Rollback of reopening is imperative amid new surge
State aid to businesses and employees can soften the blow
MASSACHUSETTS FINDS ITSELF in the eye of a storm. As municipal leaders, we have grown increasingly concerned as we see COVID-19 cases spiking across the state. In some communities we are already seeing the rising prevalence of this virus cause week-long turnaround times for COVID tests as contact tracers are unable to keep up with the sheer volume of new cases.
We have been warned by medical and epidemiological experts for months that a winter surge is coming. Now our public health infrastructure is starting to show signs of strain and will be overwhelmed if we continue on the same trajectory. There is no mystery what follows these record case numbers: a severe rise in hospitalizations for people who require intensive care and a frightening number of lives lost.
There is expert consensus that we are entering the most dangerous phase of the pandemic. But why accept the worst–case scenario as inevitable? In March, faced with an existential test as a society, we banded together and rose to the occasion. We found that with collective sacrifice and government action led by Gov. Baker, we were able to avoid the worst of what the catastrophe might have been.
We face another defining moment today, and we know that we can once again rise to the occasion and do what is necessary to meet this extraordinary challenge. If we act now to reverse the trend of community transmission, we can minimize the toll of human suffering ahead of us. This will require targeted, temporary rollbacks of the state’s reopening plan, with a focus on reducing activities that are sources of transmission, especially those that allow for gatherings of people from outside our households.
Rollback measures must be coupled with a relief package to support businesses and their employees. States across the country, such as New Mexico, California, and Rhode Island, have passed state-level relief packages to help businesses and provide basic necessities to the most vulnerable residents. The Baker administration and the state legislature have done important work to provide funds for struggling businesses, but the vast need is only growing.
As municipal leaders, we are prepared to work side-by-side with our colleagues in state government to put together a relief package here in Massachusetts. This would enable us to make painful but necessary sacrifices while keeping businesses and their employees afloat. We can’t afford to wait for federal money, which could be months away and still may not be enough. We have to act now to support people through the dark days that lie ahead.
Government has a critical role to play in the face of a pandemic. There is only so much that each of us can accomplish as individuals. We’ve seen that most people want to make the right choices to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Leaving these challenges for individuals to grapple with alone will only further hurt the people that have been hit hardest by this pandemic, particularly in communities of color. We also know that individual municipalities cannot succeed on our own. Cities and towns remain steadfast in our commitment to work with state leadership on a coordinated regional response.
Our response must be driven by data and science, and informed by the matrix of risks and tradeoffs confronting policy makers. Considering the tradeoffs involved, this collaboration will be especially important as we work to prioritize schools. Data from around the world show that communities with lower transmission have the best chance of being able to safely keep their schools open. If we don’t take significant action now, we will only make it more difficult for schools to be open for in-person learning this winter.We are in the crucible. Community transmission will continue to rise without significant, collective action to push things in the right direction. Vaccines will not arrive in large enough numbers in time to rescue us from what is shaping up to be a brutal winter. We cannot wait for outside intervention. If we want to save lives, then we need to act together with purpose now.
Thomas Ambrosino is city manager in Chelsea. Paul Brodeur is mayor of Melrose. Adam Chapdelaine is town manager in Arlington. Joseph Curtatone is mayor of Somerville. Lou DiPasquale is city manager in Cambridge. Austin Faison in town manager in Winthrop. Sean Fitzgerald is town administrator in Swampscott. Ruthanne Fuller is mayor of Newton. Jim Malloy is town manager of Lexington. Thomas McGee is mayor of Lynn. Alex Morse is mayor of Holyoke. Yvonne Spicer is mayor of Framingham. Robert Sullivan is mayor of Brockton. Lisa Wong is town manager in Winchester.