News & Updates

Gov’s Reopening Report released

Public health data, key metrics established to track real-time progress, determine advancement to future phases while mandatory workplace safety standards, sector-specific guidance issued to all Phase 1 industries, businesses, customers and activities

BOSTON — Today, the Baker-Polito Administration released Reopening Massachusetts, the Reopening Advisory Board’s report, which details a four-phased strategy to responsibly reopen businesses and activities while continuing to fight COVID-19. The Administration also released a new “Safer At Home” Advisory, which instructs residents to stay at home unless engaging with newly opened activities, as a way to continue limiting the spread of COVID-19. Starting today, based on current public health data and trends, Massachusetts will begin Phase 1 of a cautious reopening, and workplaces that are permitted to open are required to follow new safety protocols and guidance.

Learn more about the reopening process: www.mass.gov/reopening

VIEW THE FULL REPORT

VIEW GUIDANCE FOR SPECIFIC INDUSTRIES

Detailed in Reopening Massachusetts, each phase of the reopening will be guided by public health data and key indicators that will be continually monitored for progress and will be used to determine advancement to future phases. Industries, sectors, and activities that present less risk will open in earlier phases. Those that present more risk will open in later phases.

The 17-member Reopening Advisory Board, co-chaired by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, consists of public health experts, municipal leaders and members of the business community representing many facets of the Massachusetts economy. Since its formation on April 28, the Board met with a total of 75 stakeholder groups ranging from industry associations, regional chambers of commerce, community coalitions, and labor organizations, representing over 112,000 different businesses and more than two million workers across the Commonwealth. The Reopening Advisory Board also considered written comments from over 4,500 employers, organizations, and individuals in the development of its plan.

Safer at Home Advisory:

Effective today, the Department of Public Health also updated the Stay at Home Advisory, replacing it with a new, “Safer at Home” Advisory. The new Safer at Home Advisory instructs everyone to stay home unless they are headed to a newly opened facility or activity. It also advises those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions to stay home with the exception of trips required for health care, groceries, or that are otherwise absolutely necessary. All residents must continue to wear a face covering in public when social distancing is not possible, and individuals are advised to wash their hands frequently and be vigilant in monitoring for symptoms. Restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people remain in effect.

Public Health Metrics:

Key public health metrics will determine if and when it is appropriate to proceed through reopening phases. They include:

  • COVID-19 positive test rate;
  • Number of individuals who died from COVID-19;
  • Number of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals;
  • Health care system readiness;
  • Testing capacity; 
  • Contact tracing capabilities. 

Phase 1 Reopening:

Based on the public health metrics, manufacturing facilities and construction sites will open effective today with applicable guidelines.

Places of worship will be able to open with guidelines that require social distancing and encourage services to be held outdoors.  

Hospitals and community health centers that attest to specific public health and safety standards can begin to provide high priority preventative care, pediatric care and treatment for high risk patients.

Under a staggered approach, additional Phase 1 sectors of the economy will be permitted to open effective May 25 including:

  • Lab space;
  • Office space;
  • Limited personal services, including: hair salons, pet grooming, car washes;
  • Retail: remote fulfilment and curbside pick-up;

Also permitted to open on May 25 with applicable guidelines, are the following:

  • Beaches;
  • Parks;
  • Drive-in movie theaters;
  • Select athletic fields and courts; 
  • Many outdoor adventure activities;
  • Most fishing, hunting, and boating;
  • Outdoor gardens, zoos, reserves, and public installations.

Additional sectors expected to open on June 1 as part of Phase 1 include office spaces in the city of Boston with applicable guidelines.  

Reopening Massachusetts In Phases:

The goal of this phased reopening plan is to methodically allow businesses, services, and activities to resume, while avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19 that could overwhelm the state’s health care system and erase the progress made so far. 

  • Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks and could last longer before moving to the next phase;
  • If public health data trends are negative, specific industries, regions, and/or the entire Commonwealth may need to return to an earlier phase;
  • The Commonwealth will partner with industries to draft sector-specific protocols in advance of future phases (example: restaurant-specific protocols will be drafted in advance of Phase 2);
  • If we all work together to defeat COVID-19, we can proceed through each phase.

Success in earlier phases will refine criteria for future phases including travel, sizes of gatherings, as well as additional retail openings, lodging and accommodations, arts, entertainment, fitness centers, museums, restaurants, youth sports, and other activities.  

Industry-Specific Guidance:

Businesses are not required to reopen, and may not do so if they are unable to follow safety protocols. The Baker-Polito Administration has developed specific guidance so that each industry reopens as safely as possible. Businesses are expected to implement these protocols in addition to the more general Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards.

As of May 18, materials for the sectors eligible to open in the first phase of reopening are included on the mass.gov/reopening website. Guidance for sectors opening in later phases will be posted online in advance of those phases.

In order to reopen, businesses must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Required materials are located on mass.gov/reopening, and include detailed sector-specific circulars and checklists to facilitate compliance. 

Self-Certification for Businesses:

Required materials for businesses to self-certify are located on mass.gov/reopening, and include:

  • COVID-19 Control Plan template, which must be retained on premises and provided in the event of an inspection;
  • Compliance Attestation poster to be posted in a location visible to employees and visitors indicating a completed COVID-19 Control Plan; and,
  • Other posters and signs describing rules for maintaining social distancing, hygiene protocols, as well as cleaning and disinfecting. 

Businesses operating to provide Essential Services, as defined in the Governor’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order, updated on March 31, April 28, and May 15, may remain open and have until May 25, 2020 to comply with the general workplace safety standards, as well as their industry’s sector-specific protocols.

Health Care:

Effective May 18, hospitals and community health centers who attest to meeting specific capacity criteria and public health/safety standards will be allowed to resume a limited set of in-person preventative, diagnostic and treatment services.

Effective May 25, other health care providers who attest to meeting these standards may resume limited in-person services.  

Services that may be performed are limited, based on the provider’s clinical judgment to high-priority preventative services, including pediatric care, immunizations, and chronic disease care for high-risk patients, and urgent procedures that cannot be delivered remotely and would lead to high risk or significant worsening of the patient’s condition if deferred.

In order for the phased in hospital expansion and non-hospital reopening, the following statewide metrics must be met:

  • 30 percent of hospital ICU beds (including staffed surge capacity) must be available;
  • 30 percent of total hospital beds (including staffed surge capacity) must be available. 

As a precursor, health care providers must meet the following requirements to reopen or expand services, which include: 

  • Attesting to public health standards and specific guidelines;
  • Ensuring adequate personal protective equipment is on hand, reliable supply chain and other supplies and policies in place;
  • Infection control readiness (workflow, cleaning, social distancing, etc.);
  • Workforce and patient screening and testing protocols; and, 
  • Hospitals must have ≥ 25 percent ICU and total bed capacity and reopen pediatric ICU and psychiatric beds if they had been repurposed for surge capacity.

Child Care:

The Commonwealth’s mission in reopening is to increase access to child care and youth programs while continuing to protect children and staff and preventing the spread of COVID-19. Child care and summer recreation camps will reopen in a phased approach. The Departments of Early Education and Care and Public Health are developing guidelines that balance families’ need for child care with health and safety. The initial reopening plan will focus on families who have no safe alternative to group care by increasing emergency child care capacity. EEC will also partner with industries returning to work to develop options specific to their workplaces.

In March, the Baker-Polito Administration stood up an emergency child care system to support children of essential workers and vulnerable families with extra virus mitigation protocols. During Phase 1, the emergency child care system we have already in place will be utilized to meet the needs of people with no alternatives for care. Currently, only 35% of the 10,000 child emergency child care capacity is occupied and the system has the ability to serve more families to provide care options as more sectors come back online.

Transit:

The MBTA has been and will continue to implement measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the system to keep employees and riders safer. 

