Sudders finally feeling hopeful

Marylou Sudders, the Baker administration’s point person on COVID-19, says she is finally feeling hopeful.

Vaccines are being rolled out, Joe Biden is preparing to move into the White House, and after nine months of fighting COVID-19 she has learned a lot of lessons that make her job easier.

“I have hope, truly, for the first time since the beginning,” said the governor’s secretary of health and human services. “I actually have some hope.”

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any worries. On CommonWealth’s Health or Consequences Codcast with John McDonough of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Dr. Paul Hattis, recently retired from Tufts University Medical School, Sudders said the new variant of COVID-19 that has emerged in the United Kingdom represents just one of many challenges facing the Commonwealth during the second surge.

She said Moderna and Pfizer believe their vaccines are effective against the mutant virus, but she doesn’t take that assurance for granted. “We don’t know. We don’t have certainty. But that’s one thing about a pandemic that I think we’ve all learned — that a pandemic continues to evolve,” she said. 

As far as the vaccine rollout itself, Sudders said the state is still in early days. “I’m a worrier, so I always worry,” she said. “It’s just my personality type.”

She said her job has been tough. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s demanding, but I sort of knew that when you step into the role you become the lightning rod for hopes and dreams and frustrations,” she said. “Every issue, you are the lightning rod for it. Honestly, I feel every death. I feel every tragedy that has happened.”

For a high-ranking member of a Republican administration, Sudders said the soon-to-come Biden presidency is also welcome news. She praised Biden’s appointment of Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, as head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She also praised Biden himself, describing the president-elect as someone “who is empathic, who embraces everyone in our country and builds upon the strength of our democracy and acknowledges the diversity of our people and is someone who is a uniter, someone who will unite. The one thing about Joe Biden is he understands grief, but he’s taken that grief into a belief about what government should do for people. I think it’s going to be hard because, clearly, things are very divisive in our country. But I think for me he believes in science. We will have a federal government where we can trust the policies.”

The many COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts nursing homes – 65 percent of the state’s 12,110 deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities — weigh on Sudders. She said the coronavirus hit hard and fast and in many cases the homes were not equipped to respond. 

She said the “aha” moment for state officials came when Advinia Care in Wilmington in early April prepared to relocate 98 residents as part of an effort to transform the nursing facility into a COVID-19 recovery building. As part of the relocation effort, all the residents were tested for the coronavirus and half of them were positive even though they were asymptomatic.

“That was truly one of those moments. When I say, ‘aha’ it was a shock,” she said. “Looking back, one of the great mistakes or regrets is that you only tested symptomatic individuals and only residents in nursing homes.”

The state and long-term care facilities revamped their testing protocols and invested in stronger infection controls and accountability mechanisms. Much progress has been made in nursing homes, but Sudders said she continues to worry every time a cluster of cases occurs at a facility.

“It’s fragile, in all honesty. It’s one of the things I worry about most, clusters happening in long-term care,” she said. “I’m pretty relentless about it.”

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Massachusetts hits a COVID-19 plateau, as high-risk communities and cases level off at a high level. As COVID-19 outbreaks crop up at prisons often repeatedly families and attorneys say it might be time to consider requiring prisoners with COVID-19 to test negative before returning to a congregate setting from quarantine.  A homeless COVID-19 vaccination effort to start soon.

Gov. Charlie Baker vetoes the Legislature’s abortion legislation. Baker and state lawmakers tout a $668 million small business grant program. The Legislature passed and sent to the governor a telehealth compromise last week.

With 12 of 58 dispatchers out due to COVID-19, Keolis says it will continue to provide only half its regular commuter rail service until January 8. 

