COVID-19 End of Week Update 5/17/20

Dear Friends and Neighbors, 

 

To help dispel any misunderstanding, the Commonwealth of MA is NOT REOPENING on Monday 5/18.

 

Rather, the Governor will announce plans for how to safely and slowly re-open businesses. This will need to be done carefully and incrementally, with very strict guidelines and policies. To echo some of his comments this week, we’ve been shut down since 3/23 and it’s been hard. We have to be flexible and honest about our reopening approach and revisit our approach based on what the metrics tell us.

 

Our ability to move forward and how successful we are depends on everyone and the role they play. To be clear, the state has *NOT* told any non-essential businesses (businesses not currently open) that they will be able to open yet. There continues to be no vaccine or cure for this deadly virus, and re-opening in an irresponsible fashion will cost thousands of lives in our Commonwealth and negate all of our efforts at social distancing and sheltering in place over these last two months. It’s hard to plan for the future when we don’t have certainties on how the virus moves and operates across time. We must continue sharing information with each other.
 

Our work has been paying off, that’s why we’re here and able to move forward in this manner now.  This is, however, no time to quit -- we have to keep driving forward and respecting the data; with time and patience, we’ll get there. To save lives, it’s critically important we continue to socially distance and wear face coverings, even if you are not showing symptoms. We need everyone to help us spread this message.

 

As we celebrate virtually with our 2020 graduates, we wish for them the courage, tenacity and perseverance to reinvent much of the world as we know it toward a new "normal".

 

Warmly, 

Liz Malia 

MA State Representative, 11th Suffolk District 

liz.malia@mahouse.gov

 

State Updates 

 

5/11 - The Governor announced a 4-Phased Reopening Approach to begin reopening the MA economy when the public health data deem it is safe to address and told us to expect industry-specific guidance in the coming days. The goal of the phased reopening is to allow certain businesses, services, and activities to resume while protecting public health and limiting a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases. 

 

Public health metrics will determine when the first phase of reopening begins. The phases are: 

1. "Start:" limited industries resume operations with severe restrictions

2. "Cautious:" additional industries resume operations with restrictions and capacity limits

3. "Vigilant:" additional industries resume operations with guidance

4. "New Normal:" development of vaccine and/or therapy enables resumption of "new normal"

 

5/11 - The Department of Public Health and the COVID-19 Command Center, in consultation with the Reopening Advisory Board, have developed Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards that will apply to all sectors and industries once reopening begins. You can learn more about these safety standards here. The Reopening Advisory Board is scheduled to provide its full report to the Governor Monday 5/18.

 

5/12 - The Governor filed a supplemental state budget HD5083, An Act Making Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2020 to Authorize Certain COVID-19 Spending in Anticipation of Federal Reimbursement, to authorize $1B in COVID-19 response. This is needed to allow the state to be reimbursed by the federal government. Until the federal government passes an additional relief package, our ability to arrive at a new state budget figure remains uncertain.

 

5/12 - A walk-in COVID-19 testing site opened in Dorchester Center at the Sportsmen’s Testing & Enrichment Center on Blue Hill Avenue. This temporary coronavirus testing and food distribution site through 5/15, opened and operated by Brigham Health, is for people with symptoms of the virus and no appointment is needed. 

 

5/13 - Governor Baker provided an update regarding the Contact Tracing program in the Commonwealth. If you receive a call from the area codes 833 or 857 with the name “MA COVID team, it is from the contact tracing collaborative.

 

5/14 - The Governor announced the Administration will be submitting its plan to expand testing to the federal government this month, which is required to secure COVID-19 testing resources allocated in legislation passed by Congress on 4/24. 

 

This plan will call for: 

  • Increased testing capacity to 45,000 daily tests by the end of July, and 75,000 daily tests by the end of December, with the goal of decreasing positivity rate to less than 5%

  • Expanded lab testing capacity

  • Expanded testing for residents and patients in high-risk congregate settings and ensured testing for those who are symptomatic, close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases or whose employment places them at a high risk

  • Randomized testing for surveillance purposes to build on contact tracing efforts

  • Improved testing turnaround time

 

5/14 - There will be an expansion of self-swab and send testing sites at 10 CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations in the state. Those who meet testing criteria will be able to schedule an appointment on CVS.com starting 5/15. 

