March 22nd COVID-19 Update

FEDERAL GUIDANCE

Summary of health care changes in Families First Coronavirus Act

The Families First Coronavirus Act signed by the President makes temporary modifications to both public and private health care coverage. 

A summary of the health care changes included in the new law is here; 

aha.org/advisory/2020-03-19-coronavirus-update-president-signs-families-first-coronavirus-response-act-hr

Secretary of State announces additional travel restrictions

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States and Mexico have agreed to restrict non-essential travel across their border.

A full list of travel restrictions and guidance can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

Updates from White House Task Force on Coronavirus 3-22 Press Conference

MARCH 23

  • Announcement of major disaster declarations for New York, California and Washington – the federal government will deploy supplied to the locations with the greatest need
  • The President signed bill to ensure that GI bill will cover distance learning during COVID-19
  • Restricted visitors in veteran community centers with chronic medical conditions to limit their exposure / VAhas cancelled most elective procedures / VA has been leader in expanding telehealth
  • 254,000 Americans have been tested for COVID-19 
  • All commercial labs will receive guidance from HHS tomorrow – urging all commercial labs to prioritize in-patient testing
  • The FDA approved emergency authorization of new test, should be in production by end of March
  • Tomorrow, CDC unveiling new guidance for people working in law enforcement/first responders to make it easier/possible for people who have been exposed to the virus to return to work
  • State department is working to assist Americans in other countries overseas that are unable to get a flight home – clarified that all American citizens will be able to return, but noted that some simply can’t get back because there are no flights available
  • Encouraging people to visit step.state.gov – smart traveller enrollment program

BAKER ADMINISTRATION GUIDANCE

DOR guidance on unemployment benefits for independent contracts, part-time workers not yet authorized:

Many Massachusetts residents are still not able to successfully apply for UI benefits because the Federal Government has not yet authorized Disaster Unemployment Assistance.   

According to the DOR, currently self-employed individuals and 1099 contract employees are not eligible for unemployment benefits. If the President of the United States makes a disaster unemployment declaration for Massachusetts or nationwide, the self-employed and 1099 contractors would become eligible for unemployment assistance. This is already coded into the DUA system and would be available immediately upon declaration and press release announcement. 

Updates and guidance on emergency childcare centers:

Last week, the Commonwealth announced that effective Monday, March 23, all early education centers and family childcare providers will be closed.  Starting Monday, selected sites will open to serve as emergency drop-in childcare services for families with no other options to continue going to work to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of the Commonwealth’s residents.  Child Care is meant to be for those who must report to work. Outside of the obvious emergency responders and medical professionals, this includes critical service workers like grocery store employees. As of Friday, the Commonwealth had approved over 300 sites to start operations on Monday. 

Resources on emergency childcare program can be found here: https://eeclead.force.com/apex/EEC_ChildCareEmergencyParents#programEmergency

To inquire about exempt emergency child care programs, fill out the form linked here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfLfeCesZdBAUMFCfQ7wqS-xqhrY3nDzaZDBdbPUIro8Zyv2w/viewform

The process for authorizing emergency exempt childcare is detailed here: https://eeclead.force.com/resource/1584817342000/The_EECCP_Process 

Resources from the Attorney General on paid work leave updates and workplace safety: The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has provided or identified the following resources. The Families First Coronavirus Act included employer paid leave requirements which can be found here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave

The Attorney General’s office has gotten inquiries from legislators and the public who are concerned about workplace safety. The Attorney General’s office is in touch with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and OSHA’s Massachusetts offices are below:

Andover         978-837-4460

Springfield     413-782-0123

Braintree       617-565-6924

GIC guidance on changes to state health insurance programs:

State and federal level guidance and legislation has adjusted eligibility and coverage for state health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Information about GIC benefits during the outbreak can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/what-you-should-know-about-gic-health-benefits-and-the-covid-19-outbreak

Updated from GIC can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/news/gic-updates-regarding-covid-19

Assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:  

The Command Center announced that the Commonwealth is working with the Army Corps  on various topics including identifying existing facilities that could be converted or retrofitted into structures like hospitals or shelters.

Testing Update from Command Center:

The Command Center is carefully monitoring the Commonwealth’s testing capacity and ways to increase testing for more residents. The number of tests completed in a day in Massachusetts has more than doubled since Wednesday, from 520 to 1,116 today. 

The Governor spoke about the first privately owned urgent care center in Massachusetts starting to conduct drive thru testing for COVID-19. AFC Urgent Care in Waltham is testing pre-screed patients waiting to be tested.  This new site is in addition to the CVS Shrewsbury pilot location announced Thursday — 1 of 40 CVS drive thru locations in the US – and they play an important role in the overall effort to expand testing capacity across the Commonwealth.  

Protections for individuals covered by MassHealth & the Health Connector:

The Administration announced protections for MassHealth members and individuals covered by the Health Connector effective March 18, 2020.  MassHealth and the Health Connector will protect coverage for all individuals who have Medicaid coverage as of March 18, 2020 and for all individuals approved for coverage during the national emergency. This protection will extend to one month after the national emergency is over. Coverage will only end if an individual requests termination of eligibility or if they are no longer a resident of the state. Members will not lose coverage or have a decrease in benefits for any other reason. For individuals who have received notices that their coverage ended after March 18, 2020, no change in coverage will occur. These individuals do not have to send in any paperwork to keep their coverage, it is protected. This will ensure all MassHealth members have access to testing and treatment they may need related to COVID-19

Recent MBTA actions relating to commuter rail capacity changes to service critical healthcare workforce:  

The MBTA announced increased early morning trains currently being planned for Lowell, Fitchburg, and Newburyport/ Rockport rail lines, effective TBD.  The MBTA will initiate limited ferry service from Hingham to Charlestown with no plans to stop at Islands effective mid-week next week. Rear door boarding is being planned on the light rail lines, bus and on the Mattapan High Speed Line. Front door boarding will be reserved for those passengers requiring an accessible egress.  This temporary step is effective at the start of revenue service on Saturday, March 21. RIDE paratransit services will be limited to no more than two passengers per vehicle, with an increased frequency of sanitizing protocols. There will also be an immediate increase in frequency of sanitizing & cleaning of bus vehicle lobbies. The current plan being negotiated calls for cleaning to occur every four service hours in addition to the overnight cleaning.

Order on extending professional licenses:

Governor Baker has issued an executive order extending licenses for certain licensed professionals, including licensed educators. The order states that a license that is “in good standing” as of March 18, 2020, and that has expired or will expire during the state of emergency, is now extended and will remain valid until 90 days after the end of the state of emergency.

The full order can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/doc/eo-on-license-registration-extension-dpl-opsi/download

 

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