I am writing to you today with Cambridge and public health updates.
Table of Contents
- Public Health Updates
- Cambridge Updates
- Legislative Updates
- A Glimpse at the Past Week
- Mental Health Services and Resources
Public Health Updates
Biden Administration Funds More Free COVID Tests
The Biden administration has announced a $600 million funding initiative to produce new at-home COVID-19 tests. It is relaunching a website for Americans to order up to four free tests per household in anticipation of a potential increase in COVID cases during the fall and winter months. These tests are designed to detect the most common COVID variants circulating and should be used by the end of this year. At-home testing is essential to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the number of new cases across the Commonwealth as the weather gets colder and more events move indoors, increasing the risk of transmission. Starting Monday, September 25, people can place orders at COVIDTests.gov.
New COVID Booster Receives FDA Approval
A new booster shot for COVID-19 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Tuesday. The latest version of the COVID booster is a monovalent vaccine designed to target the XBB.1.5 strain of the Omicron variant, offering more protections against the strain lineage and circulating related subvariants. Most insurance companies are expected to provide coverage of COVID boosters. Amid rising cases and hospitalizations across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also recommended COVID-19 vaccination updates for everyone aged 6 months and older to protect against serious illness. The CDC’s Bridge Access Program, set to launch this fall, will provide free COVID vaccines until December 2024 to ensure uninsured adults can continue free access to these vaccines. Read more information about recommendations for the 2023-24 COVID vaccines here. Visit Vaccines.gov to identify pharmacies with available doses, as well as those participating in the Bridge Access Program.
On August 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved a new passive immunization to protect infants from severe respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV - the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S. The CDC Advisory Committee unanimously voted to recommend the new antibody shot for wide use among infants and some high-risk children against respiratory infection. The Sanofi and AstraZeneca injection, marketed as Beyfortus, will be added to the CDC’s childhood immunization schedule and is also recommended for a second dose to help infants aged 8 to 19 months who meet underlying health issues through the second RSV season. Studies showed the new drug reduces the risk of RSV infection between 70% and 75% among infants and children aged 2 and younger. Beyfortus is expected to be ready in the fall before the RSV season.
CDC Recommends New Preventive RSV Shot for Infants
On August 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved a new passive immunization to protect infants from severe respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV - the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S. The CDC Advisory Committee unanimously recommended the new antibody shot for wide use among infants and some high-risk children against respiratory infection. The Sanofi and AstraZeneca injection, marketed as Beyfortus, will be added to the CDC’s childhood immunization schedule and is also recommended for a second dose to help infants aged 8 to 19 months who meet underlying health issues through the second RSV season. Studies showed the new drug reduces the risk of RSV infection by between 70% and 75% among infants and children aged two and younger. Beyfortus is expected to be ready in the fall before the RSV season.
MA Sees First Upticks in COVID Hospitalizations Since January
Hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 in MA began a downward trend in January but have risen 30% since hitting a low point on July 13. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, national data shows a similar increase in pattern, with COVID-19 hospitalizations having risen by 11% from June 24 to July 22. The number of these hospitalizations is far below those seen during the Omicron surge back in 2021-2022, when the number of COVID rose above 3,000 COVID hospitalizations in the state. Many experts highlight the importance of these increases relative to the number of cases right now.
Preparing for the Upcoming Flu Season
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published its recommendations on the annual flu shot ahead of the flu season. The CDC recommends routine annual influenza vaccination for all persons aged ≥6 months who do not have contraindications. According to the CDC, September and October are the best times for most people to get vaccinated. The main change in the flu vaccine recommendations this year is related to people with egg allergies, which previously recommended additional safety measures for its administration for people with severe egg allergies. The CDC report states that regardless of severity of previous reaction to eggs, an egg allergy alone does not require additional safety measures for influenza vaccination beyond those recommended for any recipient of any vaccine. Read more about the CDC’s recommendations here.
Paddy’s Cambridge Classic 5K
The annual Paddy’s 5K is this Sunday, September 24 at 10am. The race benefits the Cambridge Girls Softball League and will culminate with a block party outside Paddy’s at 7pm. Walden Street will be closed to traffic throughout the day. The event will have a beer garden, food trucks, and a DJ.
Danehy Park Family Day
The Danehy Park Family Day event will be held on Saturday, September 23, from 11 am–3 pm at Danehy Park (99 Sherman Street). The event is free for all ages! There will be activities, arts and crafts, children's amusement rides, entertainment, free food, and giveaways.
