PHIWM's current policy efforts include a variety of COVID-related policies, which are described in detail below.
Expanded Demographic Data Collection
On April 8th, 2020 MA Governor Baker issued an Order requiring that healthcare providers collect demographic information, including sex and race/ethnicity, on patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. The PHIWM has written a letter to MA Public Health Commissioner Bharel asking for the Governor's Executive Order to be expanded in the following ways:
- Expand the demographic data collection to include numbers about who is receiving COVID-19 testing and who is receiving life-saving treatment,
- Require collection of socio-economic status, language, and disability status,
- Release weekly county and town surveillance reports to give healthcare institutions and supportive services in western MA the ability to prioritize their services and resources where they are needed most,
- Provide cultural humility training for people that will collect this type of information.
Data in other parts of the country and recent data from Boston hospitals strongly suggest that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx residents. Having data by race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, language, and disability status will help us understand where the burden of disease is falling, and thus more effectively respond to COVID-19 and support our communities. For the latest COVID-19 data, click here.
See section below for additional advocacy from the Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity around expanding demographic data collection and reporting.
Coronavirus and Equity
The PHIWM is a member of the Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity, which was convened by The Massachusetts Public Health Association to rapidly develop policy recommendations. The outbreak of COVID-19 is not impacting all Massachusetts residents equally. Communities that are already facing marginalization are hardest hit by the virus and its economic repercussions. The people most impacted include low-wage workers, immigrants, non-English speakers, people who are housing insecure or experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, people who are food insecure, and people who are incarcerated. The Task force recommends immediate action is taken on the following:
- Enact a Moratorium on Evictions & Foreclosures: This legislation was enacted 4/20/2020 following pressure from community organizations, tenants, public health leaders, and many others. For more information, view the MPHA's fact sheet and check out MassLegalHelp's webpage on COVID and housing.
- Pass Emergency Paid Sick Time: Rep. Paul Donato and Sen. Jason Lewis filed An Act Relative to Emergency Paid Sick Time (HD.5039 / SD.2918) on 4/21/2020 to address gaps in benefits provided by current state and federal laws. This bill would guarantee all workers at least 10 additional paid workdays (80 hours) of job-protected paid sick time for immediate use during the COVID-19 outbreak or future public health emergencies. To learn more, check out this fact sheet from Raise Up Massachusetts. The Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development will be holding a hearing during the week of 5/25/2020. RaiseUp Massachusetts is collecting video testimonials from essential workers, small business owners, activists and more until Friday May 29, 2020--learn more here.
- Provide Safe Quarantine for People Experiencing Homelessness: The Baker Administration has recently taken some positive steps, including opening several hotels around the state to provide safe quarantine for people experiencing homelessness. There is still much work to do.
- Ensure Immigrants Have Safe Access to Testing & Treatment: Attorney General Maura Healy has stepped up her outreach to immigrant communities, reassuring them they can safely receive access to testing and treatment regardless of their status. Click here for information on COVID-19 resources available to immigrants and refugees. The AGO's office has produced informational posters in multiple languages regarding access to health care and other rights community members have during the time of COVID-19. All the multilingual versions can be found here.
- Collect and Report Equity Data (including race, ethnicity and disability status): The state has begun releasing data on race and ethnicity of confirmed cases and deaths; however, much of the data is missing, and the Administration has not announced any plans to respond to the inequities that the data reveals. On April 27th, the PHIWM signed on to a letter from the Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity to Senate President Karen Spilka with recommendations to strengthen H4672, An Act Addressing COVID-19 Data Collection and Disparities in Treatment. A copy of the letter can be accessed here. On 5/22/2020, the Senate adopted several amendments to the bill (S.2695), which addressed many of the Task Force's recommendations, including a mandate requiring reporting on what the state is doing to address any inequities revealed in the COVID-19 data.
- De-carcerate Vulnerable Populations in Massachusetts' Prisons and Jails: The Task Force has called on Governor Baker to develop a plan for both safe and swift decarceration and for those who remain incarcerated, social distancing and hygiene in accordance with CDC guidelines. Rep. Sabadosa filed An Act Regarding Decarceration and COVID-19 (H.4652) calling for the decarceration of as many people as possible to limit the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. To learn more, read this Prisoners' Legal Services' fact sheet or MPHA's press release about the legislation. Although a hearing was already held on 5/5/2020, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary is still accepting written testimony. You can use this template for your written testimony (it includes instructions on where to send it). Please personalize the letter. Email Kim Gilhuly if you have questions.
- Amend the State's Crisis Standards for Care to Ensure Equity: On 4/17/2020 the Equity Task Force and other advocates called for the immediate revision of the state's "crisis standards of care". The Administration released voluntary guidelines for how to allocate scare medical equipment in the event that the demand exceeds the supply. The standards discriminate against people of color and people with disabilities. On 4/20/2020 the Administration revised the standards, and while substantially improved, they remain inadequate. MPHA is working with partners to seek additional changes and to secure broader community participation in the development of this and other policies.
The Task Force recognizes these recommendations are not comprehensive and do not address all populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The Task Force will issue further recommendations.
Take action today and ask your elected officials to support these recommendations
- Contact Governor Baker: Call 617-725-4005, Tweet @MassGovernor, Email the Governor's Office
- Contact Attorney General Healey: Call 617-727-2200, Tweet @MassAGO, Email the Attorney General
- Contact your State Rep and Senator: Call the Statehouse Switchboard 617-722-2000
Other Equity Related Initiatives
PHIWM has also been working on several other equity-related initiatives that impact our local residents:
Safe quarantine space for people living unhoused
COVID 19 testing sites in western Massachusetts
Ability to purchase or access Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Equity in resource distribution between eastern MA and western MA
Standards of care guideline for who receives ventilator care (statewide, related to persons with disabilities)
We'd like to thank our western MA legislative delegation for their support and leadership on the above initiatives to ensure that no one is forgotten during the COVID-19 pandemic and that no amount of deaths become acceptable as the Governor reopens. We recognize that these times are incredibly busy, and we continue to be grateful that we have such equity-mined leaders representing us and fighting with and for people who carry the greatest burdens and now risk.