Covid-19 Updates #10: Reopening Advisory Board, Virtual Town Hall, and More
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
First, I want to clear up some misunderstanding and questions that my colleagues and I have been hearing from a variety of sources about Gov. Baker's plan to reopen. There will not be a full-scale reopening on Monday, May 18th. Instead, on that date the Reopening Advisory Board will submit its full report about reopening the economy. The plan will call for reopening to be done in phases. However, it will not begin until public health data says it is safe to do so. When the first phase is implemented, only a few industries, which by the nature of their business have limited face-to-face contact, will be able to reopen. Those businesses will have to meet tight restrictions. And as public health data change, the reopening plan could also change. Right now, there is no information about which industries will be able to open as part of phase 1. We were told that the information would be included in the Board’s report that is due on May 18th. You can find more information here.
Second, on Thursday, May 21st, I will be hosting a Town Hall conversation with my colleague, Dr. Jon Santiago (State Representative of the 9th Suffolk District), to discuss Covid-19 and its impact on our communities and health care system. If you have questions for us, please send them to me by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, May 20th, using this Google Form: https://forms.gle/SeSsD9ogJH6YJFPn7. I wish everyone a great weekend, and I hope to hear from you soon.
- If you feel overwhelmed with emotions like sadness or anxiety, or feel like harming yourself or others, Call2Talk is a resource available through the 2-1-1 resource hotline.
- Massachusetts Network of Care, a searchable behavioral health directory of mental health services and over 5,000 organizations, is available here.
- Resources for people in need can be found at https://findhelp.org/ and on this map developed by MEMA, MA VOAD, and other partners.
- Resources for people with disabilities can be found through the Disability Resource Center on their Facebook and this spreadsheet.
- For Covid housing and emergency needs you can reach out to Community Teamwork, Inc. (CTI) between 8:30 am and 4:00 pm at their general hotline 978-654-5607 or by emailing them at CovidResponseCTI@commteam.org. Click here to check CTI’s website for updates.
- Many families are struggling right now. Know that you are not alone. Please reach out to 2-1-1 resource hotline to get connected with resources that you may need.
- State Attorney General Healey’s Office (AGO) also has resources here. Note that some individuals and businesses may try to take advantage of uncertainty during the pandemic. You can find more information about protecting yourself from scams and fraud, additional resources, and AGO division hotline numbers.
Latest updates on the State of Emergency
- Click here for Frequently Asked Questions about Covid-19.
- Click here for the latest guidance on prevention and treatment.
- As of May 14th, 424,361 patients have been tested by MA State Public Health Laboratory, hospitals, and commercial laboratories. There are 82,182 total reported cases of Covid-19 and 5,482 deaths. The latest updates can be found here, including reports on cases by city/town, cases by hospital facility, hospital capacity, PPE distribution, and de-identified raw data from DPH that they use to produce a daily dashboard.
- DPH issued updated guidance to recommend that all symptomatic individuals, including those with mild symptoms, and individuals identified by the tracing collaborative as close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case should be tested. You can find more information here.
- The non-essential businesses closure, stay-at-home advisory, and ban on gatherings of 10 or more people have been extended to May 18th.
- Plateau: We are currently in a plateau and waiting for key data indices to trend downwards. There are 2,859 patients hospitalized statewide for Covid-19. Hospitalization rates have been fairly flat. Rate has dropped to 3% for people who test positive who need hospitalization. On Thursday, May 14th, we tested 14,329 individuals and had 1,685 new positive cases (about 12%).
- Contact Tracing: as the Contact Tracing Collaborative continues its work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that Massachusetts 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 caller ID will say MA COVID Team. Click here to learn more.
- As of May 6th, face coverings are required in public when physical distancing is not possible, throughout the Commonwealth. Full details of the order can be found here.