Public Health Helpline Supports Residents with COVID-19
The Cambridge Public Health Department manages a hotline to provide residents with COVID-19 additional support. To speak with someone, call the confidential COVID-19 Hotline for the public health departments of Cambridge, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop at 617-933-0797. Learn more about this service here.
City Offering Free At-Home COVID Tests
The Cambridge Public Health Department, in partnership with the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), is providing free COVID-19 rapid antigen at-home test kits. They can be picked up Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM in the CHA lobby at 119 Windsor Street. Cambridge businesses or organizations that would like free rapid tests to provide to customers can call the COVID-19 hotline at 617-933-0797 to request them.
State House hearings on the thousands of bills filed this session are back in full swing, and one of the bills I filed was heard this week.
- An Act advancing healthcare research and decision-making centered on patients and people with disabilities (H.1183) requires that any portfolio of research and analysis relied upon for decision-making that impacts access to healthcare treatments and services meets a standard of patient-centeredness. This bill also ensures that measurements like quality-adjusted life years cannot be used when determining healthcare treatment and service coverage.
Maternal Health Updates in the Commonwealth
Last session, I served as one of the co-chairs of the Special Commission on Racial Inequities in Maternal Health. After completing seven hearings over seven months in 2021, the Commission published a report that contained an overview of the current state of maternal health in Massachusetts and recommendations for how the state could address racial inequities. You can read the full report here. My commitment to this work began as a city councilor and continues to grow deeper. As one of the co-chairs on the Commission, it was powerful and impactful to listen to the stories of families of color across the Commonwealth, maternal health providers and advocates about the challenges faced and the unacceptable and avoidable statistics of maternal health outcomes for birthing people, particularly families of color. Last week, I submitted two letters on the subject to Secretary Kate Walsh, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The first dealt with MassHealth Doula Reimbursement Rates. Research and data show doula care to be one of the most effective tools in our toolbox to improve birthing families' health and safety. Higher compensation rates were among the Commission’s recommendations. I wrote a letter supporting higher compensation rates for doula services, as the proposed rates severely underpay doulas. You can read this letter here.
I continue communicating with the administration regarding maternal health, birthing options, and resources. Here is a copy of my latest communication applauding the Department of Public Health’s (DPH’s) decision to pause the closure of the UMass Memorial Health Maternity Ward in Leominster. Another of the Commission’s recommendations was to increase accessibility to birthing centers, and in light of the numerous closings of birthing centers across the Commonwealth, we need to address the loss of resources and services. I encouraged the Secretary to take urgent action to mitigate the challenges posed by these closures, and I have been encouraging the Governor and Secretary Walsh to convene a task force for maternal health and birthing options for families across the Commonwealth.
Although DPH announced on September 1st that they would pause the closure, it has since been announced that the hospital will move forward in closing the Leominster maternity ward. I am happy to see today’s announcement that the Governor is asking Secretary Walsh, Undersecretary for Health Dr. Kiame Mahaniah, and DPH Commissioner Robbie Goldstein to conduct a review of prenatal, postpartum, and birthing services across the state with a focus on health equity and health outcomes. While I am disappointed that families seeking care at the Leominster Hospital will have fewer birthing options, I am hopeful that the examination results will center the Commission report’s recommendations and bring the diverse group of stakeholders together.
Busy week for Joint Committee on Public Health
Finally, the Joint Committee on Public Health also conducted two public hearings this week, which I led with my co-chair, Senator Julian Cyr. The hearing on Wednesday covered bills related to Patient Safety, Health Equity; Emergency Medical Services, Disposition of Remains, and Miscellaneous Public Health Matters. The hearing on Thursday covered bills related to Professional Licensure and Scope of Practice.
A Glimpse at the Past Week
Thursday’s Public Health Committee hearing featured 41 bills on a variety of topics including medical licensure, alternative burial, and naturopathy.
Mental Health Services and Resources
If you or a loved one are struggling, please know you are not alone. There are some great resources here: decker4rep.com/2021/mental-health-services-and-resources/.
Intimate Partner Abuse Prevention Helpline
This initiative is designed to prevent intimate partner violence by fostering accountability and change in people who harm or may harm their intimate partner. You can find more information at 10to10helpline.org or by calling 877-898-3411.
As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.