COVID-19 Vaccine, Get Back Mass, & MA Health Insurance Open Enrollment
On Wednesday, the Baker-Polito Administration announced allocation and distribution plans for the first round of COVID19 vaccine shipments to Massachusetts set to begin around December 15. The state’s first shipment of 59,475 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was ordered from the federal government on Friday 12/4 and will be delivered directly to 21 hospitals across 8 counties, as well as to the Department of Public Health Immunization lab. Doses will then be redistributed for access to 74 hospitals across all 14 counties for front-line medical workers. The next 40,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine will be allocated to the Federal Pharmacy Program to begin vaccinating staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, rest homes, and assisted living residences.
The vaccine is being prioritized for these groups to maximize life preservation and to support the health care system. Based on the information at this time, Massachusetts is expecting 300,000 first doses of the vaccine to be delivered by the end of December. The first vaccines, manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer, will require two doses administered 3-4 weeks apart. Click here to view the administration’s vaccine website: www.mass.gov/COVIDvaccine.
While all delivery dates and quantities are subject to change due to ongoing federal approval and allocation, the Administration plans to receive and distribute over 2 million doses to priority population groups by the end of March. In collaboration with the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, the Administration designated groups of medical workers, first responders, and residents most at risk for serious illness to receive the vaccine before the general population.
The Vaccine Advisory Group is made up of leading medical, infectious disease, and public health experts as well as representatives from communities of color and representatives of high-risk populations. Communities of color and at-risk populations are prioritized throughout the process to maximize life preservation and to prevent serious complications from COVID related illnesses.
Anticipated Vaccination Phases and Timeline
Phase One (December 2020-February 2021):
In order of priority
Clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers doing direct and COVID-facing care
Long term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities
Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services
Congregate care settings (including shelters and corrections)
Home-based healthcare workers
Healthcare workers doing non-COVID facing care
Phase Two (February 2021-April 2021):
In order of priority
Individuals with 2+ comorbidities (high risk for COVID-19 complications)
Early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works, and public health workers
Individuals with one comorbidity
Phase Three (April 2021- ):
Vaccine available to the general public
The first shipments of the vaccine are expected to contain doses manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna. While both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are pending FDA emergency use authorization, Massachusetts will not distribute the COVID-19 vaccine until it receives this authorization.
Vaccines go through extensive testing, more than any pharmaceuticals, including extensive testing in clinical trials. The FDA, which approves the vaccine, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which will make its recommendation for use, must ensure any vaccine is both safe and effective for the public before approval and distribution. The infectious disease experts in the state’s academic medical centers have pledged to review the EUA data and provide an independent opinion about their safety and efficacy.
Statewide Rollback to Phase Three, Step One with Additional Restrictions:
On Tuesday 12/8, the Baker-Polito Administration announced that effective Sunday 12/13, all communities in Massachusetts will return to Step 1 of Phase 3, of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan. This will reduce indoor capacities across a broad range of sectors of the economy and tighten several other workplace restrictions.
The Administration announced the roll-back to respond to an increase in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations since the Thanksgiving holiday that is straining the health care system in Massachusetts. The return to Step 1 will also require the closure of certain businesses designated as Step 2 industries. These include indoor performance venues and certain high-contact indoor recreational businesses. In addition, capacity limits will be reduced to 40% statewide for most industries, and the limit on outdoor gatherings will be reduced statewide from 100 persons to 50 persons. Additional safety measures will be applied to restaurant dining as well. These new measures are designed to prevent infection and viral spread, especially in indoor settings. They will create stronger mask compliance, more social distancing, and limits to the time spent with people outside of your immediate household.
The Administration also announced additional guidance for certain sectors including restaurants, office spaces and gyms, to address activities where mask wearing is not possible at all times.
Phase III, Step I: Effective December 13, all communities will roll back to Phase 3, Step 1 of Massachusetts’ re-opening plan, including the following restrictions:
Outdoor gatherings at event venues will be limited to no more than 50 people
Hosts of outdoor gatherings of greater than 25 people will be required to provide advance notice of the gathering their local board of health
Indoor theaters and performance venues and higher contact indoor recreation businesses will be required to close to the public
Outdoor theaters and performance venues will be limited to 25% capacity, and no more than 50 people
In all communities, capacity will be reduced from 50% to 40% for the following sectors:
Arcades/Indoor and Outdoor Recreational Businesses
Driving and Flight Schools
Places of Worship
Lodging (common areas)
Movie Theaters (Maximum 50 people per theater)
This new capacity limit will not apply to sectors that do not currently have a percentage-based capacity limit, including restaurants, laboratories, and close contact personal services.