 

5/14 - Over 7.5 million pieces of PPE and supplies will be delivered to front-line workers in the state. To learn more, read the announcement here

 

5/14 - Our Commissioner of the MA Department of Public Health (DPH) Dr. Bharel alerted health care providers to be on the lookout for patients with pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which may be linked to COVID-19, and to report any cases they find immediately. Nine children in MA hospitals are currently suspected to have PMIS. 

 

5/15 - The executive order closing "non-essential" businesses that was set to expire at midnight on Sunday 5/17 has been extended by 24 hours. The Reopening Advisory Board will release its report and recommendations for a phased reopening on Monday. *No one should assume that additional businesses beyond the currently deemed essential business will be open on Monday. We’ve pressed the Governor for more details, and the best we understand is to be prepared for a report back on Monday for more details on the 4-phase re-opening.

 

5/15 - The state launched a website with a map of all of the COVID-19 testing sites in the state.

 

5/17 - The Administration announced the state will be investing $56 million to combat food insecurity. The initiative will implement some of the recommendations brought forward by the Food Security Task Force. You can learn more about the funding here.

 

Legislative Updates 

 

Again, Monday 5/18 is when the new plan and additional guidelines will be issued, *NOT* when businesses can return to pre-COVID-19 "normal."

 

This past week, the MA House met on Wednesday 5/13 for a remote formal session and enacted An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline, which will allow for short-term borrowing to balance the FY20 budget, to be paid back by the end of next fiscal year. 

 

On Wednesday 5/20, the MA House plans to meet in a formal session to consider a more than $1 billion bond bill calling for long-term investments in information technology spending.

 

City Updates 

 

Mayor’s 5/15/20 Update

 

Case numbers

  • As of Thursday, May 14, in Massachusetts: 82,182 cases and 5,482 deaths. 

  • As of Thursday, May 14, in Boston: 11,395 cases, 551 deaths, and 4,089 recoveries.

 

Updates on testing

  • The Mayor provided an overview of the ongoing expansion of testing in Boston.

  • The antibody testing study, which the City conducted in partnership with Mass. General Hospital, is complete and the results are available. A total of 750 residents from 4 zip codes, in East Boston, Roslindale, and two in Dorchester, were tested. Participants in the study had not tested positive for the virus before, and were not currently experiencing symptoms. 9.9% of the participants tested positive for antibodies, indicating past infection. 2.6% tested positive for the virus, meaning they were currently infected. Those infected individuals were provided access to care. 

  • The data shows differences in the numbers among neighborhoods, which is an indication of how localized the spread can be and how targeted the response needs to continue to be. The data does not show significant differences for race and ethnicity. 

  • This localized, point-in-time sampling of residents does not give us a definitive picture of the spread of the virus citywide. However, it does suggest certain takeaways moving forward: 

    • 10% antibody rate is lower than expected, which indicates that physical distancing and hygiene precautions in Boston are making a difference. The data also suggests that around 90% of the city has still not been exposed to the virus, meaning Boston could be susceptible to another surge, which is why we must be cautious moving forward and appropriate precautions will continue. 

    • 2.6% positive rate among people with no symptoms suggests that about 1 in 38 people who do not have any symptoms could be carrying the virus. This emphasizes the importance of social distancing and face covering among people who are not experiencing symptoms. 

  • The City continues to expand testing resources across all neighborhoods. Currently there are 20 total sites up and running, and testing has increased each week in Boston.

 

Partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation

  • The Mayor announced that Boston has been selected as a founding city for the Rockefeller Foundation’s Testing Solutions Group, along with L.A., Detroit, Miami, and New Orleans. This is a group of cities, states, and tribal governments that are sharing best practices and getting access to technical assistance for testing expansion. 

 

Communicating the value of testing

  • The COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force continues to engage with the community and guide the City’s work to ensure that resources are targeted in an equitable way. 

  • The Mayor shared some of the recent feedback the Task Force has shared, including the need to communicate the value of testing to individuals. Some people are concerned about their employment, their immigration status, and their privacy. 

