COVID-19 Update # 27 From Representative Dykema
April 14 Coronavirus Update
As Massachusetts begins to prepare for the expected “surge” in patients, the critical investments that we have made in hospital staff and capacity will begin to be utilized more fully. Fortunately, we have done a significant amount of work to prepare for these coming weeks, including by opening new temporary medical facilities like the MEMA facility opened today at Joint Force Base Cape Cod.
Over the last 7 days, new reported cases have ranged from 1,296 to 2,605 a day, and these numbers are forecasted to continue through around April 20. The Department of Public Health has worked to provide detailed testing and patient data, and it will now be providing regional health care capacity data on a regular basis as well. I felt it was important to highlight these numbers, not to create panic or increase your anxiety, but to underscore the continued importance of all of us staying home and practicing physical distancing to ensure that our system does not become overwhelmed.
Coronavirus Testing and Response
- There are 28,163 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, with 1,296 new cases and 957 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 126,000 tests for COVID-19. At this point, over 4,000 tests are being conducted on a daily basis.
- Massachusetts’s hospital bed capacity for the surge currently sits at 15,900 ICU and non-ICU beds. As of April 12, 50% of beds are available statewide, including 40% of beds in the MetroWest region.
- The Department of Public Health has released updated guidance on protective measures for non-health care essential workers who may have had exposure to a COVID-19-positive individual but who remain asymptomatic.
- MEMA, together with the Massachusetts National Guard and the Cape Cod Hospital, has opened a 94-bed facility on the Guard’s Joint Force Base in Bourne. The facility, which will provide exclusively COVID-19 care, was made operational in less than a week.
- The state continues to track, inventory, and distribute protective personal equipment (PPE) to health care providers and other frontline responders, with distribution totals over 3 million. A detailed distribution chart updated through today can be found here.
- 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
- The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that there have been over 941,000 applications for the Paycheck Protection Program approved totaling over $228 billion through nearly 4600 lending institutions. They have also released an updated FAQ online containing new questions and answers that have been raised throughout the process.
- Businesses which have the ability to transition operations into production of PPE and other equipment should review the Massachusetts Emergency Response Team (M-ERT) website for program information and grant opportunities. An online application and list of needed equipment can be found here.
- The Dept. of Unemployment Assistance has announced that the new UA application portal for self-employed and 1099 employees will be ready by April 30. I’ve requested guidance on what information will be required of applicants prior to that date so that people are able to prepare their filing.
- 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.
Legislation and Budget
- Today, the Joint Committees on Ways and Means along with the administration participated in an economic roundtable designed to provide information to the Legislature on the possible impacts of the pandemic on the state budget. The recording of the roughly 3- hour roundtable can be viewed online 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.
- The Department of Transitional Services, along with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, are working to to administer the Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) program authorized through federal legislation. EBT cards will be issued to children eligible for free or reduced-price meals including those whose families are not SNAP households.
- The Department of Agricultural Resources has a dedicated COVID-19 page with “buy local” resources including a statewide map of farm locations that remain open for business.
- The Massachusetts Farmers Market Association provides a list of food delivery services from local farmers for those wishing to continue purchasing local produce without traveling to a farmers market.
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.