COVID-19 Update #15 From Representative Dykema

New Updates as of March 31st

Today is the second day of “Kindness Week,” an initiative created by Westborough Connects, a local volunteer organization dedicated to fostering community. While we are all practicing social distancing, this friendly reminder about the importance of kindness is very welcome. A little kindness goes a long way.

As we continue to address COVID-19, the state is preparing for an expected “surge” in hospitalized patients between April 7 – April 17. Preparations includes expanding the availability of the healthcare workforce by recruiting retired and volunteer medical staff, and adding new healthcare sites for COVID-19-only care. This is happening at a time when medical facilities are under severe financial pressures and many are having to furlough staff who aren’t working on the front lines. 

Emphasizing the continuing importance of social distancing, earlier today the Governor extended the emergency stay at home order to May 4. 

Please see the latest updates on COVID-19 below. To receive this daily newsletter in your inbox, sign up here. Past issues and additional resources can be found at carolyndykema.com/covid19. You can also check my Facebook page for more up-to-the-minute updates and communications. Overall, the state Dept. of Public Health website is the best source of accurate and up-to-date information and contains a wide-range of information and a likely source of answers to many of your questions.  

While the State House is closed to the public, my office continues to operate remotely. The best way to reach me or my staff at this busy time is via email at carolyn.dykema@mahouse.gov. We are also available by phone if necessary at 617-722-2680. 

Coronavirus Testing and Response

Source: State House News Service 
  • There are 6,620 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, with 562 hospitalizations and 89 deaths as of today at 4pm. 
  • For a breakdown of cases by county and age, check here. This data is also now available in a dynamic model.
  • Over 46,935 tests have been conducted by the State Public Health Laboratory and private testing facilities.

Health Care

  • The state will be opening 3 additional emergency medical facilities, to be operated by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) including a 250-bed emergency medicine facility at the DCU Center in Worcester in cooperation with UMass Memorial.
  • The state is developing guidance for opening skilled nursing facilities exclusively for care of COVID-19 patients and announced a pilot program for rapid on-site testing at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. More details on this program to come.
  • The state’s has a new COVID-19 PPE Procurement and Donation Program online portal streamlines procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare providers. Procuring protective equipment for the front lines is a priority effort. If you are in a position to provide necessary supplies or know someone who is, please share this information

Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

  • Many of you may be concerned about news reports regarding the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soliders’ Home. The facility’s superintendent has been placed on leave and the CEO of the Western Massachusetts Hospital, herself a registered nurse, has assumed the interim superintendent role.
  • Members of the Legislature also participated in a call with the COVID-19 Response Command Center today where legislators were briefed on the actions being taken and we will continue to monitor the situation carefully.

Workforce and Employment

  • The Governor’s stay-at-home extension order includes new and updated regulations for essential businesses. Here’s an updated list of essential services and frequently asked questions.
  • Under the new guidance, hotels and short-term rentals will only be available for COVID-19-related housing and hospitality needs and cannot accept reservations for vacations or tourism.
  • The passage of the federal stimulus CARES Act over the weekend expanded unemployment assistance (UA) eligibility to most self-employed and independent contractor workers, but the state is still waiting on guidance from the federal Department of Labor relative to requirements for state implementation. For those who just became eligible as a result of the legislation, you are urged to wait to apply until further notice so that the system is prepared to process the requests. Filing before your name has been added to the system may cause delays. More details will be posted to the DUA COVID-19 site as soon as they’re available.

Education

  • The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sent out a letter to families today providing additional guidance on remote learning. To read the letter online in English and Spanish, visit the DESE COVID-19 page.
  • This weekend, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved DESE’s request to waive the requirement that school meal sites must be located in areas where at least 50 percent of school lunch program participants are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Now all school districts that are distributing meals during school closures related to COVID-19 and are focusing the distribution of these meals to children and teens in need of them are now eligible for USDA reimbursement. For more information on where to get meals for students during school closures, visit https://meals4kids.org/schoolclosure.
  • As many high school students and families already know, AP tests will be held remotely this year. To support students taking AP courses in their study, the College Board announced it will be offering free, online review courses

Additional items of note

  • Tomorrow, the Senate is set to enact H.4598, An Act to address challenges faced by municipalities and state authorities resulting from COVID-19. The bill, which gives municipalities additional flexibility in adjusting services and town operations to respond to COVID-19, will be sent to the Governor for his signature.
  • As you may know, the 2020 U.S. Census is ongoing and April 1 marks “Census Day.” Although field operations are currently suspended due to COVID-19, mail-in and online operations continue. If you have not done so already, please ensure that your home fills out the paper or online questionnaire using the information you received in the mail. To participate or learn more, please visit https://2020census.gov/. 

Resources for Residents Experiencing Job Loss or Loss of Income

COVID-19 is causing broad disruption to the economy which is affecting incomes of many residents and families. There are a number of state resources and supports available to support workers who may find themselves unemployed or otherwise income-constrained during this uncertain time. 

For your convenience, you can find a broad list of resources and information at: https://carolyndykema.com/covid19-state-resources/.

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