While public transportation unavoidably creates some risk of transmission, working together the MBTA, riders and employers can significantly reduce that risk: 

  • ​Riders are required to wear face coverings and must make efforts to distance. Riders are asked to avoid riding transit if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Employers are encouraged to stagger schedules and implement work from home policies to reduce demand, especially during rush hours;
  • The MBTA will continue to take protective and preventative measures such as frequently disinfecting and cleaning vehicles and stations and providing protective supplies to workers. 

To mitigate risk while providing appropriate levels of service, the MBTA will: 

  • ​Support the transit needs of essential workers and those returning to the workplace in Phase 1 while continuing with limited service to maximize employee and rider safety;
  • Ramp up to a modified version of full service by Phase 3, although social distancing efforts will limit effective capacity on vehicles even after full service schedules are restored;
  • Actively communicate public health guidance and schedule adjustments in-station, online, and over social media. 

Supplies:

In order to operate, all Massachusetts businesses will need to meet the Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards and relevant Sector-Specific Protocols published by the state. To support businesses, the state has developed a guide to educate business owners on what supplies are needed to return to workplaces, and a portal to connect businesses with manufacturers and distributors. These are now available to business owners via mass.gov/reopening.

​In order to operate, all Massachusetts businesses will need to meet the Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards and relevant Sector-Specific Protocols published by the state.

​The state has developed a guide to educate business owners on what supplies are needed to return to workplaces, and a portal to connect businesses with manufacturers and distributors.

Educational materials will be provided to define how an employer should prepare their work spaces to reopen and what products are appropriate for employees to protect themselves at work.

While face coverings are critical, medical grade face coverings are not necessary for non-health care workers. 

Schools and Higher Education:

As previously announced, Massachusetts’ K-12 school buildings will remain closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year, with remote teaching and learning in place. 

Schools will continue offering essential non-educational services to their communities. Plans are being made for the summer learning programs and 2020-21 school year, and will be shared with the public in the weeks to come.

Massachusetts’ diverse higher education institutions continue to foster teaching, learning, student support, and essential research remotely throughout this time. 

They are working together and in partnership with the state to ensure a safe and gradual return to campus life. In the upcoming weeks, institutions will develop customized reopening plans with safety of their communities in mind.

Rep. Khan & Rep. Cutler to host panel on Disability Workplace Matters

Thursday, May 21 at 10:30 a.m.

VIRTUAL STATE HOUSE, MA — Residents seeking assistance regarding disability benefits, legal rights and workplace issues for persons with disabilities and their family members in the era of COVID-19 are invited to participate in an online forum hosted by Rep. Kay Khan and Rep. Josh S. Cutler.

The forum will be held Thursday, May 21 at 10:30 a.m. and streamed live on PAC-TV at PACTV.org/live. It will also be rebroadcast on the Talking Information Center, a state-wide reading service for visually impaired listeners. 

The panel will include experts from The Arc of Massachusetts, UMASS’s Work Without Limits program and the Disability Law Center (DLC). Topics to be covered may include the effect of Economic Impact Payments on public benefits, legal resources for persons with disabilities, and family/caregiver resources during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The panelists are: 

• Brian Forsythe, Project Coordinator, Benefits Counseling, Work Without Limits
• Kerry Mahoney, Director of Education & Outreach, The Arc of Massachusetts
• Tom Murphy, Senior Attorney, Disability Law Center

Questions can be sent in ahead of time, or during the program, and will be addressed on air. Please email questions to Rep. Cutler’s office at josh.cutler@mahouse.gov. Rep. Khan (D-Newton) is House Chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities and Rep. Cutler (D-Pembroke) is the Vice-Chair. 

For more information on the ARC see: thearcofmass.org/. The Disability Law Center: www.dlc-ma.org/. Work Without Limits: workwithoutlimits.org/

Legal Aid Forum

Excited to share details on program I’ll be hosting with a panel of legal aid attorneys focused on topics of special importance during this time, including housing law, unemployment, access to benefits & elder law.

