COVID-19 Update # 26 From Representative Dykema
April 13 Coronavirus Update
I hope you are staying safe, healthy, and dry at home during today’s storm. The public health emergency compounded with weather events may create additional unforeseen challenges, but the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, along with Eversource and National Grid, are all operating under normal emergency preparedness and response procedures.
Coronavirus Testing and Response
- There are 26,867 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, with 2,340 hospitalizations and 844 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 120,000 tests for COVID-19. At this point, 5,000-7,000 tests are being conducted on a daily basis.
- Around 6,500 nurses and licensed caregivers will begin receiving hazard pay for work between now and May 30, with rates increasing by either $5 or $10 an hour, depending on occupation type.
- An additional 200 ventilators have arrived from the federal stockpile and are being tested and delivered. Personal protective equipment continues to be distributed according to need across the state, with over 1.9 million pieces of PPE distributed in total. A detailed breakdown by region and type can be found here.
- The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is increasing its distribution of meal kits to emergency shelters and other facilities, and is planning to be distributing about 26,000 meals to areas in need by the end of the week.
- MEMA’s mobile testing program has conducted over 3,700 tests at 221 long-term care facilities, which has been expanded to cover not only nursing homes but also assisted living residences, Department of Developmental Services group homes, and other long-term care facilities. Facilities with trained staff can also request testing kits, and over 4,400 kits have been distributed to 35 facilities.
- 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.
Small Business and Manufacturing
- Today, the Massachusetts Tech Collaborative announced the rollout of the Massachusetts Emergency Response Team (M-ERT), a collaboration of state agencies, tech institutions, and manufacturers to provide resources to enable companies to transition manufacturing processes to produce PPE and other essential materials. This initiative will also provide $10.6 million in grant funding to companies that make priority equipment. An online application and list of needed equipment can be found here.
- In response to Speaker DeLeo’s request for a multilingual portal for unemployment insurance applicants, the Department of Unemployment Assistance has released a Spanish-language, mobile-friendly application form. The Department has also announced that it plans to release applications in Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese, and additional languages in the coming days.
- Easterseals of MA has opened up an application for families with children who require occupational therapy or speech and language pathology services to request virtual services for a voluntary donation. More information can be found online here.
- The RMV announced that several categories of professional licenses, including driving instructors and school bus drivers, will receive 90 day extensions for licenses that are about to expire before April 30. Commercial drivers with certain certifications can now renew their CDLs online. More information can be found here.
- Legislation has been filed to require the administration to disclose more statistics and information about the impact of COVID-19 on nursing homes. The bill will be heard virtually on Thursday, April 16 at 1:30 p.m. and interested parties can sign up to testify here.
- Legislation has been filed to decrease the number of signatures candidates for U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate are required to submit in order to get on the ballot for September’s primary and the general election in November. The bill is currently under consideration by the state Senate.
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.