, about 28,000 Boston residents, or 4% of the City’s population, have been tested for COVID-19. Last week, testing increased by 44%. Currently, about 32% of people who get tested are testing positive. This number has been trending down slightly. The City is analyzing the data to see how the virus is impacting certain neighborhoods the hardest.

  • COVID-19 testing is being conducted at Boston’s hospitals and community health centers. By the end of this week, there will be 19 testing sites in Boston. This week, Brigham & Women’s Hospital will begin running a testing site at the BCYF Tobin Center in Roxbury. Residents can find a map of testing sites on boston.gov and bphc.org. The Mayor reminded residents to call ahead for pre-screening and to schedule an appointment.

  • The City is continuing to conduct universal testing among the homeless population. So far, more than 1,800 homeless individuals in Boston have been tested. About 33%, or 596 individuals, have tested positive. 2 homeless individuals have passed away from COVID-19 in Boston.

  • The City’s antibody testing initiative is ongoing. This is a partnership with Mass General Hospital, that entails testing 1,000 residents of East Boston, Roslindale and the 02121 and 02125 zip codes of Dorchester. These neighborhoods reflect Boston’s diversity and the results will provide important information about how different populations are being impacted. The City will make a summary of the results available, including the numbers and percentage of residents who test positive for the virus and its antibodies.

Boston Public Schools update:

  • On Friday, May 1, BPS shared new policies with families and schools for remote learning. Those policies go into effect today, Monday May 4. This updated learning plan gives more guidance for students and teachers around attendance, assignments, grading, and scheduling. It also provides predictability for families with routine class schedules and contact between students and teachers. As part of the new policies, no student will be held back in their grade. All students will advance to the next grade and have opportunities for summer learning and additional support in the fall. If parents believe their child would benefit from repeating their grade, they can request a meeting with their teacher to discuss further.

  • The City of Boston is working with the Boston Public Schools to develop plans to honor graduating seniors and their families. Details will be shared soon.

  • The Mayor stated that throughout the final weeks of the school year, BPS will continue distributing free meals for students and other resources; connecting with students on a routine basis; and collaborating with school communities, nonprofit partners, and parent groups, to ensure that students are getting the support they need.

  • The Mayor thanked Boston’s teachers and staff for their continued cooperation during this difficult time, acknowledging that this week is Teachers Appreciation Week, and tomorrow is National Teachers Day.

Expanding food access for families and seniors in need:

  • The Mayor discussed a new food benefit that he wanted to make sure families are aware of.

  • Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) is a special food benefit authorized by the federal coronavirus bill. It’s available for all Boston Public Schools and Charter School students while schools are closed. Households will receive $5.70 per child per school day for the duration of school closures—or $28.50 a week per child. If families currently receive SNAP benefits, the P-EBT will be added to their cards. If families aren’t enrolled, they will get cards sent to them in the mail. Some families may have gotten their benefits last week, and everyone else can expect to receive theirs in the coming weeks.

  • Using P-EBT benefits does not impact any adult or child’s immigration status, and the Public Charge rule does not apply to P-EBT benefits.

  • If families have questions about P-EBT, SNAP, WIC or other food resources, they can call Project Bread’s Hotline at 1-800-645-8333. They can also contact the city’s Office of Food Access at 617-635-3717 or by email at food@boston.gov.

  • The City also continues to operate 65 youth-oriented meal sites, which are open every weekday with weekend meals available on Friday. Eight of these sites serve youth and adults in East Boston, Dorchester, South Boston, Mattapan, and Brighton, Mission Hill and Egleston Square, which is easily accessible from Roxbury and JP. By the end of this week the City will have added an additional 8 sites in East Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Roxbury, almost doubling the number of meals available to adults. The City has served more than 740,000 meals at its meal sites so far. For hours and locations, visit the Food Resources Map or call 3-1-1.

  • The City is also continuing to serve seniors through the Meals on Wheels program. Last week over 58,000 meals were distributed, representing a 33% increase from the pre-COVID levels.

  • The City is also launching a new food program with the Greater Boston Food Bank, Boston Public Schools, the Boston Housing Authority, and the Age Strong Commission. This week, they will distribute 2,400 boxes of food to households in need within the Boston Housing Authority and at others identified by the Age Strong Commission.

  • The Mayor thanked all of the partners who have helped make this happen, including volunteers with the Building Trades, the BHA, the Building Trades, and the Newmarket Business Association.

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