Our panel includes civil legal aid attorneys from South Coastal Counties Legal Services (SCCLS) and the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts.

You can send in your questions ahead of time on any of these topics. You’ll be able to watch via streaming provided by PAC-TV and we will broadcast via Facebook. We’ll also be taking questions live as time permits.

The forum is Thursday, May 7 at 10:30am. It will stream live at PACTV.org/live. Please send in your questions ahead of time so we can organize them by subject matter. You may email josh.cutler@mahouse.gov and please put “Legal Aid Services Forum” in the subject line.

This is a great opportunity to get legal expertise in some particularly relevant areas right now and learn about resources available to help you. Thanks to PAC-TV for hosting and facilitating the program.

South Coastal Counties Legal Services is a non-profit that provides free legal services to qualified low-income applicants in our service area. For more information see: http://www.sccls.org.

Reopening Advisory Board

Further details on today’s orders and members of the new Reopening Advisory Board


ESSENTIAL SERVICES ORDER: Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public will be extended until May 18th. Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also extends the existing ban on gatherings of more than 10 people until May 18th.


STAY AT HOME ADVISORY: Governor Charlie Baker announced that the Department of Public Health’s stay-at-home advisory will remain in effect. Residents are strongly urged to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary person to person contact during this time period. Residents who are considered at high risk when exposed to COVID-19 should limit social interactions with other people as much as possible.


EXECUTIVE BRANCH EMPLOYEE GUIDANCE: The Baker-Polito Administration today also extended the guidance issued to Executive Branch employees on protocol during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure state government can continue to provide key services while protecting the health and safety of the public and the Executive Branch workforce. Under the guidance, all employees performing non-core functions who are able to work remotely should continue to do so until May 18th.


REOPENING ADVISORY BOARD: Today, Governor Baker announced the formation of the Reopening Advisory Board, which will be Co-Chaired by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. The Board brings public health officials together with leaders from the business community and municipal government from across the Commonwealth. This group is charged with advising the administration on strategies to reopen the economy in phases based on health and safety metrics. It will meet with key stakeholders and solicit input from a variety of constituencies over the next three weeks to develop a report by May 18th that will include DPH approved workplace safety standards, industry frameworks and customer protocols and guidelines, including enforcement mechanisms and coordination with municipal leaders. This report is due on the 18th, but the administration has made clear that public health data and guidance from health care experts will dictate the timeline of the re-opening process.


The 17-member Advisory Board is composed of three public health officials, including Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, three municipal officials, and eleven leaders from the business community, including MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. Members of the Advisory Board bring a range of perspectives to the table, such as an understanding of workplaces and workforces and insights into key areas like financial markets, education, manufacturing and transportation.


REOPENING ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS:
· Aron Ain, CEO, Kronos Inc & Ultimate Software· Carlo Zaffanella, Vice President and General Manager, Maritime & Strategic Systems, General Dynamics Mission Systems· Corey Thomas, CEO, Rapid 7· Daniel Rivera, Mayor, City of Lawrence· Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital· Girish Navani, CEO and Co-Founder, eClinicalWorks· Joe Bahena, Senior Vice President, Joseph Abboud Manufacturing· Kathryn Burton, Chief of Staff, City of Boston· Laurie Leshin, Ph.D., President, Worcester Polytechnic Institute· Linda Markham, President, Cape Air· Mark Keroack, President & CEO, Baystate Health· Monica Bharel, Ph.D., Commissioner, Department of Public Health· Nicole LaChapelle, Mayor, City of Easthampton· Pamela Everhart, Head of Regional Public Affairs and Community Relations, Fidelity Investments · Stephanie Pollack, Transportation Secretary and CEO· Steve DiFillippo, CEO, Davios Restaurants· Wendy Hudson, Owner, Nantucket Book Partners

Nursing & Congregate Care facilities update:

More details on new measures announced today for Nursing & Congregate Care facilities:

The Baker-Polito Administration today announced a second round of funding up to $130 million for nursing facilities to support COVID-19 response efforts over the next two months, as well as increased funding of $44 million for residential congregate care service providers. This funding will support staffing costs, infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to increased financial support, the administration has implemented required testing for staff and residents of nursing facilities.

