Over the weekend and early this week, Governor Charlie Baker made several announcements regarding COVID-19 in the state.
Baker announced that all Massachusetts public and private schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year. He said that he understands that “school closures pout a tremendous strain on parents,” and “we know it’s a lot to ask,” but the state will be helping to boost remote learning for the rest of the school year.
“It’s the right thing to do, considering the facts on the ground associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baker said. He said that due to the lack of “authoritative guidance” about how to safely get kids to and from school and safely operate schools, “we believe students therefore cannot safely return to school and void the risk of transmitting the virus to others.”
To all high school seniors who were looking forward to end of year activities like trips and the prom, Baker said: “Keep your heads up…we’ll get through this pandemic together.”
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito also had a message for high school seniors.
“You lived a lot, you’ve had great times, you’ve learned a lot and you’re ready to that the next step in your life,” she said, “and there’s no doubt in my mind that the creativity of your superintendent, your principal, and your parents will make sure that the milestone that you’ve achieved will be celebrated and will be honored.”
She thanked the superintendents, parents, principals, educators, and students for helping the administration “arrive at what we know is the right decision at this point in time.”
Polito urged students to continue learning using the remote tools provided to them by their teachers, and to not take this announcement as meaning that “school’s out for summer.” She also encouraged them to stay in touch with their friends via technology, and continue to exercise and participate in hobbies from home.
She also said that “now is the time” to “lean in, embrace it , and do the best you can, not only for yourself, but to encourage your peers, and, to when the last day of the school year arrives, feel like you’ve accomplished something…”
Additionally, Baker announced that all non-emergency childcare will be closed until June 29. Baker said he recognizes this puts a strain on families, but the state will work towards “slowly restoring childcare capacity once it can be done safely.”
He also said there will be a partnership with WGBH to provide “resources and activities” for parents to do with their young children at home.
As of right now, the closure of non-essential businesses and the stay at home advisory are still in place until May 4.
Contact Tracing, PPE. Homelessness Efforts
As of April 20, there were 39,643 positive cases in Massachusetts, and there were 1,809 deaths.
On April 16, Baker talked more about contact tracing in the Commonwealth. He said that Massachusetts is the “first state in the nation” to trace individuals who are COVID-19 positive.
Baker said that 176 employees were hired to do contact tracing through phone calls, and he told residents that they should answer these calls if they get one, because this information is a “key” to stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives.
The state also remains a top tester in the nation, and personal protective equipment (PPE) continues to be distributed. Self testing kits have been sent out to 103 facilities in the Commonwealth, according to secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders.
On April 17, Baker announced the distribution of PPE in the form of around 200,000 respirator masks to local law enforcement officers and firefighters, including university police.
“To facilitate quick distribution of these masks, MEMA [Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency] is employing a regional point of distribution (POD) model where communities can pick up their supply of masks at their designated MEMA POD,” the state said on April 17. “These POD sites are open today and have already distributed tens of thousands of masks to first responders in the first few hours.”
Law enforcement officers and firefighters will now have a one-month supply of respirator masks, which comes to five masks each.
The Baker-Polito Administration also announced new steps to address homelessness during the pandemic.
“Massachusetts was among the first states to create designated isolation sites for COVID-positive homeless individuals, the result of a partnership between the Commonwealth, homeless shelters and municipalities that has been underway for weeks,” the state said on April 17.
The state announced “five key initiatives” in this effort, including the establishment of isolation and recovery sites for homeless individuals who have tested positive, providing supplies such as tents, beds, and portable showers to local quarantine sites, supporting families who are in domestic violence and emergency assistance shelters, expediting the distribution of PPE to shelters, and providing technical assistance to organizations and municipalities who request funding through FEMA.
Additionally, the Baker-Polito administration also announced an additional $100 reimbursement for each child who is placed in foster care, and issued an emergency order that creates emergency sites for children living in homes that have tested positive for the virus and need care in an isolated setting.
On April 20, the Baker-Polito administration announced that “Massachusetts residents who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits can now apply online for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program,” according to a release from the state.
This new program provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to those who are “unable to work because of a COVID-19 related reason but are not eligible for regular or extended unemployment benefits,” such as gig economy workers, those who are self-employed, independent contractors, or those who have limited work history.
“As a Commonwealth, we are committed to doing everything in our power, and moving as urgently as possible to get workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis the benefits they deserve,” Governor Baker said in a statement. “With the implementation of this new federal benefit program, we can better support workers not normally covered by the unemployment system like those who are self-employed or work in the gig economy.”
PUA was created by the federal CARES Act, as was the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides an additional $600 weekly for those receicing PUE or other unemployment benefits, the state said. This additional money will run through July 25.
“All approved PUA applications will initially receive the minimum weekly benefit amount, plus the additional $600 FPUC weekly benefit,” the state said. “Once a worker’s wages are verified, weekly benefit amounts may increase.” The benefits are retroactive to January 27 of this year or the date at which an individual became unemployed, whichever is more recent, as long as the unemployment reason is due to COVID-19.
For more information and to apply, visit mass.gov/pua.