I write to you today about the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak with some recommendations and resources for your use. I recognize that these are uncertain times, and that for many of us this outbreak is a burden economically and in terms of ensuring that health and behavioral health care needs are met. I encourage you to check in with your friends and neighbors to ensure that their needs are being met in the days and weeks to come.
As House Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, I have been working to understand what this outbreak means in the context of behavioral healthcare needs. I am also working closely with both the State and our local government, Cambridge City Manager Louis DePasquale, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and CHA's CEO Dr. Assad Syed.
For local updates on the City of Cambridge's response to Coronavirus, visit the City of Cambridge's COVID-19 information page. This website includes information about temporary emergency restrictions on the city's public meetings and City Manager DePasquale's response to City Council on preparing for the spread of Coronavirus throughout the community.
Cambridge Public Schools will be closed for the next two weeks. Students and families will not have access to school buildings during this time. For updates from Superintendent Kenneth N. Salim, Ed.D. on the unfolding situation, visit this website.
While preparing yourself for this outbreak, I encourage you to also think about your neighbors. Those who work minimum-wage jobs and those who are food insecure are likely to be hardest hit by this outbreak. Consider making a donation to Food for Free in Cambridge or joining their COVID-19 Volunteer team. The Cambridge Women's Center is a community organization that provides a supportive community space for all women, and it is remaining open for the time being as a safe space for those who do not have a place to go. They are accepting donations to their Amazon wishlist here.
I also encourage you to support small businesses in Cambridge, as they are likely to experience a slow-down in business due to the Coronavirus. Many offer online or phone ordering services as well as gift cards that can be purchased now and used later.
My office is still in operation remotely, and myself and my staff are monitoring my email, Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov as well as my social media pages. If there is anything that you need assistance with during this time, I encourage you to reach out, while maintaining an understanding that we are multitasking, working to ensure that we are responding to people's needs during this outbreak while also working to ensure that we continue to move legislation forward. The Governor signed an Executive Order yesterday which will allow local municipal boards to meet remotely so long as public access is maintained. This will provide flexibility while also ensuring that necessary work continues. Trying to balance moving work forward while also ensuring that people are safe and we are meeting the many needs that will need to be met as we change our professional and social lives.
Massachusetts is currently in a state of emergency, which will support the state's response to coronavirus by providing additional resources to respond to the outbreak. As of yesterday, March 12th, there were 102 presumptive cases of Coronavirus in the state and six confirmed cases. It is important to keep in mind that there is a shortage of tests in the state, which has forced physicians to turn away patients they believe may need to be tested.
As you work to stay informed about Coronavirus, please be aware of false or misleading information about the Coronavirus. You may be seeing social media posts or receiving emails from friends with updates on the virus. Make sure that you are verifying this information and staying informed on your own with trusted government resources, provided below:
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is encouraging people to take the following steps to prevent the spread of the virus:
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Clean things that are frequently touched (like doorknobs and countertops) with household cleaning spray or wipes.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or your inner elbow, not your hands.
- Stay home if you are sick and avoid close contact with others. Governor Baker has encouraged all who can work from home to do so in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Additionally, those who are older adults, pregnant, have an underlying health condition, or have a weakened immune system those are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus and may want to avoid large gatherings. DPH is also recommending that non-essential large events and gatherings be postponed or canceled, and that school travel and activities that involve domestic or international students or teachers be postponed.
The Boston Public Health Commission website is another reliable source of information on the Coronavirus, and has published regular updates and a timeline of Boston cases and announcements.
The Massachusetts Attorney General's office has also issued guidance to Massachusetts residents to stay alert and be aware of individuals and businesses that may try to take advantage of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus. In order to do this, they recommend that residents:
- Beware of false and misleading information. Visit reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), theWorld Health Organization, or theMassachusetts Department of Public Health for updates on the coronavirus and its impact in Massachusetts and beware of untrustworthy sources that might be spreading false information.
- Stay home if you're sick. Most workers in Massachusetts have the right to earn and use up to 40 hours of job-protected sick time per year. Under state laws, workers must earn at least one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Learn more about your right to paid sick time on theAG's website. If you think your employer is violating the earned sick time law, call the AG's Fair Labor Division at 617-727-3465 orfile a complaint online.
- Get help with health insurance questions. If you have a problem with health insurance claims or medical bills or think you might be the victim of a scam, theAG's Health Care Division may be able to help. Call our helpline with questions or complaints at 1-888-830-6277.
- Watch out for high-priced or low-quality products.
I encourage you not to panic over this outbreak, but to take the steps recommended above seriously in order to protect yourself and your loved ones. Stay tuned for more updates from my office in the days and weeks to come.