In Op-Eds & Columns, Updates from Jo

DEAR JO: The Wendell Select Board will meet with our Board of Health and first responders to discuss town planning for response to the COVID-19 virus. It would be helpful to have an update on the state response.

— Dan Keller, Wendell Select Board member

Dear Dan: First, thank you to all public officials, boards of health, medical providers, first responders, school staff, transit authorities and everyone charged with the care and well-being of commonwealth residents. I am grateful for your efforts to prepare our region’s response to the COVID-19 virus, otherwise known as the coronavirus.

I am with you at the state level. On March 4, I chaired a Joint Committee on Public Health oversight hearing focused on informing state preparedness and response to the COVID-19 virus. We heard from Department of Public Health officials, medical experts and public health leaders.

To ensure our region was well represented, I invited testimony from Lisa White, a public health nurse for Franklin County, who discussed the particular challenges facing rural areas like ours. A recording of the full hearing (worth a watch) is available via the following link:

The commonwealth can only consider itself as fully prepared as our most vulnerable residents are prepared. We must ensure that equity is a central principle in our planning and response.

That is why I support Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to declare a state of emergency because this is the time to prepare and respond equitably, not panic. That’s why I’ve accepted an invitation to join a statewide Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity charged with developing policy recommendations to address the disproportionate burden on communities already experiencing marginalization and discrimination.

DPH has set up a website with continuously updated information: We all have a role to play in making sure our family and neighbors access the facts and resources they need. The commonwealth must respond on three levels all at once: prevention (see below); containment, which means expanded testing; and mitigation, which means breaking down barriers to care, dealing with possible provider shortages and minimizing medical staff burnout.

The Legislature must do everything it can to ensure necessary access to funds. With that in mind, I was delighted to vote yes on a supplemental budget to provide DPH with $95,000 to ensure that Massachusetts could test for the COVID-19 virus at its in-state laboratory. DPH has also assured the Legislature that local officials will have the resources they need and deserve to plan and prepare. In turn, the Legislature is readying an additional $15 million supplemental budget for passage.

I also joined with Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and 59 of our colleagues on a bipartisan letter calling on Baker to require health insurers to waive copays and deductibles for COVID-19 testing. I’m glad to say that a few days later, the Division of Insurance issued a new directive prohibiting health insurers from charging any patient costs for coronavirus testing.

There’s more that must be done. And I am particularly grateful to state officials for their deep engagement, especially at a moment when our federal government is hampered in its response.

As of Wednesday, there were 95 cases confirmed or presumed in the commonwealth. DPH estimates that 1,083 people in the state have been subject to quarantine, while 638 people have completed monitoring and are no longer quarantined.

As the situation evolves, in addition to an expansion of testing and efforts to ensure equitable care and access to treatment, our collective job is also to prevent the spread of the virus.

DPH recommends washing 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; cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.; stay home when sick if you can; and get a flu shot to prevent the spread of influenza, which can leave those affected more vulnerable and stretch our medical system even more.

All around me, I see our institutions rising to these challenges of prevention. Let’s do everything we can to help them, ever mindful of the needs of our wider community.

Personally, my team and I are watching a range of issues, including supply chain vulnerabilities, workforce gaps and workforce quarantines, concrete planning for those in rural areas and those at greatest risk for hardship and price gouging.

Here are some good resources from Attorney General Maura Healey:

Remember, my team and I are available to you.

Please phone my district (413-367-4656) or email me directly at DPH also runs a 24/7 phone hotline at 617-983-6800.

We’ll get through this together.

State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.

Read this article at the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Have a question for Jo? Submit yours to the Dear Jo column!

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search