I write to you this morning in recognition of the first anniversary of sending daily COVID-19 updates. We sent the first on Friday, March 13, 2020 and didn’t have a moment after that to pause and consider how long we would keep this up until August 2020. At that point, my staff and I huddled to talk about how long we would send these out each night. We decided that we could continue for as long as people needed reliably sourced information. Today, I’d like to remember how we navigated and managed the work over the last year as we experienced the pandemic and tried to support our community.
Thank You, Frontline Workers
Committee Work Related to COVID-19
Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery
As House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, I was determined to keep the state focused on the ongoing, and in many cases, increasing, mental health needs in our communities. To that end, I:
- Convened a weekly working group with over 50 stakeholders from across the state to address and advocate for behavioral health needs of residents.
- This group met twice weekly for 5 months and then once weekly for a month.
- I regularly flagged their concerns and their needs in my advocacy to Governor Baker and his administration.
- Worked with advocates across the state to ensure we continued to understand the mental health impact of the pandemic on children and youth. This work continues to be a priority of mine in the new legislative session.
- Was appointed by Speaker Robert DeLeo to work with advocates for victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault early in the pandemic.
- Provided regular behavioral health reports and information to my colleagues to share with their constituents.
Thanks to Speaker Ron Mariano, I am now serving as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health for the 2021-2022 legislative session. I am continuing to collaborate with mental health providers and advocates. I also:
- Assembled a Public Health panel and testified for the February 25, 2021 Oversight Hearing on COVID Vaccination Distribution, which was held by the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.
- Compile and share weekly COVID-19 public health updates with my colleagues in the House.
- Am co-Chair of the Commission on Racial Inequities in Maternal Health, which was established by Chapter 348 of the Acts of 2020.
- Was recently appointed by Speaker Mariano to the special legislative commission on structural racism in the Massachusetts probation system.
Office Work Related to COVID-19
My office sent out newsletters from March 13, 2020 through March 12, 2021. For the first three months, they were sent out 7 days a week, sometimes as late as 9 or 10 PM. We switched to 5 days a week at the end of June 2020. We continue to email with relevant and urgent information. If you’re on Instagram and don’t want to read the emails, each night we post them on my account (@repdecker).
In addition, my staff and I have worked non-stop to respond to constituent calls and emails and to reach out to vulnerable community members.
- We organized calls to over 6,000 seniors and dozens of businesses in the district and connected them with City resources. Special thanks to the Cambridge Women’s Center and many other community members who volunteered. Starting this Monday, we’re doing a new round of well check calls.
- We held 16 town halls on issues ranging from children’s and adolescent mental health during the pandemic to food access and critical services to the needs of seniors.
- We have and continue to help:
- Hundreds of individuals with issues related to the unemployment and pandemic unemployment assistance benefits that they were entitled to
- Small businesses gather information about Paycheck Protection Program loans and resources
- New parents access paid family medical leave benefits
- Seniors and other eligible residents secure their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after receiving their first
Working with and advocating for the Cambridge Health Alliance
Over the course of the pandemic, I have worked closely with those at the Cambridge Health Alliance, our safety-net hospital, to ensure they have the resources and support that they need from the state to continue providing outstanding care to all of their patients.
See some of the press coverage of our work:
- ‘It’s Panic’: CareWell Urgent Care Patients Concerned 2nd Vaccine Doses Will Be Canceled (2/27/21)
- Food for Free receives space for new distribution center (12/10/20)
- Homeless Families Struggle to Access State Aid Amid the Pandemic, Say Some Advocates (11/17/20)
- Pandemic Reignites Debate Over MCAS Exam Graduation Requirement (8/19/20)
- Prison advocates push for family access (7/9/20)
- Mass. Lawmakers Call for Pandemic Ban on Tear Gas (6/5/20)
- Massachusetts launches initiative on domestic violence risk during health crisis (4/16/20)
- Lawmakers seek to boost benefits for people hurting before pandemic (4/13/20)
- Bill would give extra money to welfare recipients (4/13/20)
From the earliest days of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, I’ve been working to hold Governor Baker and his administration accountable. I have written to Governor Baker about the obstacles facing people who are eligible for vaccines as well as the risks of reopening at this stage of the vaccine rollout.
- I often include examples from your emails in my communications with the Baker Administration, so thank you for sharing your stories with me and please keep them coming.
I could not be more grateful and appreciative for the incredibly talented and committed staff who've kept this going. Some are no longer on staff, but they are still in my heart, and others continue this work. My staff are the folks who make it possible for me to be the kind of advocate and state representative that you want and deserve.
Current Legislative Staff:
A very special shout out to former staff who’ve moved on to new adventures. I will forever be grateful for their work with me early in the pandemic.
- Akriti Bhambi, Chief of Staff
- Alicia Taylor Bard, Legislative Director
- Risa Mednick, Research Director for the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery
- Amanda Graff, Research Director for the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery
Taking Stock and Looking Ahead
We mourn the 121 in Cambridge, and 16,247 across the Commonwealth, who have lost their lives to this pandemic, and we know that those numbers don’t come close to measuring the costs that our communities have paid. We have seen those numbers rise in every newsletter. Now, however, we are tracking another figure: vaccinations. This is the hope that spring brings. The days are getting longer, the trees are budding, and the vaccination totals are rising.
We’re not out of the woods yet, and a great deal of caution is still warranted. Still, we are now looking at a very slow re-emergence of some semblance of our previous life. People who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors without masks, and can travel more freely. I know that many families, including my own, are looking forward to hugs between grandchildren and grandparents for the first time in a year. Many students will soon meet their classmates and teachers in person for the first time. This summer holds the potential to gather with groups of friends still with caution and maybe even with some public health protocols but maybe just a little less tension and maybe a little more often. I can’t wait to hold office hours in person, but in the meantime, we’re figuring out how to do it virtually.
I appreciate all of the feedback that I’ve gotten to these updates and I’ve incorporated many of your suggestions along the way. If you have written by hitting the reply button to my newsletter, there is a good chance that I have responded to you personally. Every morning between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM I am reading your messages and feeling grateful for your support. Truly it has nurtured me and kept my staff going.
As I said in the closing of my first COVID-19 update on March 13, 2020, stay tuned for more updates from my office in the days and weeks to come.