I write to you this evening with recent legislative news as well as relevant COVID-19 updates and resources.
Education Commissioner Riley to Ask Board to Grant Him Authority to Mandate Masks for All K-12 Public Schools to Provide Time to Increase Vaccinations
Earlier this week, I met with both Commissioner Riley and Department of Public Health Commissioner Margaret Cooke to continue to push for universal masking and the greater use of pool COVID-19 testing in all, not just some, of our schools and for mandating vaccines for school staff.
Additionally, I hope that you saw the Boston Globe op-ed piece that I co-wrote with my co-Chair of the Public Health Committee Senator Jo Comerford asking the Governor to follow the recommendations of state and national public health leaders, including his own advisers and members of his administration, and announce stronger mandates for masking, vaccination requirements, and testing in K-12 schools..
I was happy to learn today that the Governor is moving alongside Commissioner Riley to start the school year with a universal masking mandate in place. Commissioner Riley will ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to grant him authority to mandate masks for all public K-12 students, educators, and staff through October 1 to ensure schools fully reopen safely and to provide time for more students and educators to get vaccinated. After October 1, the commissioner’s policy would allow middle and high schools to lift the mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff only if the school meets a certain vaccination rate – at least 80 percent of students and staff in a school building are vaccinated. Unvaccinated students and staff would still be required to wear masks. The mask mandate would include exceptions for students who cannot wear a mask due to medical conditions or behavioral needs and would only apply indoors and to children 5 and older. Commissioner Riley asked the board to meet on Tuesday, August 24, to vote to give him this authority to institute the mask mandate.
Administration resumes reporting of hospital data
At a joint oversight hearing held by the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management held on Monday July 26th, we learned that the administration had stopped reporting key demographic data. On July 30th, I sent a letter to the Governor calling on his administration to resume robust and precise data analysis in their reporting of key demographic data indicative of the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color. After listening to community leaders, public health experts, and pediatricians testify for hours on end, it was more clear than ever that without this data, we cannot fully see whom we are failing.
I’m pleased that on August 19,2021, the Baker-Polito Administration resumed the reporting of age, gender, race and ethnicity for COVID-19 hospitalizations (see the Massachusetts Department of Public Health interactive digital dashboard).
Thank you to Speaker Mariano, who pressed the Administration for the resumption of this data reporting. This data shows that Black residents have been hospitalized for COVID-19 at twice the rate of White residents over the last 2 weeks.
However, the Administration has not yet published quantitative goals and benchmarks to define and achieve equitable vaccine penetration in communities as they were required to by July 31, 2021 per language included in the FY22 budget. This data is important in showing important COVID-19 trends and who we need to serve to ensure equity.
Mayor Kim Janey Reinstates Indoor Mask Mandate for the City of Boston
Today, Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey announced a city-wide mandate requiring people to wear face masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status, beginning August 27. The mandate will not apply to children age 2 and under. Learn more: https://bit.ly/3ghURkO.
Massachusetts executive branch employees to be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination
Yesterday, Governor Baker announced that state executive branch employees will be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination on or by Oct. 17. The executive order applies to those employed in a Commonwealth executive department agency, bureau department, office, or division of the Commonwealth. Exemptions will be granted for medical or sincere religious reasons. Learn more: https://yhoo.it/3k7R3DS.
Cambridge to require all employees and visitors to in municipal buildings to wear masks
Starting this Monday, August 23, the City of Cambridge will require mask wearing in all City buildings to protect the health and well-being of employees and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more: https://bit.ly/3j4PA1Q.
Christine Elow Named Acting Police Commissioner of Cambridge Police Department
Yesterday, City Manager Louis DePasquale announced the appointment of Superintendent Christine Elow as Acting Commissioner of the Cambridge Police Department effective Saturday, August 21, 2021. Learn more here: https://bit.ly/3y5XuMO.
