When Can We Reopen
When can we reopen? That’s the million-dollar question right now, and over the last week, the debate has gripped the commonwealth and our country. If we reopen too soon, we’ll lose the progress we’ve gained by social distancing, see a new spike in cases that overwhelms our hospital system, and inject even more uncertainty into an economy that’s buckling under the weight of the worst pandemic in a century. If we wait too long, we’ll cause more economic harm than necessary to combat the virus and more Americans will die from that fallout as well; death rates always go up due to prolonged economic hardship.
Many have referred to this as a war, and to win it, our political leaders must listen to scientists. Scientists understand numbers, and much of determining the best path forward comes down to math. But as in war, the stakes couldn’t be higher because each number is a human life.
I’ve had the good fortune throughout this crisis to receive the advice of a kitchen cabinet of experts that includes Partners In Health founder Dr. Paul Farmer; North Shore family practitioner Dr. Alain A. Chaoui, who stood up one of the first drive through testing centers in the state; Georgetown virologist Dr. Erin Sorrell whose expertise focuses on pandemics that originate in animals; and James Ellard, CEO of New England Biolabs, Inc., biotech company that discovers and produces enzymes for molecular biology applications, including reagents that enable researchers working to develop better diagnostic tests and vaccines for the COVID-19 virus. We also have the help of an emergency room doctor from New York City who has helped lead her hospital through this crisis in its epicenter, and like another Gotham superhero prefers anonymity.
When it comes to reopening, these experts and all of the others are saying the same thing: to safely reopen we need six things, four Ts and two Ps: testing, tracing, time, treatments, protection, and proof.
We won’t turn the tide of this war until we can test every American for the virus’s current or past presence. We must saturate hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and workplaces with enough diagnostic tests for Americans to get them frequently, time and again. We also need to mass produce antibody tests so people like me who had all the symptoms of COVID-19 but could not get tested can tell if we actually had the virus and what that might mean in terms of future immunity. This will help us understand more of what we don’t know, which includes whether having COVID-19 once means you can’t get it again.
Testing is key because if we identify the sick, we can aggressively trace their contacts with other people and isolate those who were exposed. This is called contact tracing. Thanks to Dr. Farmer and Partners In Health’s partnership with the commonwealth, Massachusetts is leading the way on this. But contact tracing will only be as good as your willingness to isolate if you’ve come into contact with a friend or stranger who has had COVID-19. This will require some patriotic selflessness. If you get sick, you can save the lives of Americans you’ve never met by telling contact tracers where you’ve been.
We also need effective treatments for the coronavirus. Right now, we can only rely on our own immune systems to fight it off. We know that’s a different fight for everyone, but one that you’re more likely to lose if you’re older, a person of color, or have pre-existing conditions. A treatment isn’t necessarily a cure, but if we break social distancing without more effective treatments, there’s little hospitals will be able to do should infections spike again.
Until we get effective treatments and a vaccine, time is the best way to knock this virus down. The more time we spend in isolation, the sooner the virus dies out because it can’t infect new victims. Likewise, to trust that the virus has been effectively curtailed before we re-open, we have to see infection rates—measured by far more widespread testing—not just tick down for a week but stay down over time.
Finally, we need the two Ps: PPE and proof. We are sending the Americans fighting this war into combat without armor, a mistake we should have learned from Iraq. Health care workers, grocery store workers like Vitalina Williams, bus drivers, train conductors, service members, tow truck drivers and everyone else working right now deserve protective equipment and still cannot get it. And if the rest of the economy is to open up, every one of us going back on the job needs the basic gear to keep us safe in this new pandemic reality. The president can solve this problem by fully invoking the Defense Production Act instead of telling people to drink bleach. Americans should demand, at the very least, protective equipment while they’re working.
The last point is proof. There are still too many unknowns about this truly novel virus. What kind of immunity do you have if you’ve been infected and how long will it last? How many Americans have had the virus already to begin with? Will the summer heat reduce transmission or not? Science should guide our policy, but for scientists to get their equations correct, we need better proof for their best estimates. We will never know everything, but we need better answers for some pretty basic questions before we can know how reopening will go.