Restaurants and Venues
The Administration also announced new guidelines for restaurants and other venues with seated dining, including:
Patrons must wear masks at all times except when eating and drinking
Restaurants must seat no more than six patrons per table
Restaurants must impose a 90-minute time limit on tables
Musical performances at restaurants will no longer be permitted
Food court seating must be closed in malls
Customers are encouraged to dine only with members of the same household.
Offices and Gyms
The Administration announced new guidelines for workplaces and gyms, including:
In offices, employees must wear masks at their place of work when not in their own workspace and alone
Employers are encouraged to close or limit the use of break rooms
Patrons must wear masks at all times in gyms
New Testing Capacity Infrastructure Announced 12/10/20
Building on Massachusetts’ nation-leading COVID-19 testing program, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the Commonwealth will increase testing capacity and locations to provide more access for residents in every county.
This plan includes five new locations, and the state plans to collect 110,000 COVID-19 tests per week—representing a 50% testing increase for statefinanced and organized testing sites alone. Across Massachusetts, there are more than 350 testing locations available to the public. Massachusetts remains among the top five states for testing per capita in the nation and has made significant progress to increase testing and access.
New Project Beacon Sites: In addition to five new Stop the Spread (STS) locations, three current locations will expand to regional testing sites run by Project Beacon: New Bedford, Framingham, and Lynn. Project Beacon currently operates a testing site in Revere and specializes in high-volume testing scheduled through an online platform. Each Project Beacon site will test at least 1,000 individuals per day. The sites are expected to be operational by the end of December, with the site in Framingham launching 12/10.
Western MA & Cape Cod Testing: The Administration also announced expanded testing in Hampshire, Franklin, Berkshire, and Barnstable Counties. This includes a partnership with UMass Amherst for free testing in Hampshire County at Amherst, a partnership with Berkshire Health Systems to expand free testing across multiple sites in Berkshire County, and an intent to expand free testing with a mobile provider in Franklin County. These sites are coming online during the coming weeks. The Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment is opening two testing sites, including one in Falmouth with $550,000 in state funds.
AbbotBinaxNOW Tests: Additionally, to support increased testing demand for vulnerable populations, the Administration will distribute up to 150,000 AbbotBinaxNOW tests to community health centers and community hospitals to use during December. Ordering information for Community Hospitals and Community Health Centers can be found here.
Additional New Sites Announced 12/10: Barnstable County (Community testing in Barnstable County is being supported by $550K in earmarks), Amherst (Free community testing & increased lab capacity is being supported with $5M of ELC funding in Amherst (UMass), Martha’s Vineyard (Free community testing in Dukes County is being supported locally). In addition to STS sites, Massachusetts residents who are a close contact or who have COVID-19 symptoms can obtain a test, covered by their insurance, at more than 350 testing sites across the Commonwealth, with no co-pay. Residents can also order at-home test kits like Pixel, which are covered by insurance and available for uninsured individuals as well. These tests are easy-to-use, arrive via overnight shipping, and currently have an average turnaround time of 1-2 days according to LabCorp.
Need Health Insurance?
The Health Connector is the state’s health insurance marketplace providing access to affordable, quality health insurance for residents and small businesses of Massachusetts. The Health Connector provides coverage to nearly 300,000 members.
Key Open Enrollment Dates
Open Enrollment is the time of year when individuals can enroll in or change their health insurance plan through the Health Connector Marketplace.
Massachusetts Open Enrollment for 2021 runs through January 23, 2021.
This is an extended Open Enrollment period compared to other states that end December 15, giving Massachusetts residents a longer period of time to shop for and enroll in coverage for 2021
Members must select a plan and pay by December 23, 2020, for coverage effective starting January 1
Plan selection and payment after December 23, 2020, will be effective beginning February 1, 2021