Opinion: Jessica Gandy and Daryl James of the Institute for Justice say the Massachusetts Legislature should let bakers do their thing. … Quentin Palfrey and Jamie Hoag of the Voter Protection Corps suggest three steps Massachusetts should take to boost voting rights. … Joseph Kriesberg of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations offers up a holiday wish list for legislative action on housing…. James Aloisi, Matthew Petersen, Elizabeth Haney, and Austin Paul of TransitMatters sing Santa Baby with a transportation twist….Marc Baker of Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Kevin MacKenzie of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston say now is the time for faiths to unite for a common purpose.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

A slew of big bills remain in play, including measures addressing climate change, transportation, and economic development, as the clock ticks down the Legislature’s two-year session. (Boston Herald

Demonstrated gathered outside Gov. Charlie Baker’s home in Swampscott yesterday to protest new state restrictions on businesses. (Boston Herald

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

City leaders in Holyoke and state officials have been in a standoff over how to spend federal CARES Act relief funds, with local officials wanting to distribute it directly as aid to struggling families but state officials ruling that the plan was outside the bounds of what was authorized. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Early recipients of the coronavirus vaccine say they may have sore arms — but no regrets. (New York Times

The Eagle-Tribune looks at the challenges facing first responders in a time of COVID, when they don’t know which of their patients may have COVID-19.

Families are still unhappy with how the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is functioning, as residents await vaccines. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump signed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package Sunday, despite a remarkable video message he posted to social media days earlier in which he called the bipartisan legislation a “disgrace.” (USA Today) The relief package includes restarting a $300 boost to the federal unemployment insurance benefit, extending eviction moratoriums for renters to January 31, and a $600 direct payment to most Americans.

Officials say the massive RV explosion in Nashville on Christmas morning was likely a suicide bombing. (NPR)

The mutant COVID-19 virus that first showed up in the United Kingdom has now surfaced in France. (NPR)

The first quarantine babies are beginning to arrive. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Boston Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld says recent fundraising signs point toward a Karyn Polito run for governor next year and not a stab at a third term by Charlie Baker. As this CommonWealth profile of Polito by Shira Schoenberg from July reported, however, she outraised Baker in 2019 as well, and the trend doesn’t necessarily tip the duo’s hand, as Polito’s campaign account could be used on Baker-Polito third run together. 

Cities and towns will be allowed to offer mail-in and early voting for municipal elections that occur before March 31. (Gloucester Daily Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The skiing business is booming but state-mandated occupancy limits are making it difficult to make money off of food and drinks. (GBH)

Restaurant owners are decrying new state regulations that started Saturday, which force restaurants to reduce capacity to 25 percent for at least two weeks. (The Enterprise) Last week, CommonWealth took stock of how the industry is faring more than nine months into the pandemic.

The Standard-Times takes a look back at bipartisan federal legislation passed a week ago that would establish a national program to train and educate the next generation of commercial fishermen.

The minimum wage will increase January 1 in Massachusetts, and a new paid family and medical leave program will go into effect. (MassLive)

Home sales have soared during the pandemic, despite the devastated economy. (Eagle-Tribune)

EDUCATION

Due to shrinking student population, Chatham officials are considering what to do with the Chatham Elementary School. (Cape Cod Times)

An on-campus preschool run by Quinsigamond Community College will remain closed through the spring, to the dismay of staff and parents. (Telegram & Gazette)

The pandemic is accelerating efforts by textbook publishers to move into the digital age. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

Imari Paris Jeffries, the new leader of the nonprofit building a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. wants the organization to take on a broader social justice mission. (Boston Globe) Last year, CommonWealth profiled Paul English, the tech entrepreneur who jump started fundraising efforts to make the memorial a reality. 

Historic preservation advocates are pushing to save from demolition three adjacent Brookline homes where famed architect H.H. Richardson and landscape designer John Olmsted once lived. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

MBTA officials have joined a national push for more federal aid to transit agencies — but they aren’t planning to use any new funding to hold off planned service cuts. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

State environmental officials say contaminants from the former Varian industrial site in Beverly may be seeping into a nearby commercial building but are not affecting private homes. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Springfield police say arrests for possessing illegal guns are way up, fueled by more drug deals where the suspects have guns. Police officials say criminals are emboldened because the court system slowed down and fewer people are being imprisoned due to COVID. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Speculation mounts that Washington Post editor Marty Baron is preparing to step down. (Vanity Fair)

PASSINGS

MassLive creates an online memorial to those Massachusetts residents who died of COVID-19.