The longer Americans stay home, the higher the unemployment rate rises, the more people will be hurting from economic pressure, and the higher the pressure will be on political leaders to make a decisive move. Reopening is the right decision when we can test for and treat this virus, when all of us have the protective equipment we need, and we have reasonable proof that we understand enough about the pandemic to prevent a second wave.
In almost every war in history, scientists have supported our troops on the front lines. We need their support in this war more than ever, and we need to heed their advice.
I am focused on these priorities on your behalf in Congress. We are working for you every day in my Salem and Washington D.C. office. You can get in touch, or ask for help with a federal agency online.
Member of Congress
Learning to Teach
Last week, I sent an update about the state’s plan to keep schools closed through the end of the year. I know it’s tough right now if you’re at home with children for a month and going back to school with them.
I thought it would be helpful to learn some tips from the pros, so this week I spoke to 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year TK Nagayoshi and Manchester-Essex Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin on Facebook Live. We talked about how the routine that school provides is tough to have at home, the challenges of learning from home where the speed of your internet can determine how well your kids can connect, and how we need to do a better job keeping the promise our country makes to every child for equal access to a good education.
I appreciate the thousand of you who joined us online when we were live. If you missed it, head over to my Facebook page for the 30 minute video, and info about our upcoming Live events.
You can also find educational resources on my coronavirus resource guide, which we relaunched this week with a more user-friendly look and feel. There are links to Live Science activities at home with kids, BrainPop remote learning, and daily learning schedules from Khan Academy.
Pushing for Mental Health Solutions
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans were already living with mental health challenges before the era of social distancing. Social distancing and fears about the virus have caused a lot of people to feel disconnected and have contributed to an increase in mental health concerns. I wanted to share this op-ed from The Boston Globe that outlines some smart steps we need to take as a country to make it easier to get help and break the stigmas that prevent people from seeking it.
I’ve been pushing legislation and action in Washington. In addition to sharing my own experience with Post-Traumatic Stress in the hope that it would help others talk about mental health, I’m pushing Congress to create a 3-digit national suicide prevention hotline so that everyone can remember the number and get through to help in a mental health emergency. I’m pushing to make that part of the next round of disaster relief because we’ve seen a spike in calls.
If you or someone you love needs mental health support, don’t be afraid to call or text for help. You can call (800) 273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. If you’re a veteran, you can also call 1 (800) 273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 or visit the Veterans Crisis Line’s website to chat online.
Updates on Stimulus Payments
The IRS has posted new FAQs on IRS.gov to help answer questions about the stimulus checks that many Americans have started to receive. Unfortunately, some folks are finding errors in their payments. Here’s what you can do if you think the amount of your Economic Impact Payment is incorrect. If you are still waiting on your checks and want to find out more information visit the IRS website, or feel free to contact my office at (978) 531-1669 and my team can help you track it down.
Preventing a Competing Pandemic
This pandemic has underscored the importance of taking every available step to ensure the health of you and your loved ones, including making sure that your children are up-to-date on vaccinations. It’s important to stick with appointments to get your infant, toddler, child, or even teenager immunized during this period of social distancing. Pediatricians in Virginia are reporting a 30 percent decrease in infant vaccination rates and a 76 percent decrease in adolescent vaccination rates. Babies who go unvaccinated will be at increased risk of contracting easily-preventable diseases including measles, meningitis, and whooping cough. Down the road, this could lead to yet another public health crisis.
Doctor’s offices are taking appropriate precautions to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19 in waiting and exam rooms - which I can vouch for first-hand, as I took my daughter Emmy for her regularly-scheduled 18 month immunizations last week. If you have young children that need to get vaccinated, please don’t let this task slip through the cracks. It’s vital to ensure their long-term health now more than ever.
Updates on IRS Paper Tax Returns
Unfortunately, the IRS is not currently able to process individual paper tax returns due to office closures in response to COVID 19. Paper returns will be processed once processing centers are able to reopen.
If you already have filed via paper but it has not yet been processed, do not file a second tax return or write to the IRS to inquire about the status of your return or your economic impact payment. Visit the IRS website here for more information.