- Hospital capacity: As of May 14th, there are about 17,700 beds statewide and about 53% are currently empty and available. If you are in need of urgent, non-coronavirus care, emergency rooms and hospitals are ready to provide you care. In an emergency, please call 911 or go directly to the hospital. Do not delay care. If it’s not an emergency, call your healthcare provider or use the free Buoy Health tool.
- PPE: Over 10.5 million pieces of PPE have been distributed. This includes masks, gloves, gowns, and ventilators. From April 20th to May 10th, we received 6 large shipments of PPE totaling over 7.5 million pieces. This included over 6 million surgical and procedural masks, 800,000 swabs, 400,000 coveralls, and 125,000 gowns.
- Reopening Advisory Board: On April 28th, Gov. Baker announced the establishment of a Reopening Advisory Board chartered to develop a strategy to reopen Massachusetts safely in phases. The Board is to present its plan by May 18th. The Commonwealth has created a portal where you can voice your opinion.
- On May 11th, it was announced that Massachusetts’ plan to reopen will have four phases: “Start,” “Cautious,” “Vigilant,” and “New Normal.” When Phase 1 starts, industries that are naturally set up to have little face-to-face interactions will be able to open with tight restrictions. As the phases progress, more businesses will be able to open. The final phase will be reached when we have a vaccine or some treatment for Covid-19.
- DPH warns of virus-linked syndrome in children. There were nine suspected PMIS cases reported in Massachusetts. You can read more about this here.
- Maggie Cosentino, a student at Andover High School, started a Go Fund Me page called “Gifts for Greatness.” She has raised over $4,000 so far to provide restaurant gift cards to health care workers and first responders. Thanks for your hard work to provide meals to our local frontline workers!
- South Elementary student Kaylee and her brother, David, surprised their letter carrier with a thank you gift and handmade card. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop our dedicated postal workers and we are grateful to them for their ongoing work during the state of emergency. Thanks Kaylee and David for expressing your appreciation!
- If you know of other local heroes that we should recognize, please reply to this email to let me know!
- As we continue to adapt to address and support the Governor’s actions, the House has successfully passed important bills such as:
- An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2020 to provide for supplementing certain existing appropriations and for certain other activities and projects
- An Act authorizing waiver of the one week waiting period for unemployment benefits
- 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
- An Act to address challenges faced by municipalities and state authorities resulting from COVID-19
- An Act to provide liability protections for health care workers and facilities during the COVID-19 Pandemic
- An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 Emergency
- An Act relative to long term care facility and elder housing COVID-19 Reporting
- An Act Relative to Strengthening the Local and Regional Public Health System
- An Act Providing for Virtual Notarization to Address Challenges Related to COVID-19
- An Act Addressing COVID-19 Data Collection and Disparities in Treatment
- An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline
The American Red Cross Needs Our Help!
- Blood drives are being cancelled at an alarming rate. Low donor turnout could hurt U.S. blood supply. The Red Cross understands people may be hesitant to give blood due to coronavirus, but wants to reassure everyone on the precautions their teams are taking to keep you safe. The Red Cross urges healthy individuals to give blood. Learn more and schedule an appointment at rcblood.org/2IAWGba.
- Health Connector has a special enrollment period for healthcare coverage through May 25th for those who are uninsured.
- Buoy Health offers a free 24/7 online tool for Massachusetts residents to give personalized guidance on what to do if residents experience symptoms of Covid-19. It uses current Covid-19 guidance from the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health. 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. It is available in English and Spanish.
- There is a rapid testing site in Lowell, which has on-the-spot Covid-19 testing of 1,000 patients per day at no cost. It can deliver results as soon as 30 minutes. Patients will need to visit https://www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-19-testing to pre-register and schedule a same-day time slot for testing.