  • The Mayor reiterated that if anyone meets the criteria to get tested, or if they are offered testing for any reason, it is a positive benefit for them and their family. Whenever a person gets tested, their privacy is protected, and they will not be asked for their immigration status. The procedure takes just a few seconds, it provides people with important information about their own situation and that of their family, and it helps them access necessary care. The Mayor stressed that if a person is not feeling well, they should contact their healthcare provider, call 3-1-1, or use the online screening tool at Buoy.com/Mass.

  • If anyone is experiencing a medical emergency of any kind, they should call 9-1-1 immediately. 

 

Reopening plan

  • With the Governor’s reopening plan set to launch on Monday, May 18, the Mayor provided an update on the City’s approach to reopening.

  • The City has been gathering input from across Boston’s communities and economy, and is providing daily information to the state’s Advisory Board. The City will continue to work in collaboration with the State as the plan unfolds, and will make decisions for Boston based on the data and the needs of our residents and workers. 

  • The Public Health Emergency declared on March 15 in the City of Boston remains in place until further notice, and the Mayor stated that he does not anticipate lifting it next week or in the near future. The same applies to the guidelines for physical distancing and face coverings. 

  • The Mayor reiterated that decisions will be based on science, and that the City of Boston prioritizes the health and security of all residents as it continues to meet the needs of families, seniors, front-line workers, vulnerable people, and everyone in our city who is impacted by the crisis. 

 

Recognizing first responders

  • The Mayor noted that this week is National Police Week, and today is Peace Officers Memorial Day. This observance was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. It’s a time to remember, and to honor, the police officers who have been hurt, harmed, or killed protecting and serving our communities.

  • All week, City Hall has been lit blue to recognize these first responders. The Mayor offered a reflection on the sacrifices police officers have made, and the pain and grief that their passing has left in many other people’s lives. The Mayor specifically recognized Boston Police Officer Jose Fontanez, who lost his life to COVID-19 on April 14, saying that the City of Boston’s prayers and support are with his family, his friends and community, and his fellow officers. 

  • The Mayor also reiterated the essential role that police officers play, and the heightened risks they face, during the COVID-19 pandemic. He reaffirmed his commitment to providing them with the support and the resources they need in order to serve and protect the city.

 

Mayor’s 5/11/20 Update

 

Case numbers and trends: 

  • In Massachusetts: 78,462 cases and 5,108 deaths. 

  • In Boston: 11,106 cases, 533 deaths, and 3,327 recoveries.

  • Boston hospitals are at a combined 110% of normal ICU capacity. The Mayor cautioned that while this number has gone down, it’s still not where the City needs to be yet.

 

Neighborhood and Citywide testing update:

  • By the end of last week, the City conducted a total of 36,072 tests, or roughly 5% of Boston’s population.

  • Boston’s rate of positive tests last week was 20%, bringing the city’s cumulative positive test rate down to 29%.

  • Every neighborhood saw its positive test rate go down. The Mayor noted that is a testament to the physical distancing residents are doing, and the expanded testing access we have created citywide. 

  • The neighborhoods with the biggest reductions week-over-week were: East Boston, with a 19% drop in positive results; and Mattapan, which had a 15% drop. The Mayor also noted that this drop is a testament to the work of the Healthcare Inequities Task Force, and the ways the City is targeting outreach and testing in the most impacted communities.

 

Universal testing for homeless population:

  • The City’s first round of universal testing in the homeless population was completed at the end of last week. 

  • In this first round, the City has tested over 2,200 individuals. 735 tested positive, for a 33% infection rate. Those individuals have been provided with quarantine space, support, and medical treatment when necessary. 

  • The result is that severe illness has been kept to a low level, for a medically vulnerable population. The consensus of those who work with the homeless is that the impact could have been much worse. The Mayor thanked City staff and nonprofits like Healthcare for the Homeless and Pine Street Inn for their strong partnerships, as well as institutions that stepped up with space, like Suffolk University, Boston University, Northeastern University, and Emerson College. 

  • Since March, the City has added over 1,000 new beds all across the city to reduce the density in our shelters, and to treat homeless individuals who are impacted by the COVID outbreak. The City dedicated 500 medical respite beds for homeless individuals at Boston Hope Medical Center. So far, Boston Hope has treated more than 650 patients, including patients on both the respite and hospital sides.

