COVID-19 Update # 24 From Representative Dykema

April 10 Coronavirus Update

Modeling of the statewide “surge” anticipates that the next 10 days will likely see dramatic increases in cases in Massachusetts, although recent numbers are suggesting that the surge may be closer to April 20 than April 10. The state has made an additional 3,500 hospital beds available already, a 32% increase over the existing system capacity, and staffing increases have been underway for weeks in preparation. These next few weeks will likely be some of the hardest for all of us, particularly for health care workers and families battling the virus directly. But we have worked hard to prepare, and we have some of the best scientific minds in the world helping to guide our efforts.

Coronavirus Testing and Response

Source: State House News Service
  • There are 20,974 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, with 1,956 hospitalizations and 599 deaths as of today at 4pm. 
  • For a breakdown of cases by county, age, and now race/ethnicity, check here. This data is also now available in a dynamic model.
  • The State Public Health Laboratory and private testing facilities have now conducted over 100,000 tests for COVID-19. At this point, over 7,000 tests are being conducted on a daily basis.

Health Care

  • To meet the demand for additional hospital beds during the “surge,” the Commonwealth has worked to make a total of 3,500 additional hospital beds available in both field hospitals and existing facilities. There are currently 6,400 available beds for ICU or acute care in the hospital system, representing about 45% of the state’s total capacity. A detailed visualization of hospital bed availability at this time can be found here.
  • The Commonwealth is expected to receive an additional 200 ventilators early next week from the federal stockpile. The Commonwealth is working to allocate the ventilators received this week to areas of highest need.
  • The Executive Office of Health and Human Services has rolled out additional guidance and support for nursing and other long-term care facilities, including new rules allowing for expedited testing and additional limits on visitation to limit spread to this high-risk populations. Facilities should be working directly with families to keep them informed about loved ones. However residents or families with questions or concerns about nursing home policies can call the dedicated family resource line at (617) 660-5399
  • Health care professionals and others with area expertise looking to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 either by volunteering or applying for COVID-19 specific work can now search for opportunities at one location: https://mass.gov/joincovidteam.

Children and Families

  • The Department of Children and Families has created a dedicated COVID-19 webpage to assist DCF families, foster parents, and other stakeholders with modified service during the pandemic. Although DCF local offices are closed to in-person appointments, assistance continues to be available by phone and reports of abuse or neglect are still being investigated using standard procedures.
  • To help support families with children at home, the Massachusetts State Police has developed a series of online “Work Out with a Trooper” sessions on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays at 11:30 a.m. designed to keep children active and engaged in physical activity while schools are closed. These workouts are designed for all ages and abilities and can be found on the MSP Facebook page.
  • April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. COVID-19 has resulted in increased risk of domestic and sexual violence. The statewide SafeLink hotline is 877-785-2020, and the same resources can now be accessed through the statewide 2-1-1 number. Jane Doe, Inc., also offers a “Find Help” search page for local resources and its statewide services are still available remotely.

Parks and Open Space

  • DCR will open segments of three parkways in the Greater Boston Metro Area for recreational use starting Saturday, April 11, 2020 at dawn. These segments will close to vehicular traffic on Friday, April 10, 2020 at dusk, and after the weekend, DCR will evaluate the effectiveness of the measure. Additionally, the agency will work to reduce parking capacity at state park properties statewide starting Saturday, April 11, 2020, which will continue indefinitely. For more information on the state park system’s response to COVID-19, visit this page.

Legislative Action

  • Today, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed H.4616, which allows the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to modify the “competency determination,” or graduation requirement related to the MCAS test and waives for the remainder of the academic year the state requirement that MCAS tests be administered. The bill further clarifies the current practice that any student that has not passed the MCAS in time for graduation will be able to retake in the future.
  • Speaker DeLeo and the House of Representatives have written to the Governor raising concerns around access to online unemployment application materials in multiple language and the challenges that that creates for many workers applying for benefits. The Speaker has requested that the Department of Unemployment Assistance translate the online portal into non-English languages commonly spoken in Massachusetts in recognition of this barrier to access.

Small Business

  • The MetroWest Chamber of Commerce is offering a free webinar on April 17th at 10am to provide information to businesses on effective ways to use social media during COVID-19. Interested parties can register online.

Additional Updates

  • Today, the RMV announced that passenger vehicle and motorcycle road tests will continue to be suspended through Monday, May 4. Commercial drivers license tests, managed through the State Police, are still being conducted.

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 guide of resources and information at: https://carolyndykema.com/covid19-state-resources/.

New Guidance on Unemployment Assistance

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation:

  • What is it? An additional $600 per week for those collecting unemployment.
  • When is it in effect? For all weekly unemployment claims from March 29 to July 31.
  • Next steps: No additional action is required from those already receiving unemployment assistance. New claimants will automatically receive this benefit once approved.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:

  • What is it? Unemployment benefits for those who would not normally be eligible – including self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and “gig economy” workers.
  • When is it in effect? For all unemployment claims beginning February 2, ending prior to December 26.
  • Next steps: The state is working as quickly as possible to put a system in place to process what is expected to be a large volume of new claims. The system is scheduled to be online by April 30, at which time applications can be submitted online. Once a claim is approved, benefits will be paid retroactively to February 2 to those who qualify.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation:

  • What is it? A 13-week extension to the normal 26 weeks of benefits per calendar year that Massachusetts residents in the unemployment insurance system receive for those who have exhausted their existing benefits.
  • When is it in effect? For anyone who has exhausted benefits and is still unemployed during weeks between March 29 and December 26.
  • Next steps: No action at this time. Those who are eligible should continue to check for updates as the state is still awaiting federal guidance.

DUA is experiencing roughly 18x the normal volume of unemployment claims, and they have rapidly increased their customer service staff from 50 employees to over 600 remote employees working 7 days a week. Despite this increase, I know that this process may still cause frustration and anxiety for those waiting on responses to claims or resolutions of issues. As claim volumes continue to rise and new populations become eligible, the department is working to address the many logistical challenges that this crisis has created.

For more information, visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/update-massachusetts-department-of-unemployment-assistance-announces-guidance-on-cares.

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