- On May 14th, CVS announced the launch of 10 new drive-thru testing sites located in Charlton, Worcester, Raynham, Northampton, Bridgewater, Carver, West Springfield, Danvers (closest location to our District), Westport, and Wellesley. These new sites are part of CVS’s first rollout of its national testing expansion program, with a goal of 1,000 testing sites across the country. Individuals who meet testing criteria will be able to register in advance at www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-19-testing to schedule an appointment. Patients will stay in their cars and be directed to the pharmacy drive-thru window, where they will be provided with a self-swab test kit and given instructions on how to do it. Tests will be sent to a lab for processing and results will be available in 2-3 days.
- You can find a list of testing sites here.
- There is a new dedicated phone line operating 7 days a week for any family concerns about loved ones in nursing homes and rest homes: 617-660-5399.
- People in need of Personal Care Attendant (PCA) services, which support individuals with disabilities and older adults with activities of daily living (ADL), such as dressing, grooming, bathing, and ambulating, can call 1-844-422-6277 to be connected to home health services in your region.
- MassHealth and the Health Connector will protect coverage for all individuals who have Medicaid coverage as of March 18th and for all individuals approved for coverage during the national emergency.
- Here is a Guide for Workers on returning to work, as it relates to unemployment insurance (UI).
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The new PUA application form for self employed, gig workers, and those who have exhausted their state benefits launched on April 21st. Click here for more information about the CARES Act implementation.
- Click here for the latest updates and resources to apply for UI Benefits.
- Legal Services attorneys have made a helpful unemployment insurance FAQ available in several languages.
- People experiencing unemployment may also need help with finding health care coverage. Health Connector has a Special Enrollment Period that is open now until May 25th. For more information please visit the Health Connector COVID-19 website. Additional health insurance resources for people who have recently lost their employment can be found here (English) and here (Spanish).
- U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued guidance on emergency paid leave pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law on March 18th. This includes guidance for employer requirements, employee rights, and potential frequently asked questions.
- If you are having issues with filing for unemployment and need to speak with someone from DUA, fill out the online contact form found here. If you reach out to your State Representative, all offices have a legislative liaison contact at DUA and they can help to get a call back sooner.
- Health Care Professionals Needed. The administration has created a job portal to connect healthcare professionals with staffing opportunities at temporary care sites. Click here to learn more. Also, nursing homes and Assisted Living Residences need help. Find out more about the jobs available at mass.gov/covid-otnw. You may also sign up to volunteer at mass.gov/covid-hhek.
- Here is a Guide for Employers on returning to work, as it relates to unemployment insurance (UI).
- As of May 4th, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is accepting applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) for “agricultural” businesses only (apply here). However, applicants that have already submitted an application and have an application number starting with “2” should resubmit using the newer streamlined application to get a number starting with “3” (even though it says “agricultural” on the application). You can find more information about this here.
- The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) received additional funding and resumed on Monday, April 27th, after Congress passed interim coronavirus relief legislation that includes $322 billion in additional funding for the program.
- Click here for a PPP Fact Sheet for Potential Borrowers
- Click here to see the SBA-approved PPP lenders in Massachusetts
- Click here for PPP Borrower Application Form
- Click here for PPP Loans FAQs
- Click here for The Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act.
Students, Borrowers, and Parents
- The Massachusetts Division of Banks (DOB) has joined a multi-state initiative to secure payment relief options for Massachusetts student loan borrowers and issued a Consumer Advisory with important information and resources for private student loan borrowers. Through this initiative, DOB has secured relief options with 15 private student loan servicers to expand on the protections the federal government granted to federal student loan borrowers. These new options stand to benefit over 182,000 Massachusetts borrowers with privately held student loans. This response builds on the federal CARES Act, which provided much needed relief for students with federal loans, including the suspension of monthly payments, interest and involuntary collection activity until September 30, 2020. Check the advisory linked above for more information.
- In addition, the MA Department of Higher Education (DHE) is deferring scheduled repayments for its No-Interest Loan Program for a duration of four months to support relief efforts during the Covid-19 public health emergency. These deferments will help approximately 12,000 students. All no-interest loan accounts currently in repayment will automatically be placed in a deferment from April 2020 through July 2020. More information can be found here.
