COVID-19 update #2
There continue to be concerns about the spread of the Corona virus (COVID-19) and new information is coming out regularly. I am updating you on the latest news, as there have been some major developments over the weekend. You can also check the special state website for latest updates at https://www.mass.gov/covid19. Here is the latest info I have:
- Current cases. As of today, there are 164 COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts out of only 799 people who have been tested. The state's capacity to test has been expanded so we expect that number to rise as more people get tested. There is also now evidence of community spread in seven Massachusetts counties, including Berkshire, Essex, Hampden, Norfolk, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Worcester.
- Governor Charlie Baker announced this evening that all bars and restaurants in Massachusetts would no longer be permitted to offer on-premise consumption starting Tuesday, March 17 and through April 17. Restaurants are allowed to serve take-out only.
- The Governor also banned gatherings larger than 25 people.
- The Governor also ordered a three-week suspension of all public and private schools, effective through April 7.
- Retail stores can stay open as long as they have 25 people or less in them.
- State Funding. Last week, the Legislature appropriated an additional $15M to cover costs associated with the state’s COVID-19 response, including "monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness and prevention efforts by the department of public health, regional and local boards of health and other public instrumentalities." The legislature and the governor had previously appropriated $95K to cover overtime costs at the state lab to speed up testing.
- Unemployment insurance and other beneifits. Legislation will be filed this week to ease unemployment insurance regulations to provide quicker access to benefits for those harmed by the bans. I will keep you posted as these bills progress.
- Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) has formed an Interagency Planning Working Group comprised of health, human services, public safety and several other government agencies to develop continuity plans for COVID-19. This working group is broken down into three subgroups that include 1) Support to First Responders Subgroup; 2) Logistics Subgroup, and 3) Mass Care Subgroup. These groups are tasked with developing strategies and coordinating support efforts related to COVID-19. This follows the Department of Public Health’s infectious disease task force that was stood up in January.
- 2-1-1 phone service. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that Massachusetts 2-1-1 will now provide real-time COVID-19 information, resources, and referrals in multiple languages. Through this partnership with Massachusetts 2-1-1, DPH subject matter experts are expanding access to information 24/7, and empowering call operators to provide the latest information about the status of COVID-19 response efforts in Massachusetts. Residents with questions should dial 2-1-1 from any landline or cellphone. Callers dialing 2-1-1 will hear an automated menu of options. Callers press 2-6 for coronavirus. Residents can also reach 2-1-1 through a live chat option on the Massachusetts 2-1-1 website which you can visit by clicking here.
- Telehealth. Those orders include an immediate requirement that all commercial and group health insurers cover all medically necessary telehealth services.
- Open Meeting Law. On March 12, Governor Baker issued an emergency order making modifications to the state’s Open Meeting Law to allow state, quasi and local governments to continue to carry out essential functions during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Franklin information portal. Franklin is closing its schools and municipal buildings (with some exceptions). You can read the TA and Superintendent's letter by clicking here. You can view other information on Franklin's portal by clicking here.
- Medway information pages. The Medway Public Schools will be closed, beginning Monday, March 16. You can view the Medway School Department's update page by clicking here. The town's health page can be accessed by clicking here.
- Office hours. Office hours scheduled for this Thursday and Friday are cancelled due to the closure of the Franklin Senior Center and the ban on restaurant service. Anyone with an issue can reach me by replying to this email or calling the office at 617-722-2030.
I wish you the best as you navigate this public health crisis. Please look out for your friends and neighbors and stay informed with the links above.
- DPH testing. On March 13, DPH issued a guidance letter for testing of persons with suspect COVID-19 through the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory. This new system will enable Massachusetts to more quickly and effectively test and report out test results. This in turn will automatically make test results available to state epidemiologists, clinicians who have ordered the tests, and to local boards of health.
- Personal hygiene is important. Common sense steps to take include washing your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and clean things that are frequently touched. More prevention tips here.
- Guidance and recommendations. Health-related guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for various audiences can be accessed by clicking here.
If you have additional questions or need additional information, please let me know. I am not a medical doctor, so please contact your health care provider if you have specific health concerns. But I am happy to try and chase down any policy or state government related questions you might have. You can reach my State House office at 617-722-2030 or email me at Jeffrey.Roy@MAhouse.gov.