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Your Tewksbury Today

OP-ED: Covid-19 Updates #11: Reopening Plan, Upcoming Town Halls, and More

Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On May 18th, the Reopening Advisory Board released a four-phased approach to reopening, with each phase lasting a minimum of three weeks. This week, the Governor announced the start of Phase 1 of that plan and issued a “safer at home” advisory. More details about the plan can be found here.

Remember that this virus will continue to be with us as more and more businesses reopen, and it is our collective responsibility to stay at home as much as possible to contain the spread. Please continue to follow the advisory and advice of health experts: cover your face, maintain physical distance, and practice good hygiene. If you feel sick, please stay home and let your employer know that you cannot come into the workplace.

If you have questions or comments about the Reopening Plan, you can use this form to contact the Administration.
 

Also, this week I held my first virtual town hall with my colleague, Rep. Jon Santiago, who is an ER doctor at Boston Medical Center, and we talked about Covid-19 and its impact on our communities and healthcare system. In case you missed it, you can replay the video at https://www.facebook.com/144896926211942/videos/548676132516835/.

We are live streaming the town halls on my Facebook Page. You don’t need a Facebook account to watch the Facebook Live stream or to replay the recording afterwards. You simply need to visit my page at facebook.com/TeamTram.MA and a link to my scheduled live streams should appear near the top of the page. Additionally, if you are not able to watch it live, a recording will be available on my page afterwards.

My next Town Hall conversation will be on Thursday, May 28th, with Pam Wilmot of Common Cause, to discuss how Covid-19 has affected the 2020 Elections and how the State might respond to ensure safe, secure, and accessible elections for all voters. If you have questions for us, please send them to me by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, May 27th, using this Google Form: https://forms.gle/PEWrinxWfXjaPZAT8. Please let me know if you need closed captioning accommodations.

Additionally, please save the date for other upcoming Town Halls. On Saturday, 6/6, we will be joined by Representative Minicucci and representatives from local food banks to discuss Food Insecurity. On Saturday, 6/13, we will discuss Environmental Protection and Climate Change with environmental activist, Jim Mulloy. Both town halls will take place at 10:00 am.
Enjoy your weekend, and I hope to virtually see you next Thursday at 4:00 pm!
 
Resources
  • 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.orgClick 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 21st, 501,486 patients have been tested by MA State Public Health Laboratory, hospitals, and commercial laboratories. There are 90,084 total reported cases of Covid-19 and 6,148 deaths. The latest updates can be found here.
  • 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.
  • Information about Reopening can be found here.
  • On May 18th, the Reopening Advisory Board released a four-phased approach to reopening, with each phase lasting a minimum of three weeks.
  • We are now in Phase 1. Essential businesses may continue to operate and must comply with safety standards by 5/25. All other businesses must wait until the time outlined in the plan for them to reopen and must comply with safety standards before reopening.
  • As of May 18th, manufacturing, construction, and places of worship are allowed to reopen. Hospitals and community health centers may expand to provide high priority preventative services, pediatric care, and treatment for high risk patients.
  • On May 25th, labs and life sciences facilities, offices except those in Boston and limited to under 25% of capacity, hair salons and barbershops by appointment only, pet grooming by appointment only and curbside pick up and drop off, car washes for exterior washing only, recreation and outdoor, and retail using remote fulfillment and curbside pickup may reopen. Other health providers can provide high-priority preventative services, pediatric care and immunizations, and treatment for high-risk patients.
  • Offices in Boston following applicable guidelines may reopen on June 1st.
  • People should use this contact form to submit questions and comments about the reopening plan. It also outlines the process for reporting non-compliant businesses.
  • Here’s detailed guidance for various industries on the reopening plan.
  • Here’s information about protective supplies and sanitation in the workplace.
  • On May 18th, the Governor issued a “safer at home” advisory, urging that people should stay at home unless heading to a newly opened facility or activity. All residents must continue to wear a face covering in public when physical distancing is not possible. Residents aged 65 or older and those with underlying health conditions should stay home except for necessary trips.
  • Plateau: We are currently in a plateau and waiting for key data indices to improve. There are 6 indicators in the dashboard that are being monitored. 2 are trending positive: positive test rate and testing capacity. 4 are in progress: number of fatalities, number of hospitalizations, healthcare system readiness, and contact tracing capabilities.
  • There are 2,396 patients hospitalized statewide for Covid-19. On Thursday, May 21st, we tested 11,533 individuals and had 1,114 new positive cases (about 10%).
  • This week, Massachusetts launched a Covid-19 test site locator map for people who qualify for testing, which was expanded to include people with mild symptoms and those who are close contacts of a positive case.
  • 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 TeamClick here to learn more.
  • Face coverings are required in public when physical distancing is not possible. Full details of the order can be found here.
  • Hospital capacity: As of May 21st, there are about 17,200 beds statewide and about 50% 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.
Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
  • May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Diversity is our strength. It fosters innovation and problem-solving by pushing everyone to look at things from different perspectives. Take a moment to learn more about the many amazing AAPI cultures. Also, enjoy this book club list of some favorite Massachusetts AAPI authors.
Legislative Updates
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.
Healthcare
  • Health Connector has a special enrollment period for healthcare coverage through June 23rd 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.
  • 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.
  • DPH warned of virus-linked syndrome in children. You can read more about this here.
Employment
  • Here is a Guide for Workers on returning to work, as it relates to unemployment insurance (UI).
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): the CARES Act expands unemployment benefits for individuals who may have already exhausted regular unemployment compensation for an additional 13 weeks – this benefit is now available. PEUC will begin automatically for individuals who have been receiving regular standard benefits on an active claim. If an individual's standard unemployment claim has expired, they must file a new standard claim. Individuals who exhausted regular benefits but were receiving benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) established under the CARES Act must apply through the standard unemployment benefits portal here. Individuals will automatically receive the additional $600 weekly through the week ending July 25, 2020. Get more information at www.mass.gov/peuc.
  • 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 has been extended until June 23rd. 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 requirementsemployee 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.
Employers
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.orgwww.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
  • 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.
  • AAA Northeast reopened select branch offices in Massachusetts, while following strict distancing procedures and CDC guidelines for the protection and benefit of employees and AAA members. Members should visit aaa.com/branches and enter their zip code to find the nearest open office.  Everyone will be required to wear a face covering to enter and conduct business at AAA branch offices, and will be asked to physically distance. RMV services will be available by appointment only to members who complete an online reservation ahead of time.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Census 2020
  • 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!
Law-related Resources
  • 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.
What You Can Do to Help
  • 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.
Practicing Self-care
  • 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 covering, 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 ext. 5, and we will respond as soon as we're able.
Sincerely,
Tram T. Nguyen, Esq.
State Representative, 18th Essex District
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