- Student Aid Relief: an administrative forebearance and zero interest loan relief was implemented for certain federal loans from March 13th through September 30, 2020. Click here for more information.
Resources for Survivors of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault
- For the latest information, please check mass.gov/covid19.
- Domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, know that you are not forgotten and we are here to provide resources to support and keep you safe. Physical spaces are temporarily closed, but there are resources available remotely. Also, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are still available at hospitals to collect forensics.
- Trial courts can be reached during regular hours at 1-833-91COURT. Judges are available 24/7 to issue 209A restraining orders and 258E harassment orders. These forms have been repackaged as one document to streamline and expedite the process and can be found online. However, please note that you must still contact the trial courts to start the process.
- The Safelink Hotline is a centralized number to call to talk to someone and receive services for sexual and domestic violence. Calls are confidential and available in many different languages to support survivors and their family. The hotline is available by calling 211 or toll free 1-877-785-2020. For people who are hearing impaired, call TTY 1-877-521-2601.
- If you are not comfortable calling, you can instant message with a trained advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org, www.loveisrespect.org, or www.rainn.org.
- If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
Preventing Child Abuse
- Child abuse affects every community, whether you are aware of it or not. As adults, there are many things we can do to prevent child abuse, like actively acknowledging the signs of child abuse and knowing when and where to report instances of abuse or neglect. Check out the MA Children’s Alliance Resource Page to learn more.
- National Grid is undertaking an effort to encourage gas and electric customers to look into the new Home Energy Assistance Program Grant, also known as Fuel Assistance. This financial assistance is not a loan and customers do not have to pay it back. To qualify, customers must meet household income criteria based on their household size. A family of four with a four-week gross income of up to $5,526 could be eligible for Fuel Assistance. To learn more about this program, you are encouraged to call the Massachusetts HEAP hotline at 1-800-632-8175. You can also find more information at masscap.org/heatinghelpma. We encourage customers to apply for Fuel Assistance as soon as possible. The deadline for new applications is May 29th. Customers may start an application over the phone with their local CAP Agency. Please understand that when they call their local Agency, they may be asked to leave a voicemail and a program representative will call them back. When customers qualify for Fuel Assistance, they will be automatically enrolled in National Grid’s discount rate of up to 32% off their electric and gas bills. That’s even more reason to apply! Please encourage them to visit ngrid.com/discount for more information.
- Also, National Grid is warning customers to beware of a new phone scam where imposters are demanding immediate bill payment and threatening service disconnection. This latest scam, which is targeting customers already facing hardships due to COVID-19, involves callers who pretend to be National Grid representatives. They tell customers that unless payment is made within 30 minutes, their power will be shut off. The customer is then directed to call “the direct billing department to make a payment and avoid power disconnection.” The scammers use sophisticated phone systems that display National Grid on the customer’s caller ID. Additionally, the phone number customers are instructed to call closely resembles the company’s recorded messaging and phone prompt directions. These elements make it difficult to differentiate an actual National Grid call from an imposter’s call. When in doubt, customers should hang up and call the National Grid customer service number on their bill.
- On March 13, National Grid temporarily suspended collections-related activities, including service disconnections, to lessen any financial hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. They encourage customers struggling to pay their bills to take advantage of bill payment options or to call to speak with one of their Consumer Advocates.
Advisory Affecting Drivers
- For the most up-to-date information, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/rmv-covid-19-information.
- The RMV is cautioning customers to use only mass.gov/rmv when they are trying to renew a license or registration or process any business transactions online. Customers may inadvertently come across unofficial third-party websites or “mimic sites” that advertise similar services but have no affiliation with the RMV.
- Starting on May 4th, customers can schedule a reservation online 7 days in advance for one of the open Service Centers. Previously, they could only schedule a reservation 3 days in advance.