  • The Mayor said that homeless individuals and families remain a top priority in the City’s work to slow the spread of COVID-19. He noted that there is more work to be done, including more testing and longer-term shelter space. He also said the City is working on permanent housing solutions and helping 1,000 families of Boston Public Schools students secure affordable housing using BHA rental vouchers we dedicated for that purpose.

  • When construction restarts, the City will make it a priority to create supportive housing for the homeless, continuing the progress Boston has made toward ending chronic homelessness.

 

Recovery and addiction services:

  • The Mayor wanted to ensure everyone is aware that Boston’s addiction and recovery services are fully operational. 

  • The staff at the Office of Recovery Services has worked hard to adapt their services to crisis conditions.

  • Among the changes they have made include:

    • Moving harm reduction services outdoors, to help active users stay safe.

    • Expanding outdoor space at the Engagement Center, to allow for physical distancing. 

    • Keeping the Street Outreach Team active. 

    • Creating comfort stations with bathrooms, hand washing, Narcan, and more. The City is actively looking at additional locations. 

    • Working with faith communities downtown to help them open up new daytime spaces 

    • Moving outpatient treatment services to a telehealth model. 

    • Conducting universal testing at residential programs. 

    • The City also continues to help people get into detox and treatment. 

  • The Mayor noted that finding beds for in-patient treatment after detox continues to be a big challenge, and that supporting those experiencing substance use disorder remains a top priority for the City.

 

Public space and transportation:

  • Public space and transportation have been a focus of the City’s response from the beginning of the crisis. That includes making sure hospital staff and front line workers could get to work safely and affordably; preserving access to open space while closing facilities that bring people into direct contact; and asking people to stay home as much as possible, while still providing opportunities for fresh air and safe exercise. 

  • As the warmer weather brings more people outdoors, and as the City prepares for a phased re-opening, the City wants to make sure that there is enough space for safe distancing; our small businesses can get the support and space they need; and everyone has safe and healthy transportation options.

  • In addition to planned capital investment in safe and sustainable streets, the City is looking at ways to expand space for pedestrians, small business customers, cyclists, and bus commuters. Steps could include:

    • Expanding sidewalks in business districts to help with physical distancing, especially where people wait in line for businesses that are following new capacity guidelines.

    • Opening up entire lanes for pedestrian and cyclist use, which could also calm traffic speeds. This needs to happen in a way that does not cut off emergency vehicles or delivery access for residents. 

    • And expanding bus stops and bus priority on roads. While subway ridership is down, essential workers continue to rely heavily on bus routes. 

  • The Mayor said that if these ideas will help us meet our goals, the City will develop proposals for specific locations to share with the community for feedback before moving forward. 

 

Update on nursing homes and long term care facilities:

  • The Mayor acknowledged the impact the virus has had on nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other residential facilities for elderly and medically vulnerable individuals. He noted that data from nursing homes and senior care facilities is devastating, and is consistent with the statewide and nationwide impact.

  • He noted that these facilities are licensed and regulated by the State, so the City’s work in this area is tied to the State's efforts and done in collaboration with State officials.

  • The Mayor assured residents, families, and staff that the City has been in contact with elder care facilities since the beginning of the crisis. The City talks to administrators of these institutions every day, and is getting them the resources and support they need. 

  • The Disease Containment Strike Team was created to help facilities facing an outbreak. As of May 5, the Team has provided over 414 staff shifts—including nurses, nursing assistants, and personal care attendants, as well as administrative support to those facilities. 

  • The City also provided 206,000 items of Personal Protective Equipment to these facilities—including 62,000 medical masks, 6,000 face shields, and over 14,000 gowns.

  • The City will begin sharing the state’s data on Boston facilities on a weekly basis. As of May 9: across 39 facilities, 252 residents have passed away, or 48% of our Citywide total. 

  • The Mayor pledged to continue the City’s support for nursing homes and their residents, including the families with loved ones in these facilities, and to share more information when it’s available. 

  • He concluded by speaking directly to both residents and staff at long-term care facilities, assuring the residents that the City is thinking about them and working to help keep them safe, and thanking staff for the care they are providing under difficult conditions. 

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