Where the pandemic buck stops
Mass Reboot wraps up with look at role of government
AS MASSACHUSETTS simultaneously looks to make its way past the worst of the pandemic while also adjusting to the new curve balls being thrown by the surging Delta variant, it once again puts a spotlight on the role of government, the place the buck ultimately stops when it comes to dealing with a situation with no clear blueprint, where lives and livelihoods are on the line.
That’s the focus of the eighth — and final — episode of Mass. Reboot, a Codcast series looking at how the state restarts following the unprecedented disruption of 21st century life.
Host Libby Gormley starts by acknowledging “the elephant in the room.” The Reboot series began, she says, as an exploration of “restarting Massachusetts after COVID.” For the final episode focused on government, that would have meant a look back at the ways the public sector succeeded and failed in dealing with the pandemic. But with the return to offices now delayed and all sorts of questions in the air about the looming reopening of schools, “a lot of the ways we thought things were going to restart haven’t really panned out,” says Steve Koczela, podcast co-host and president of the MassINC Polling Group.
One of the first challenges the Legislature faced was not just over what state government could do to address the pandemic, but how it would actually get things done with everything in full lockdown.
“We take votes in the House and the chamber with 160 members in. That isn’t the exact scenario where you want to be during the pandemic, so one of the first things we did was to come up with a system to remote vote,” says state Rep. Jon Santiago. The South End Democrat has had a unique view on the role of government in the pandemic, as he’s also an emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center.
Though lawmakers pivoted to remote sessions and votes, the scope of issues they took up often narrowed to just one topic. “It was all pandemic all the time. So anything that had been moving through the legislative process was put at least on hold for months and months,” says Katie Lannan, a reporter with the State House News Service.
When it comes to the longer view on the pandemic experience, state Sen. Adam Hinds says the huge disparities in how residents have been affected are “the result of a massive policy failure over generations.”
“Some people were able to mostly ride out COVID at home, while others felt the pain right away. And it just kept getting worse,” Koczela says of polling trends that emerged almost immediately showing lower-income residents bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s health and economic impacts.
For Hinds, who chairs the Senate Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency, the challenge now is to take lessons from that experience, whether they relate to job training issues and the world of work or the MBTA, and use them to fashion more long-range solutions. The state has billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid to help that mission.
“A lot of the work of the new committee on reimagining Massachusetts,” Hinds says, will be to “put out a set of recommendations this fall so that it’s a part of the conversation about how we’re going to use the federal funds.”