Thank you to outgoing Commissioner Bard. I am grateful for his stewardship and innovation during his time as Commissioner and wish him and his family the best as he transitions to his new role as vice president for public safety at Johns Hopkins University.
Cambridge Public Health Department COVID-19 Mask Advisory
The Cambridge Public Health Department continues to urge residents -- vaccinated and not -- to wear a mask when indoors in shared spaces. To be extra protective, people who are living with someone who is immunocompromised may choose to wear a mask in all indoor settings beyond their own home.
Cambridge Works, City’s Transitional Jobs Program, Accepting Applications.
Cambridge Works City’s Transitional Jobs Program is now accepting applications for Cambridge Residents between the ages 18-35 who are in need of work experience in order to secure a full-time job. The 2021 cycle of Cambridge Works will run from mid-September through December. Learn more: camrbidgeworks.org
Nationwide and Federal Updates
U.S. advises COVID-19 booster shots for most Americans
On Wednesday, the Biden Administration announced that most Americans should get a coronavirus booster vaccination eight months after they received their second shot (if they received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines). Officials believe that recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also most likely require an additional dose, but are waiting on additional tests. Learn more: https://nyti.ms/3D1UULq.
AAP Recommends Universal Masking in School
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending that everyone age 2 and up wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status. They note that universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement, and compliance without the added burden of needing to monitor vaccination status. Read more at https://bit.ly/3j8AZB9.
Updated CDC Guidance for Schools
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status and says that children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place. Visit bit.ly/39RLWS8 for more information.
MA Vaccination Updates
CHA Offering Walk-In Vaccinations
The Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) is now offering walk-in vaccinations at its Somerville site (176 Somerville Ave), and also at the three CHA pharmacy locations (Cambridge Hospital, East Cambridge Care Center and the Malden Care Center). CHA has also been offering "pop-up" vaccination clinics in local communities. You can find information on hours and locations for the pop-up clinics here: https://www.challiance.org/patients-visitors/covid-19-vaccine. These sites are open to all Massachusetts residents age 12 and older. They encourage people to pre-register here or via MyCHArt (for CHA patients), but walk-ins are welcome. As a reminder, only the Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for use in people under 18 years old, and minors must have a consent form signed by their parent or guardian.
Walk-In Vaccinations Available at CVS
Massachusetts residents age 12 and over can now get walk-in appointments at the 389 vaccine-carrying CVS locations across the Commonwealth. Read more here.
Cambridge Vaccination Data
The City of Cambridge has added Cambridge Vaccination Data to its COVID-19 Data Center. Data will be updated weekly on Thursdays at 6 PM. Information as of Thursday, August 19, 2021:
Residents who have received at least 1 dose: 83,461
Fully Vaccinated Residents: 76,020
Daily COVID-19 Vaccination Report
The Department of Public Health publishes a Daily COVID-19 Vaccine Report in addition to its Weekly COVID-19 Vaccination Report. Information as of Friday, August 20, 2021:
Total doses administered: 9,088,968
Total cumulative doses shipped to MA: 10,165,730
Vaccination Appointment Resources
Preparing for your Vaccination Appointment
Learn about how you can prepare for your vaccination appointment here.
Resources for Booking and Getting to Your Appointment
- Online: Find an appointment or see walk-in availability at vaxfinder.mass.gov/. You can also book directly with a pharmacy at cvs.com or walgreens.com.
- Phone: Call 2-1-1 between 8:30 AM-8:00 PM Monday-Thursday or 8:30 AM-5:00 PM Friday-Sunday and select the prompt for “help scheduling a vaccine appointment.”
- In-Home Vaccinations: Anyone who is unable to get to a vaccine location can call the Homebound Vaccination Central Intake Line at 833-983-0485 between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM Monday-Friday.
- Need help? For detailed information about how to make an appointment, including updates about specific health care providers, see the Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services vaccine resources page.
- Need a ride?
- Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) is offering free transportation for local adults aged 60+ to COVID-19 vaccination sites in Cambridge and Somerville as well as Fenway Park and CHA Malden. For more information, click here. To register for a ride, call SCES at 617-628-2601 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- All MassHealth members or Health Safety Net patients can get free transportation to COVID-19 vaccine appointments. You can request transportation for a scheduled appointment by calling (800) 841-2900. You may find additional information on transportation help here.
Don’t forget to book your second appointment while you’re getting your first dose!
Massachusetts is currently in Phase Three of the vaccine rollout. Everyone age 12 and older is eligible for a vaccine. For more details and updates on vaccination priorities, please visit mass.gov/CovidVaccine.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has a Frequently Asked Questions site that is continually updated as they receive new questions. You may access the FAQs here. Questions can be submitted to COVID-19-Vaccine-Plan-MA@mass.gov.
Governor Baker Press Conference Updates
Governor Baker held a press conference today and urged people to prepare for Hurricane Henri, which is expected to affect much of the Commonwealth beginning Saturday night into Monday. The storm has the potential to bring strong winds, heavy rain, flooding and power outages. The Governor also activated the MA National Guard under state active duty to fulfill highwater rescue, debris clearing and public safety support from impacted communities. The activation order allows for up to 1,000 guardsmen and will remain in place until support is no longer needed. Learn more: www.mass.gov/MEMA.
Today’s Case Count
Total Cases: 694,552
New Cases: 1,459
Total Deaths: 17,805
Total Cases: 6591
New Cases: 32
Total Deaths: 123
The state has created an interactive dashboard, including the percentage of COVID-19 positive cases and testing rates by city and town. The dashboard can be viewed here.
For Harvard University COVID-19 information, click here. For MIT COVID-19 information, click here.
Cambridge COVID Testing Now Available 3 Days Per Week
The City of Cambridge is offering free COVID-19 testing on Mondays from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM and Thursdays from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM inside the CambridgeSide Mall, as well as on Sundays from 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM at 50 Church Street.
CambridgeSide Mall testing is located on the 2nd Floor above the Food Court. Free parking is available in the lower-level of the garage; entrance located on CambridgeSide Place.
Learn more at https://www.cambridgema.gov/covid19/Testing
Mental Health Services and Resources
If you or a loved one are struggling, please know that you are not alone. Here are some great resources:
Helpline for People Who Abuse Now Open to all MA residents
There is a new Helpline for People Who Abuse that launched on April 15, 2021, that came out of CARES ACT funding for COVID-19. The Helpline is open to any Massachusetts resident. This helpline is the first in the nation of its kind, and is based out of Western Massachusetts. You can find more information at 10to10helpline.org or by calling 877-898-3411.
Where to Give
Cambridge CoHousing is accepting donations of food for the Chelsea Food Collaborative either in a paper bag or small box once per month, with collections happening on the last Friday of every month. Drop off is between 9 AM and 2:30 PM at the entrance to CoHousing at 175 Richdale Avenue, Cambridge, MA. If you don't see someone at the moment you arrive, please leave it just inside the gate where we will have boxes marked "For Chelsea."
Transition House in Need of Emergency Donations:
If you are able to give to others during this time, I encourage you to look to additional places that are working to help those most affected by COVID-19:
- Mayor's Disaster Relief Fund
- Cambridge Health Alliance
- Cambridge Community Center
- Cambridge Community Foundation
- Food for Free
- Chelsea Food Collaborative
- Greater Boston Food Bank
- Hospitality Workers COVID-19 Emergency Fund
- Cradles to Crayons Emergency Essentials Fund
- Mount Auburn Hospital
- The One Chelsea Fund
- Daily Table
I also encourage you to donate to the following organizations that are engaging in racial justice work:
- Louis D. Brown Peace Institute
- Families for Justice as Healing
- Prisoners' Legal Services
- Boston NAACP
- Massachusetts Bail Fund
- ACLU of Massachusetts
- Union of Minority Neighborhoods
As always, do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.