Beacon Hill Update from MASS Access May 12, 2020May 12, 2020
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Contact David Gauthier
As of Monday night, DPH reported a total of 78,462 cases of COVID-19. The state has now confirmed a total of 5,108 deaths from the virus.
Governor Baker’s latest extension of his essential work order and stay-at-home advisory is due to expire next Monday, May 18th.
Reopening will play out across four distinct phases and involve new widespread and mandatory safety regulations for all businesses.
The approach, announced by Governor Baker on Monday, could launch as soon as next week with an initial phase applying to businesses that are best able to limit the type of person-to-person contacts that have fueled the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The broad-stroke framework that Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito outlined would ease forced shutdowns of non-essential businesses gradually over a timeline yet to be determined, building up to a “new normal” once a vaccine or other treatment for the highly infectious disease is available.
Many details about the process are still in the works and will depend on the recommendations an advisory panel will file in one week and on the trajectory of trends in the state’s COVID-19 outbreak. If public health data shows a new spike in cases or increased risks, the administration could order a return to an earlier phase.
Since its launch, the reopening advisory board has met with 44 industry associations and community coalitions and has received written comments from more than 2,200 organizations.
All employers in Massachusetts will be required to follow a set of safety standards unveiled Monday.|
Officials hope the stricter requirements which cover hygiene, cleaning, social distancing and business operations will lower the risk of coronavirus spread and stave off a potential second surge in cases.
To comply with the standards, every business must ensure customers, employees and vendors are at least six feet apart “to the greatest extent possible.”
Employees must wear face coverings or masks and wash their hands frequently, and employers have to ensure disinfection of all shared or frequently touched surfaces “at intervals appropriate to said workplace.”
Any workers who display COVID-19-like symptoms should not report to work, the regulations order, and if any employee is diagnosed with the illness, the employer must conduct a round of cleaning and disinfecting.
The administration will also develop additional industry-specific requirements and best practices, likely published in the May 18 report from the panel drafting a roadmap for the phased reopening.
The Baker administration is updating the rules for the paid family and medical leave program that’s being developed to help workers more easily take care of themselves and their families without facing financial crises.
The Department of Family and Medical Leave announced that it had released a revised set of regulations for the new benefit program, for which a payroll tax is already being collected.
The program is expected to start making some benefits available on Jan. 1, 2021.
The DFML said the changes include a handful of new definitions, alterations to the opt-in requirements for self-employed individuals and municipalities, tweaks to employer reimbursement regulations, changed intermittent leave provisions, and more.
Senate President Karen Spilka’s office emailed senators and staff Sunday night to inform them that another one of the building’s cleaning contractor employees has tested positive.
The House and Senate both met on Monday for informal sessions.
The House assigned for review another new cluster of bills responding to the COVID-19 pandemic but was planning ahead to a second remote formal session for Wednesday to enact Governor Baker’s short-term borrowing bill (H 4677) to help the state cover pandemic-related revenue shortfalls.
Roll call votes in the House are scheduled for after 1 p.m. on Wednesday
The Senate added COVID-19 reporting and data collection requirements to a House-approved bill and approved it early Monday afternoon.
The Senate included measures for detailed data from correctional facilities, a task force to evaluate impacts on gateway cities, and a provision making sure that information provided by the Department of Public Health is available in a downloadable format.
The branches now can either resolve their differences informally or name a conference committee.
Also Monday, the Senate agreed to give a committees more time to report on bills dealing with voting by mail for the 2020 elections.
The Senate meets next on Thursday in its first formal session since Feb. 27, and new emergency rules will be in effect to allow senators to vote on a short-term borrowing bill while maintaining social distancing.
According to the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, formulas used by the federal government to distribute money to states, coupled with an early cutoff date for tallying cases of the respiratory disease, meant that a large surge of cases here was not fully counted and that less money flowed to the Bay State “at a time when it is needed most,” the trade group wrote in its Monday newsletter.
The preparations hospitals made to treat an influx of COVID-19 cases and reduce the risk of infection for other patients and workers forced dramatic adjustments, elective procedures were put on pause under a March Baker administration order, new protocols around protective gear were implemented, and additional spaces were created to test and treat patients.
The costs of COVID-19 care, lost revenue from canceled surgeries, capital costs, and expenses associated with extra personal protective equipment and supports for frontline workers have all added up to what the American Hospital Association estimates will be a $202.6 billion loss for the nation’s hospitals and health systems over the four-month period from March through June.
Maine issued a final permit for a power transmission project that’s critical to efforts in Massachusetts to bring hydropower down from Canada to meet the state’s clean energy needs.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit to Central Maine Power Company for construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project, a transmission line that will run from Quebec to a new converter station in Lewiston, Maine.