COVID-19 Update # 28 From Representative Dykema

April 15 Coronavirus Update

A common request I have received is for more information on local town-by-town case data. This information is managed by each local Board of Health, and all four of our towns (Holliston, Hopkinton, Southborough, and Westborough) regularly update local counts online. In addition, the Department of Public Health announced today that town-by-town data will be regularly published on the state level, and I will begin sharing our local case numbers when they are updated each Wednesday as well.

Confirmed cases of April 14, 2020:

  • Holliston: 18
  • Hopkinton: 21
  • Southborough: 21
  • Westborough: 72

Coronavirus Testing and Response

Source: Department of Public Health data
  • There are 29,918 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, with 1,755 new cases and 1,108 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 132,000 tests for COVID-19. At this point, over 4,000 tests are being conducted on a daily basis.

Health Care

  • The administration today announced that Massachusetts has received an additional 1 million PPE from FEMA, which is being distributed this week. A detailed distribution chart updated through today can be found here.
  • Long-term care facilities have been a significant area of attention for the COVID-19 response, since residents are almost always at high risk of infection and care setups make social distancing challenging. Here are some steps being taken to address this need:
    • Mobile testing by the National Guard continues, testing over 4,500 residents at 264 facilities and the state is also providing testing kits to qualified providers in partnership with the Broad Institute at MIT. Over 4,000 testing kits have been distributed and another 8,600 requests are in process. 
    • If and when a facility becomes a “hot spot” for COVID-19, the state has begun sending rapid response critical care teams, including nurses and EMS techs, to care for patients on-site.
    • Staffing needs are critical, and so the state has set up a designated hiring portal for long term care positions, with $1,000 signing bonuses available to staff who are able to commit to work a minimum period.
  • Residents who are not in need of acute care but are concerned they may have symptoms are encouraged to use the Buoy Health screening app for guidance on symptoms and next steps. This helps residents determine if additional testing or care is needed while limiting unnecessary provider visits.
  • Massachusetts’s hospital bed capacity for the surge currently sits at 15,900 ICU and non-ICU beds. As of April 14, 46% of the 17,800 beds are available statewide, including 40% of beds in the MetroWest region.

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 (updated April 15) containing new questions and answers that have been raised throughout the process.
  • In addition, the SBA has released additional guidance in the form of proposed regulations for self-employed individuals and independent contractors looking to apply for PPP loans.
  • 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.

Unemployment and Worker Assistance

  • Economic Impact Payments (stimulus checks) are beginning to be distributed and some individuals who have direct deposit information on file with the IRS may have already received them. More information on eligibility and distribution timeframes can be found online.
  • The Treasury Department launched a new web tool allowing quick registration for Economic Impact Payments for eligible individuals who do not normally file a tax return. Particularly for those receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration and who have dependent children under the age of 17, it is to their advantage to go to this portal to ensure they also get the $500 per dependent Economic Impact Payment.
  • Additionally, people who receive Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability insurance benefits and who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and who have qualifying children under age 17 should now go to the IRS’s webpage to enter their information instead of waiting for their automatic $1,200 Economic Impact Payment.
  • For those who have experienced an insurance change related to job loss or income change, the Massachusetts Health Connector has created a webpage and detailed FAQ for those who need new health insurance to due recent circumstances. 
  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance has updated its FAQ regarding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (aid for those workers who do not qualify for regular UA, including self-employed and independent contractor workers). The portal is not yet open for applications but additional clarification on the information required of applicants is now available.

Legislation and Budget

  • The House and Senate have agreed on final language for legislation limiting evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislature is expected to formally approve the language and send it to the Governor for his signature tomorrow.
  • 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.

Additional Items

  • This week, the federal Food and Drug Administration released best practices for safe food handling and employee safety in all retail food service settings, including grocery stores, pick-up restaurants, and delivery, 
  • The Federal Transit Administration has also released guidance for transit worker safety and station cleaning for all public transit services, including buses and subway.
  • There will be a public meeting to provide an update on the investigation at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home tomorrow, April 16, at 5:15 p.m. To call in, visit this link.

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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