Where the pandemic buck stops
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.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who had long resisted the idea of such a mandate, this week issued a sweeping order that all state employees get vaccinated. And he’s facing lots of pressure to reverse his stand and issue a statewide mask mandate for all K-12 schools, a move for which new MassINC Polling Group numbers say there is strong support.
“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.”
Meanwhile, all of the government response will be playing out as the 2022 race for governor heats up. Three Democrats are already on the campaign trail — and they’ve offered plenty of criticism of Baker’s handling of the pandemic. The two-term Republican has yet to say whether he’ll seek a third term. If he does, he’ll face a primary challenge from right-leaning former state rep. Geoff Diehl, who’s already taking shots at him for being too restrictive of business and residents.
Baker policy shift: Gov. Charlie Baker orders all state workers to provide proof of vaccination by October 17 or face dismissal. The only exceptions for avoiding the requirement are a medical disability or religious belief — regular testing is not an option. The move is a major shift for the governor, who earlier rejected the idea of mandates, particularly for vaccines that are still approved on an emergency basis. Many public officials and unions welcomed the move, but the union representing correctional officers at state prisons accused the governor of going back on his word and indicated it may challenge the mandate on constitutional grounds. Read more.
Mass. less White: The new Census data indicates the number of White people in Massachusetts increased slightly over the last decade but their share of the population declined. The percentage of Whites dropped in every municipality except one. Read more.
Getting a say: A group of advocates say environmental justice, or EJ, communities are finally gaining some control over polluting facilities within their borders, but that doesn’t mean non-EJ communities should now become overburdened. The advocates say wood-burning power plants make no sense and should be banned entirely. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Attorney General Maura Healey filed suit against a test prep company, saying its practice tests have “compromised” the civil service test system. (Boston Herald)
Dr. Robert Higgins, surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital and director of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has been named president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (Boston Globe)
Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards said she intends to run for the state Senate if Sen. Joseph Boncore takes a job with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. (State House News Service)
A Braintree woman sues Walmart after she is injured by a travel mug that explodes in her face due to fruit juice left in the mug for 10 days. (Patriot Ledger)
A new business is offering “luxury picnics” on the South Coast. (Standard-Times)
The head of the Boston archdiocese schools is facing heat from parents over his order restricting mask wearing at Catholic schools. (Boston Globe)
A Rockland High School student who hopes to become a nurse anesthetist and an elementary school teacher are the latest winners of the VaxMillions lottery. (Patriot Ledger)
Fifteen Boston area theaters say they’ll require proof of vaccination to attend live performances at their venues. (Boston Globe)
A report from two consumer advocacy groups says Massachusetts drivers have overpaid more than $600 million on auto insurance during the pandemic, which saw far fewer claims filed. (Boston Globe)
The inspector general’s office investigates the non profit Clean River Project after allegations it misspent grant funds, and finds no evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse of public funds. (Eagle-Tribune)
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn is coming under fire from the state public defenders’ office for recent comments to WPRI in which the Committee for Public Counsel Services says Quinn downplayed the implications of drug evidence being found in the desk of a Fall River police detective. (WPRI)
Detention rates for juveniles in Worcester County have fallen 64 percent since 2015, as prosecutors focus on diversion programs for younger offenders. (Telegram & Gazette)
The Norfolk district attorney rules that a police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man in March who robbed a convenience store in Rockland armed with a handgun then fled to Quincy in a stolen police car. (Patriot Ledger)
Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins and Boston police officials and unions leaders have had their disagreements but are on the same page in denouncing as too low a judge’s sentence of 5-6 years in prison for a man with a prior felony record who was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder an officer. (Boston Herald)