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT SERVICES: The Commonwealth will offer support for temporary staffing assistance for all nursing homes in need. This includes clinical response teams of 120 nurses and CNAs deployed in teams of 10 during emergency situations, crisis management support and deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard. These efforts will be supported by a centralized infection control performance improvement center established by the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

INCREASED FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR NURSING FACILITIES: The administration is releasing a second round of funding for two months for nursing homes that meet specific requirements and accountability measures. The funding is dependent on required COVID-19 testing of all staff and residents, regular infection control audits, appropriate allocation of funding and the public release of facility performance and funding use.

Further details about this second round of funding available for nursing facilities include:

REQUIRED TESTING: Facilities must test all staff and residents, and report results to the state. Facilities are also encouraged to identify and pursue testing avenues with area hospitals, EMS or other providers. The state’s mobile testing program is available for those facilities unable to set up testing.

IN-PERSON CLINICAL AUDITS: All nursing facilities will be regularly audited in-person for infection control and accountability, and each will receive a baseline audit during the first two weeks of May. These clinical audits will be conducted using a 28-point Infection Control Checklist, based on DPH, CDC and industry guidance. This checklist includes infection control, PPE supply and usage, staffing, clinical care, and communication requirements.

Facilities will be scored into three ratings: in adherence (green), in adherence but warrants inspection (yellow) and not in adherence (red).

FUNDING ACCOUNTABILITY: Funding release is dependent on accountability measures, including audit ratings and appropriate funding allocation. Facilities must use this funding for staffing, infection control, PPE and other supports that directly benefit staff, including hotels for staff retention and infection control.

STAFFING SUPPORTS: The Commonwealth will provide temporary staffing assistance to all nursing homes during the COVID-19 public health crisis, including clinical rapid response teams to provide urgent, short-term staffing for facilities in need, crisis management experts, and the deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard to aid with logistical, environmental and other supports. The state will also contract with staffing agencies to support facilities that are otherwise unable to access staffing agencies.

INFECTION CONTROL PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT CENTER: The Massachusetts Senior Care Association and Hebrew Senior Life, in coordination with other industry providers, will lead an infection control performance improvement center to ensure accountability and provide assistance to facilities that are struggling with infection control capability. The performance improvement center will provide infection control protocols and trainings and PPE supply chain and management support, as well as identify, triage and provide infection control specialist support and intervention.

PUBLIC REPORTING: All performance measures and funding use will be publicly reported using a mandatory reporting template, and the Commonwealth will provide consolidated information in the testing completion status by facility, COVID-19 case counts and mortality of staff and residents, and audit results. These reports will be due shortly after June 30, and the Commonwealth will then compile and deliver a public report.

INCREASED SUPPORT FOR RESIDENTIAL CONGREGATE CARE SERVICE PROVIDERS: THE administration is providing a second phase of increased funding – $44 million – across purchase of service residential congregate care service providers during the COVID-19 outbreak. This funding builds on the $95 million in increased funding announced on March 30, bringing the total funding for these providers to $139 million, and will support increased staffing costs, infection control and PPE.

To mitigate many residential congregate care service providers’ expenses related to the COVID-19 surge, Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) agencies will increase the monthly reimbursement for May and June services for an additional 15%, in addition to the previously announced 10% increase. Further support to address provider needs during the surge include mobile COVID-19 testing expansion and coordination with MEMA to provide PPE to providers.

Updates on loan programs and worker benefits

This edition has important updates on small biz loan programs, unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and other types of assistance. 

PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM (PPP) UPDATE: The US Small Business Administration will resume accepting PPP loan applications on Monday, April 27 at 10:30 AM from approved lenders on behalf of any eligible borrower. Congress appropriated an additional $310 Billion for the program and added some new regulations to steer more funds to customers of community banks and credit unions. For PPP loans you apply though your bank and they submit to SBA on your behalf. If you did not already start the process with your bank, you need to act fast as there will be a major backlog. https://www.sba.gov/paycheckprotection/find

SBA EIDL & EMERGENCY ADVANCE UPDATE: The SBA will also resume processing EIDL loans and emergency advances that were previously submitted online. They have not yet announced whether brand new applications will be accepted. If you already applied (loan or advance) and got a confirmation code that begins with the number 3 then you should not need to take any further action and you should get an emailed response within approximately three weeks of the date of application. See: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/economic-injury-disaster-loan-emergency-advance

IRS STIMULUS CHECK PAYMENT TOOL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Treasury announced Sunday that they have made some upgrades to their stimulus check website and the ‘Get My Payment’ tool function that allows individuals to input their information or track their payment. See: https://sa.www4.irs.gov/irfof-wmsp/notice

EMPLOYEE RETENTION TAX CREDIT (ERTC). The CARES Act includes a good alternative to PPP for some businesses. This ERTC is not a loan or advance that you have to apply for, but rather a direct tax credit that you can deduct from your business taxes and in some cases get refunded directly by the IRS. It’s up to $5,000 per employee and businesses and non-profits of any size are eligible. It does require that your business have experienced a significant loss in revenue or a partial/full shutdown. Details on the IRS page: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/employee-retention-credit. A more user friendly summary is available from the U.S. Chamber: www.uschamber.com/ertc

UNEMPLOYMENT FOR SELF-EMPLOYED & GIG WORKERS (PUA). The new federal PUA program provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to many not eligible for regular or extended unemployment benefits. This includes self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and those with limited work history. Applicants can learn more and apply at www.mass.gov/pua.

UNEMPLOYMENT VIRTUAL TOWN HALL: If you need help applying for unemployment benefits I recommend you sign up for one of the Virtual Town Halls hosted by DUA. They are held daily. Sign up form is here: https://www.mass.gov/forms/massachusetts-department-of-unemployment-assistance-dua-virtual-town-halls

ARTS & CULTURAL GRANTS. Sharing news of another grant opportunity for cultural groups, museums, libraries, archives, & other nonprofit organizations. Beginning May 4 you can apply for grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 through Mass Humanities, the state affiliate of NEH. Details here: https://masshumanities.org/Cares-Act/

HEALTH CONNECTOR ENROLLMENT: The Health Connector is offering an extended enrollment period through May 25. This is a good option to look at if you lose your employer sponsored health insurance and are not eligible for Mass. Health. See: https://www.mahealthconnector.org/

PANDEMIC EBT FOR FAMILIES: All families with school aged children who qualify for reduced lunch are eligible for Pandemic EBT benefits. Households will receive $5.70 per eligible student per day, or $28.50 a week. If receiving DTA benefits, your P-EBT benefits will be added to your EBT card. If not actively receiving DTA benefits, you will receive a P-EBT card for each eligible student in your household. The money will carry over from month to month. Benefits that are not used for over a year will be removed from the card. See: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/pandemic-ebt-p-ebt

FACEBOOK MICRO GRANTS. Facebook is offering cash grants of $2,500 plus $1,500 in optional ad credits for small businesses with 2-50 employees in operation one year or longer. Application window for Boston regional area now open: https://www.facebook.com/business/boost/grants

VERIZON SMALL BIZ RECOVERY FUND. Offering Small Business Relief Grants in the amounts of $5,000, $7,500, and $10,000. Priority will be given to “entrepreneurs of color, women- and veteran-owned businesses and other enterprises in historically under-served places.” Applications must be submitted by Tuesday, April 28 at midnight. https://www.research.net/r/LISCreliefgrant