In The People's Blog

Friends,

We are living through a defining moment.

You know this: These are profoundly challenging times.

The enormity of what we’re experiencing will be analyzed and written about for decades to come. Historians will talk about the time before the COVID-19 pandemic and the way we responded.

In the months ahead we’ll set our sights on lessons learned, but right now we’ll do our part to keep our loved ones safe and care for the wider community.

COVID-19 has exposed much of what we knew already to be true: Our state and nation are rife with inequities, more evident and painful now than ever. As health care professionals, frontline workers, and public servants scramble to respond, we must do our very best to support them and pledge to emerge from this crisis hell-bent on building a state and nation where government works for everyone.

Here are a few critical things you should know:

The numbers of cases, tests, and more

At this time, the Department of Public Health estimates that 777 Massachusetts residents have been diagnosed as being positive for COVID-19. You can look at all the related counts here. Only people who have been tested can be confirmed positive for COVID-19, and so we know this number is artificially low because of the lag in necessary testing. The Commonwealth has prioritized a ramp up in testing, so we can expect the number of confirmed cases to jump up as testing becomes more widespread. If you have questions about whether to get tested, please be in touch directly with your health care provider. If you need any support, please email jo.comerford@masenate.gov.

Stay at home order and who’s involved

Governor Baker directed the Department of Public Health to issue a ‘stay at home’ advisory for ‘non-essential’ businesses to cease in-person operations, beginning at noon tomorrow (3/24) and lasting until April 7. I believe this order is an essential step, and I have been and will remain a vocal advocate for this direction. The order is here for your review. As you’ll see, this order does not mandate home confinement. Please read it through so you have the details. A list of workforce considered essential is here. If your work or workplace is not listed as essential, but you think it should be, you can complete the Essential Service Designation Request form here.

Community conference calls

I’ve been holding community conference calls on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The calls begin with an update from me and then we open to questions and feedback. I have found these calls enormously helpful, personally. Detailed information on dates, times, and on how to join is here.

Unemployment

Federal and state lawmakers are working to expand eligibility for unemployment for people who are out of work because their employer has shut down, or because they are sick, caring for a sick family member, or quarantined for other reasons. If you fall into one of these categories, I cannot guarantee you will be eligible for unemployment (not knowing all your details), but please consider applying, which you can do here.

The state has begun a series of virtual town halls that you can attend for those seeking to file unemployment claims. Find information here. My team and I are also available to you to answer questions, solve problems, and break down barriers. It’s important to note that there’s a large sector of our economy not yet covered by existing unemployment—the gig workers or self-employed among us. Their work is critical and we need a federal FEMA declaration to begin getting them the benefits they deserve. A description of what needs to happen for this sector to be covered by unemployment is here.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Masks, gloves, gowns, and more are still in very short supply. The Senate has created a well-oiled machine to take in offers of supplies and to escalate places in our region in dire need. Additionally Cooley Dickinson Hospital has put out a call for homemade masks. On a hopeful note, a communal campaign to sew masks for donation to those in need has gone viral. You can get information about how to start sewing here.

A full line up of state and federal guidance

Our Senate team is updating a searchable web page with all the breaking news and guidance from federal and state lawmakers. You can access it here.

Health care updates

There are no co-pays or deductibles for COVID-19-related testing or treatment. The state has also dramatically expanded telehealth services and has set up a series of mental health related resources you can access here.

Work in the Legislature

Since March 11, I’ve been chairing the Senate working group responding to the coronavirus. The legislature must undertake the most comprehensive response possible, and so our working group split into subgroups focused on different issue areas like housing, safety net programs, economic recovery, health care, nursing homes, prisons and courts, municipalities, supply chain, and more. Our work is on three levels:

  • Funneling detailed recommendations to and doggedly advocating with the COVID-19 Command Center and state agencies. You can see the fruit of our efforts inside the numerous executive orders emerging—helping to relax barriers to program entry, funding our health care and human services sectors, funding to care for those who are homeless, and more.
  • Pushing budget recommendations so that state agencies have sufficient funding to provide benefits to those who need and deserve them—from those who need food assistance to our small businesses.
  • Drafting legislation to address the issues that are not covered by Executive Order, like enacting a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, an unemployment bill, a bill to bolster our safety net programs, a bill to help guide our municipalities, and more.

On all fronts, we are working on the most expedited possible timelines. As these policies are developed, the most effective way to advocate is by reaching out and telling us what YOU want to see us address. If you’re experiencing an issue that you think we may not be aware of—reach out! If you’re aware of an issue—and you know that we’re aware of it too but you want to tell us that it’s a priority for you—reach out! Email me anytime at jo.comerford@masenate.gov.

Continued guidance on prevention

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
  • Frequently asked questions on employee rights and employer obligations with regard to COVID-19 can be found here.
  • The Attorney General’s Community Engagement Division will hold a webinars on:
  • Landlord/tenant rights on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 10:30 AM. This webinar will be in Spanish.
  • Scams and identity theft on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at 10:30 AM. This webinar will be in Spanish.
  • Landlord/tenant rights on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 10:30 AM.
  • More information is available here.

Many people ask, “Jo, can you tell me when this will be over?” I can’t. And I don’t imagine anyone can. I can tell you, however, that we’ll get through it and that our Senate team will be with you every single step of the way.

(Still and always) sending our love to you.

Jo, Jared, Elena, Sam, and Brian

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