Thanks to the many of you who replied to yesterday’s newsletter with questions and feedback. I want to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions and concerns publicly. Let me underscore: Things are fluid. Changing rapidly. I don’t want to send too many emails to you, but I will try to strike a balance that works well enough.
Note that I’m holding two calls tomorrow (Saturday) which are open to the community. Information for the calls is at the end of this email.
(Additionally, I know you know this, but it’s important for me to remind you that I’m not a physician, but the information my team and I are providing is sourced from expert sources.)
1. Why aren’t we testing more people?
The United States and the Commonwealth are behind some other countries in numbers of people tested. There is a tremendous amount of advocacy focused on increasing the Commonwealth’s ability to test people who don’t have symptoms as well as people who do. I have a call today with the Baker Administration focused on testing, and I am asking a number of pointed questions to help determine what the state is doing, what is needed from the Legislature, and what must be done to close the gap. I will also be focusing on the need for greater transparency and proactive and clear communication. I have heard loud and clear that people are not getting all of the information they need about how to get tested and who should get tested. Toward that end, I have included below the phone numbers to call if you are wondering if you should get tested. Kudos to Rep. Mindy Domb who is leading advocacy around testing in the House. Huge thanks to our medical community.
2. Talk to me about social distancing.
I want to underscore guidance on social distancing—which is one of the most important things we can do right now to contain the virus and prevent overburdening our healthcare system.
The best tools we have to protect our community are:
- Practice good hygiene to limit individual transmission.
- Reduce unnecessary contact and practice “social distancing.”
Following health advice from the CDC and our Department of Public Health, we can limit risk of infection in one-on-one settings, but in group settings of any size, it is much harder to avoid spreading the disease. Please cancel and/or avoid large group settings where at all possible. There is a range of ideas around what constitutes a large group, so please use good judgement and err on the side of caution.
3. Why aren’t we closing the schools?
This is a major issue. I have heard from many with questions about whether schools will be cancelled, with concerns about their children or concerns for school staff who may be immunocompromised, and concern about schools being a possible location for community spread.
Let me first say: I hear your concerns. Having the state involved more deeply and proactively would allow for more planning and contingency preparations like equity provisions around food security, breaking down barriers to remote learning, assistance for families once their children are out of school, and hopefully more. Absent the state’s involvement, we will continue to experience a more piecemeal response.
This morning and right now, there are extensive discussions happening between the state’s Department of Education and the Legislature. The most recent guidance by the Department of Education is linked here. I want to underscore, again, that this is the guidance right now from the state. Things are changing all the time, including some schools in our region announcing closures.
I am escalating all concerns to the Department of Public Health and Senate leadership in real time. Please know that conversations on this matter are ongoing and a priority for me and my team.
4. Do you realize we can’t get supplies like hand sanitizer?
Yes. We do. The Senate working group is focused on supply chain vulnerabilities and associated possible price gouging. Remember: We understand that washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds is an option when we don’t have hand sanitizer.
5. Are you thinking about hourly workers and small businesses?
We know workers and small businesses are especially at risk. I believe the government has a responsibility to cushion the impact for those hardest hit. This is another task of the Senate working group.
6. How can we help people who are most vulnerable?
I know everyone is making preparations for disruptions due to the need to contain and mitigate the coronavirus. As a largely rural region, it’s also the time to think of others in our midst who may be more affected: elders, immunocompromised individuals, those without access to transportation, those who may need supplies and to think through logistics. Check in with those who may be more affected and see how you can safely be of assistance.
A reminder that if you think you should be tested or believe you need care, please call your physician first, or one of the following (Remember: Call before visiting!):
- Your local board of health
- Your healthcare provider, local hospital, or community health center
- Baystate Franklin Medical Center (Greenfield), 413-773-0211
- Cooley Dickinson Hospital (Northampton), 413-582-2000
- Athol Memorial Hospital (Athol), 978-249-3511
- John P. Musante Health Center (Amherst), 413-835-4980
- Community Health Center of Franklin County (Greenfield), 413-325-8500
- Community Health Center of Franklin County (Orange), 978-544-7800
- The Massachusetts State Epidemiology line at 617-983-6800
People who think they may be infected should stay away from others and not travel by public transit or transit services like Uber/Lyft. Please let your health center know if this presents a barrier.
If you are looking for guidance on prevention measures:
- Please visit the MA Department of Health website.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Clean things that are frequently touched (like doorknobs and countertops). The virus lives on surfaces for a period of time.
- Avoid large gatherings if you are at higher risk. Higher risk groups include: Older adults, anyone with underlying health conditions (such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes), anyone with weakened immune systems, anyone who is pregnant.
- Postpone or cancel non-essential large events and gatherings.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
- Stay home when sick.
- Get a flu shot to prevent the spread of influenza, which can leave those affected more vulnerable and stretch our medical system that much more.
- Think about those around you who may need assistance or benefit from a supportive call or text.
- Spread the facts (and only the facts) about the virus. Get them here: MA Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DPH also runs a 24/7 phone hotline at 617-983-6800.
- Buy local. Support main street businesses and our farmers. Double down on your support of local non-profits providing care.
- Talk with the children in your life. Here’s a good resource.
If you need guidance regarding legal help, here are some resources from Attorney General Maura Healey:
- Information about sick time laws: 617-727-3465
- Help with insurance claims or medical bills: 888-830-6277
- Report price gouging or defective products: 617-727-8400
- If you’re having difficulty negotiating a travel refund or are concerned about a potential scam, consider filing a complaint: www.mass.gov/how-to/file-a-consumer-complaint
My upcoming People’s Office Library Tours have been changed to public conference calls. Please call in to hear from me directly and ask questions about COVID-19 and share any other concerns or ideas. This Saturday’s calls are listed below.
For all calls, dial 605-313-5111, and use access code: 378045
Sending our love to you.
– Jo, Jared, Elena, Sam, and Brian