COVID-19 Update # 29 From Representative Dykema

April 16 Coronavirus Update

We are in the 24th day of the Massachusetts stay-at-home advisory. As the Governor noted today, we are now fully in the “surge” period of COVID-19. The surge is defined based on statistics, but we know this is about much more than statistics. My thoughts are with all of those families who have been touched personally by the effects of this sometimes-deadly virus.

With the surge in mind, the Department of Public Health has begun regularly releasing hospital-by-hospital data on patients with COVID-19 currently in care. Today’s information is available here, and over half the hospital beds in Massachusetts remain available, including roughly 1,100 beds in the MetroWest region.

Below is a summary of the most recent efforts to respond to the wide range of needs in our communities. For a summary of previously issued guidance and state restrictions related to the coronavirus epidemic, visit mass.gov/coronavirus. For previous updates visit carolyndykema.com/covid19.

Coronavirus Testing and Response

Source: Department of Public Health data
  • There are 32,181 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, with 2,263 new cases and 1,245 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 140,000 tests for COVID-19. Over 8,000 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours alone.  

Health Care

  • The Commonwealth continues to ramp up one of the most robust “contact tracing” operations in the nation to identify anyone who has likely been in contact with the virus, even those who are not symptomatic. Today, the administration announced that the state has hired 176 employees to conduct contact tracing, along with hundreds more being trained and onboarded. Residents who received phone calls are encouraged to have the necessary short conversation with contact tracers to provide vital information to curb the spread of the virus.
  • Mobile testing at long-term care facilities continues, with the Department of Public Health reporting that 279 facilities have conducted 5,883 tests, with an additional 103 facilities receiving their own testing kits to conduct another 10,995 tests.
  • Personal protective equipment continues to be distributed across the Commonwealth. In the MetroWest region, over 500,000 pieces of PPE have been distributed, including 98,000 N95 masks and 93 ventilators. A detailed distribution chart updated through today can be found here.
  • 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 15, 46% of the 17,800 beds are available statewide, including 40% of beds in the MetroWest region.

Unemployment and Worker Assistance

  • 573,000 Massachusetts workers have filed for unemployment in the last four weeks, and the Department of Unemployment Assistance has begun payments to 315,000 workers. As workers and families in Massachusetts continue to feel the economic impacts of the pandemic, these trends will likely continue for the near future, and DUA has taken significant steps to increase staffing levels and capacity to meet this unprecedented rush of demand.
  • Beginning last week, federally-funded supplementary unemployments payments of $600 per week have begun to be distributed by the Department of Unemployment Assistance in addition to regular benefits. Regardless of when payments are distributed, they will be applied retroactively for all weekly claims filed back to March 29. 
  • Since switching to remote service, over 115,000 calls have been made by over 600 staff at DUA call centers and over 175,000 individuals have participated in DUA’s virtual town halls.
  • 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 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.

Small Business and Manufacturing

  • Today, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced that new loan payment approvals are on hold following the high volume of applications to the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Disaster Injury Loan Program. Massachusetts businesses have received over $2 billion in grants and loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration since the start of the crisis, and the Legislature and administration are urging our federal partners to continue supporting this essential program with new federal legislation.
  • The SBA has also released an updated FAQ online (updated April 15) containing new questions and answers that have been raised throughout the process of administering the new programs.

Legislation and Budget

  • The House and Senate have both adopted final language for legislation limiting evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill has now been sent to the Governor for his signature.
  • The Speaker has announced that the House will be convening a working group to assess the effects of COVID-19 on domestic violence and sexual assault, to analyze state policies, and to develop strategies for addressing needs.

Additional Items:

  • Although the Boston Marathon is special to each and every one of us, particularly those who live in Hopkinton, the Town has urged all individuals not to participate in any unofficial marathon activities on the originally-scheduled date of the race. Additional parking restrictions will be in place on April 20, and runners are strongly discouraged from traversing the marathon route to ensure that public safety officials and other first responders are able to focus on the COVID-19 response.

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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