Virus notes: At Logan, no chaos, but uneven screening measures

A pause in evictions during coronavirus crisis

THE SITUATION AT Logan International Airport’s Terminal E on Sunday stood in sharp contrast to the mayhem that unfolded at Chicago’s O’ Hare Airport and at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport where hundreds of people were closely confined for hours in customs lines as officials scrambled to impose new health screening for the novel coronavirus. 

The Logan terminal was calm and mostly empty while passengers exited multiple international flights, but there were questions about how effectively the health screening protocol was being deployed.

A US citizen who traveled from Paris and landed in Logan Sunday said he was was medically cleared after completing a “Traveler Health Declaration,” put together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as part of the public health response to coronavirus. Anyone coming from Europe, Iran, or China must fill out the form. 

A section to be completed by the customers screener included questions asking if the traveler is showing visible signs of cough or shortness of breath, and is “obviously unwell,” and whether the passenger needs to be referred for further public health assessment. 

According to this passenger and other travelers who arrived at Logan on Sunday, US Customs and Border Protection officials initiated random temperature checks of arriving passengers for fever, a symptom of COVID-19. Their accounts echoed reports from passengers at other airports complaining that arriving international travelers are being inconsistently checked for fevers, in what seems like a loose protocol.

On March 13, the Department of Homeland Security named Logan one of 13 US airports to provide “enhanced health screening” for passengers who have been to a number of European countries in the last 14 days. The department has not answered inquiries seeking details on the health screenings it is imposing. 

Meanwhile, the state medical examiner is testing the body of a Worcester man who died on a flight from Dubai to Logan Airport for coronavirus. State police say the 59-year-old was ill with “gastrointestinal problems” and went into cardiac arrest during the flight. Over 300 other people were on the flight that arrived in Boston on Friday afternoon.

Evictions paused during pandemic

Advocates seeking a temporary moratorium on evictions during the coronavirus outbreak will largely get their wish.

The Trial Court announced Friday that as of Wednesday, March 18, all non-emergency eviction proceedings will be continued until at least April 21.

The move was part of a larger effort that the court system is making to reduce the number of people going in and out of the state’s courthouses. Typically, around 40,000 people a day use the state’s 99 courthouses.

Under the new rules, jury trials will be postponed. The court is expanding the use of videoconferencing and telephone conferencing, encouraging e-filing of documents and staggering hearing schedules. People who owe fees are encouraged to pay them online, and those who cannot will have their fees deferred.

Emergency court matters will proceed as normal. But anyone with symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19 will not be allowed to enter the courthouse.

Separately, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Saturday that he had reached an agreement with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which runs the Massachusetts Apartment Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations to institute a moratorium on evictions in Boston for the duration of the state of emergency in Massachusetts.

While it is not mandatory for individual property owners, the groups are encouraging all property owners in Boston to postpone evictions for 90 days, with reviews every 30 days, for individuals financially affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Greg Vasil, CEO and president of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said in a statement, “We understand the pressure residents are feeling during this crisis, and ensuring Bostonians have a safe, stable home is always our goal.”

The Boston Housing Authority also said it is suspending its filing and prosecution of non-emergency eviction cases in Housing Court.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Supporters of a total eviction moratorium, led by the group City Life/ Vida Urbana called the postponement put in place by the courts a “critical first step,” but urged the Legislature to go even further. A bill filed by state Reps. Mike Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, and Rep. Kevin Honan, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing and a Boston Democrat, would essentially stay all legal proceedings statewide related to eviction, from the filing of a complaint to the seizure of a home, for as long as a state of emergency is declared.

Steve Meacham, coordinator of organizing at City Life/Via Urbana, said in a statement that the group favors the broader legislative approach. “The postponement is a huge step in the right direction, but it still allows executed evictions to go forward, encourages settlements out of court when residents have little access to legal aid, and ends on April 21st when the emergency could carry on far longer,” he said.