COVID-19 Update from Sen. Sal DiDomenico: As you all know, the COVID-19 situation is evolving quickly, so I want to take the opportunity to ensure that everyone is up to date on some of the recent steps that the State Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
• On Thursday, March 12, my colleagues and I in the Legislature allocated $15 million dollars in a supplemental budget to support the Commonwealth’s monitoring, treatment, containment, public awareness, and prevention efforts in response to COVID-19. This was an important first step to allow the Administration and DPH to use these funds in the areas of greatest need, according to public health experts.
• The Legislature has also provided initial funding of $95,000 at the request of DPH for State Lab supplies and equipment for time sensitive COVID-19 testing.
• Last week, Gov. Baker announced an emergency order temporarily suspending the requirement for public access to the physical location where a public meeting is taking place, allowing state and local governments to carry out essential functions and operations safely for members of the public, government officials, and employees. This will allow for the use of a phone conference line for members of the public, social media, and/or other internet streaming services, on-line meeting services, or methods of access.
• On Friday, March 13, the Department of Public Utilities issued a moratorium to suspend all shut-offs of gas and electric utilities, including Municipal Light and Gas Plants, for residential customers during the State of Emergency.
• This past weekend, the Baker Administration announced a slate of changes to the state’s clinical and health care infrastructure that will accelerate COVID-19 testing:
*Clinicians will no longer need to receive approval from the state public health laboratory before submitting samples for patients within a broad range of criteria to allow for greater/more rapid testing.
*Clinicians can also submit a single nasal swab rather than both a nasal and throat swab, which will allow us to test more people throughout the day.
*New state guidance calls for MassHealth to cover the costs of both video- and telephone-based telehealth conferences between patients and doctors.
*Additionally, everyone on MassHealth will be able to acquire 90-day prescriptions and early refills, and the state will also expand hospital presumptive eligibility to any low-income patient that a provider suspects may have COVID-19.
•The Baker Administration has also set up a command center in Boston, where Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders will focus solely on leading planning and response to COVID-19. The center will have authority and discretion to tap whatever state funds are necessary. Priorities will include expanding the capacity and distribution of testing, the allocation of personal protective equipment, surge hospital crisis capacity, scenario modeling and contingency planning and supply chain vulnerabilities.
Of course, this all comes in addition to the announcement on Friday that the Trump Administration has declared a national state of emergency, freeing up $50 billion to help fight the pandemic. This declaration will allow FEMA to tap into these funds to mobilize personnel more quickly to help state and local agencies and leaders respond.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services has also been empowered to waive certain laws and regulations to ensure the virus can be contained and patients treated. This is funding and change is much needed in order to increase testing and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
•Finally, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has announced that Massachusetts 2-1-1 will now provide real-time COVID-19 information, resources, and referrals in multiple languages. This expansion is the result of an increased investment in resources directed towards this 24-hour state-supported telephone hotline. This new service is in addition to a dedicated sitemass.gov/covid19, which is updated daily with information and resources. Moving forward, please know that you can use this as a resource of up to date information from our public health officials.