- All passenger and motorcycle road tests (Class D and Class M) have been cancelled through Monday, May 18, 2020 (this is an extension of the previous cancellation until May 4th). Commercial Driver's License (CDL) road tests are still being conducted.
- The RMV is implementing further extensions to expiring licenses, permits, motor vehicle inspection stickers, and passenger plate registrations.
- Due to coronavirus concerns, the RMV has canceled all MA classroom driver safety classes through May 31st and temporarily approved an alternative way to deliver the statutorily required content in the form of a 4-hour online class. For a limited time, participation in the online course will fulfill your in-person class requirement. For more information and to sign up please visit this National Safety Council website.
- The census impacts more than $16 billion in federal funds that Massachusetts receives, from hospitals, to schools, roads, transportation, unemployment benefits, financial aid, healthcare, and more, all receive the federal funding based on Census data. These are tough times for all of us. Help our community receive the federal funding it needs for the next 10 years by taking 10 minutes to complete your 2020 Census. If we go undercounted, we risk missing out on funds. We can’t let that happen. Please fill out your census today - online, by phone, or by mail! Fill out your Census, and tell your family and friends to do so too!
- Volunteer Lawyers Projects Eastern Region Legal Intake (ERLI) is available to callers seeking legal assistance, advice, and referral. If you’re looking for help with a legal matter check out the Get Help page, contact the ERLI helpline at 617-603-1700, or apply online for legal assistance here. ERLI is open on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9AM - 12PM; and Tuesday and Thursday at 12:30PM - 3:30PM. If you call and reach a voicemail, be sure to leave your name and number and they will contact you.
- Northeast Legal Aid (NLA) has information and resources here.
- For some law-related updates and help regarding Covid-19, you can visit https://www.masslegalhelp.org/health-mental-health/covid-19.
- Massachusetts Covid-19 bills, summarized in plain English by the MassTrac Legal Division, are now available to the public for free here.
- The Trial Court helpline is available. Assistance includes general information about cases & navigation of the court system, while it is closed to the public for all but emergency matters. It's staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Please call 1-833-91COURT.
- 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.
- Do activities to reduce stress & cope with fear of Covid-19, like physical and mindfulness exercises, planting a garden, cooking, connecting with your friends and family on the phone or video chat, reading a book, and getting plenty of sleep.
- Here are some resources for maintaining emotional health & well-being.
- Essex Heritage’s Heritage at Home Initiative: Essex Heritage is rolling out a new initiative, "Heritage At Home", which provides the community with an online database of internet resources as well as natural sites around the county people can visit (when appropriate). You can check it out at www.heritageathome.org.
- One way to stay connected virtually to our local communities is to watch locally-filmed movies and television series. Here is a list of 50 films and episodic series shot in Massachusetts, in just the last 5 years, that are available now to stream on popular video on demand services.
Finally, a reminder:
Massachusetts declared a state of emergency over the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. It is highly contagious and has the potential to completely overwhelm our healthcare system, which is why it’s vitally important that we take proactive steps to prevent community spread and contain the number of cases. The most common way for COVID-19 to spread is by people who are asymptomatic. For this reason, it is important to practice physical distancing: stay home as much as possible. When you are out, wear a face mask, keep 6 feet distance from others (no hugging or handshakes), and wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water.
For the most up-to-date information, please dial the Massachusetts information hotline 2-1-1 or visit mass.gov/COVID19. You can also receive notifications on your phone by texting the keyword COVIDMA to 888-777. Spanish updates are available by texting the keyword COVIDMAESP to 888-777.
Our community is strong and we will get through this if we all do our part and work together for our collective health and well-being.
My team is working remotely. Please do not hesitate to reach out for assistance. We remain available for constituent services and to answer your questions/concerns. Please email Tram.Nguyen@mahouse.gov or call my office at 617-722-2060, and we will respond as soon as we're able.
Tram T. Nguyen, Esq.
State Representative, 18th Essex District
State Representative, 18th Essex District
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