COVID-19 Update #2 From Representative Dykema

Updates as of March 18th

Below is a summary of the most recent efforts to respond to the wide range of needs in our communities. For a summary of previously issued guidance and state restrictions related to the coronavirus epidemic, visit here.

Coronavirus Testing and Healthcare Access

  • I participated on a call this afternoon with UMass Medical Center physicians, emergency room staff and other medical professionals about how they are managing the influx of hospital patients. The guidance they offered relative to testing is:
    • If you do not have symptoms or are only mildly symptomatic and able to stay home and self-quarantine, you do not need to be tested or visit the hospital. For those who are symptomatic and believe they need medical treatment, they should contact their doctor for further instructions on whether testing applies and if so, where they should go for testing to minimizes the likelihood of spreading the virus.
  • An urgent request has gone out to the biotech sector to ask for help by donating lab, testing, and diagnostics supplies, personal protection equipment (PPE), and medical and scientific expertise needed to combat COVID-19. Please fill out this form to indicate what your company is able to donate.
  • The administration issued and executive order expediting the onboarding process of more licensed health care professionals by allowing physicians assistants expanded responsibilities, pharmacists to administer certain medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder, and by extending the licenses of certain licensed professionals. Read more here.
  • The administration issued an executive order clarifying the Boards of Health should disclose addresses, but no other identifying information of those diagnosed with COVID-19 to the official in charge of emergency calls in the jurisdiction, and no others.

Workforce and Unemployment

  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance is urging those seeking unemployment benefits to apply online.
  • Important changes to the unemployment claim process:
    • All requirements regarding attending seminars at the MassHire career centers have been suspended. 
    • Deadlines missed by employers and claimants due to effects of COVID-19 may be excused under DUA’s good cause provision. 
    • Employers whose businesses are severely impacted by COVID-19 can request extensions for filing and paying unemployment contributions. 
    • “Worksearch” requirements will be interrupted to appropriately permit claimants affected by COVID-19 to collect benefits. 
    • All appeal hearings will be held by telephone only. 
  • DUA may pay unemployment benefits if a worker is quarantined due to an order by a civil authority or medical professional, or leaves employment due to reasonable risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member. The worker need not provide medical documentation and need only be available for work when and as able. 
  • Today, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed S.2599, which will allow DUA to waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. This will allow applicants, once approved, to begin receiving benefits as soon as possible.
  • For more information, review the COVID-19 unemployment guidance online.

Child Care

  • Effective Monday, March 23rd, the Department of Early Education and Care has ordered the suspension of all child care operations for EEC-licensed facilities until April 6th (aligned with K-12 closures). The Department is working on developing a system to provide emergency child care services to families frontline health and safety personnel. More info can be found here.
  • Interested licensed providers looking to participate in the emergency child care program can begin the expedited approval process through this online form.

Small Business

  • The administration released and executive order providing relief to small businesses (defined as those who paid less than $150,000 in the year ending in February 29, 2020 in sales, meals, or room occupancy taxes) the collection of those taxes will be postponed for March, April, and May. Those taxes will now be due on June 20, 2020. All penalties and interest that would otherwise apply will be waived.
  • Complete guidance for the MA Small Business Recovery Loan Fund is available online now.
  • The Governor has requested federal approval to use Economic Injury Disaster Loan funding to support small businesses with economic losses. This request has not yet been approved statewide, but five counties, including Worcester County, are already eligible to apply online due to their proximity to Connecticut and Rhode Island.
  • Members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, including Rep. Dykema, have written to the DPU to formally request the suspension of utility shutoffs for small businesses during the crisis. You can read the letter here
  • Eversource announced today that it will postpone disconnections for nonpayment for both residential and business customers across their electric, natural gas, and water operations.

Transportation

  • The MBTA continues to operate reduced service, but it has adjusted its schedule to ensure that essential personnel are able to travel. You can review the updated schedule and announcement here.
  • The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority continues to operate fixed route and demand response service, with shuttle adjustments that reflect new Commuter Rail scheduling.
  • The Registry of Motor Vehicles is reopening several locations including Worcester for essential, in-person services only. For more information, visit the RMV COVID-19 update page.

FEMA/MEMA Public Assistance

  • The MEMA State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Framingham has activated to Level 2 (Partial Activation). Learn more here.
  • FEMA has authorized a program to reimburse state, local, and private non-profit entities for costs not covered by other agencies such as CDC and HHS, up to $5 million statewide with an option for FEMA to request a higher cap if need is determined. More information will soon be available here. The state emergency management agency (MEMA) will be working with federal partners to develop an application portal and informational resources for applicants.
  • MEMA is currently surveying all municipal Police and Fire Departments to assess inventory and needs relative to personal protective equipment.

Social Services

  • If you or your family receives services through the Department of Developmental Services, contact your Area Office or service coordinator if you have any questions about possible changes to your services. 
  • If you receive agency-provided services, your provider agency is expected to reach out to you with updates sometime this week.

Other Services

  • The Humane Society of the U.S. has developed a shelter toolkit for pet care during the crisis.

Press Release

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