This is an unprecedented time for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. The COVID-19 pandemic is a very steep challenge for all of us.
With this page, I want to keep you informed of our continued work on the many issues COVID-19 presents and provide a source of clear and updated information. Below please find general updates, answers to frequently asked questions, and links to official websites. My hope is to alleviate some of the understandable concern we all are experiencing during this uncertain and unprecedented time with accurate consistent information.
So many of you have already helped me to identify priorities and potential solutions based on your first-hand experiences. In the days and weeks ahead, please continue to reach out to me and my staff with concerns, suggestions, and needs. Reach me at [email protected].
Please stay safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones during this difficult time.
The most up to date information and FAQs for Massachusetts can be found online at mass.gov/covid19.
The most up to date information regarding reopening plans for Massachusetts can be found online at mass.gov/reopening.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Reopening Plan
On May 18th, Governor Charlie Baker rolled out the rules of the road for reopening. The outline is available here, and we expect guidance from the Commonwealth to change frequently. We plan to keep this page updated to reflect what we know. The plan currently sits in Phase III, in an intermediate step, and won't move on to Phase IV until a viable treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available.
This timeline isn’t fixed. It is contingent on favorable trends in the Commonwealth’s ability to test patients, trace the spread of the virus, and treat those affected. The Governor has intimated that the phases can be reversed if case counts surge to dangerous levels. Our ability to take adequate precautions to do the following will slow or expedite the reopening process:
- Wear face coverings when you can’t be apart
- Wash your hands and clean surfaces
- Keep your distance from people
- Stay vigilant for symptoms.
During each phase of the reopening process, select non-essential businesses will gradually be allowed to reopen. You can get a full breakdown of what can reopen and when here.
Cape Cod Reopening Task Force
The Cape Cod Reopening Task Force is a region-wide task force assembled to advocate on behalf of the region and project key public health and economic guidance. The Cape Cod Reopening Task Force is led by the Cape & Islands Legislative Delegation, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, and Barnstable County, with participation from healthcare providers, municipal officials, first responders, community leaders, and other stakeholders.
Our goal is to provide uniform messaging to Cape Cod residents and guests about the reopening process and to help residents and business owners manage the pandemic safely.
As the Baker-Polito administration sets the rules of the road, expect the task force to follow up with guidance and best practices to accompany their guidelines that are specifically tailored to our tourist-driven, seasonal economy. You can learn more about the task force and its work at (www.reopeningcapecod.org).
Mask Guidance: Where do I have to wear one?
As of May 6, 2020, all Massachusetts residents are required to wear a mask or face covering in public in instances where keeping a six feet distance from those that you do not live with is not possible. This applies to all residents over the age of 2. You can find detailed guidance, instructions for making your own mask, and the original text of Governor Charlie Baker’s executive order here.
Testing on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard
A full overview of testing sites in the region and the eligibility requirements for receiving a test are available via this link.
Cape Cod Healthcare is operating two drive-thru testing sites, one at Cape Cod Healthcare in Hyannis and the other at Falmouth Hospital. If you think you may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, call your primary care doctor for a phone-based evaluation. For further information on testing and what to do if your physician is outside of Cape Cod Healthcare’s network or if you do not have a primary care physician, you can view Cape Cod Health’s advisory on appropriate next steps here.
Testing is available at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital for individuals experiencing any of the symptoms for COVID-19. Please arrive at the evaluation site between the hours designated here.
Testing is available at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. No-cost, drive-thru diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is now available for any asymptomatic Islander or visitor who wants a test.Testing is by appointment only. Everyone must pre-register. More information about the program is available here. Updates from the hospital regarding testing, capacity, and case counts are available here.
If you are displaying symptoms and unsure of the risks that you present to your family and your community, the Commonwealth recently launched an online survey tool to assess your symptoms and advise whether or not you should seek medical attention or escalate your concerns to your primary care doctor. The tool is easy to use, but it is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You can access it here.
Resources for Students, Children, and Families
Preparing to Reopen Schools
The Governor of Massachusetts has made it clear that his priority is to return to in-person learning models for Massachusetts public schools as soon as possible, but he's left local school districts a lot of wiggle room to make their own decisions based on the available case data. The Cape Cod Reopening Task Force has access to data, resources, and expertise that we've made available to educators for their use. We met three times with educators before the end of August, and included a lengthy overview of the ways that we can support them in our final meeting, which you can view here. We covered everything from PPE, to testing, to the COVID-19 response protocols in schools and community settings.
DESE has information on its homepage about school reopenings, which you can find here. Decisions about school reopenings are being made in real time, and the most up-to-date resource is the district's website. If your family needs guidance or answers, the information should be available below.
Student Loan Borrowers
If you carry federal student loan debt, your payments have been put on administrative forbearance and interest has been temporarily set to 0%. In broad terms, this means that you are not required to make payments and interest will not accumulate on your accounts until December 31, 2020. This only applies to loans that are owned by the federal government. If you are unsure whether the federal government owns your loans or not, you can check with your servicing organization.
If you carry privately held student debt, there’s a chance that your lender or servicer is providing some form of relief through a joint initiative between the Massachusetts Division of Banks and fifteen private lenders in the Commonwealth. Check with your student loan servicer to confirm whether you are eligible and whether the relief option is right for you. Options include 90 days of forbearance, waivers for late payment fees, mitigating negative credit reporting, ceasing debt collection lawsuits, and support for enrolling in income-based repayment programs.
Meals for Families with Children
Island Grown Initiative has also started a community meals program to run throughout the summer, with details here.
In addition to the initiatives mentioned at the top of our monthly newsletter, the Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich has information on its website available to families in need, whether or not they have children enrolled in the public school system.
For the children of first responders, essential personnel, and certain individuals working in related fields, the Department of Early Education and Care has expanded the availability of emergency childcare sites. Program details are available here. For other state resources and information related to child care, follow this link.
Last month, the Administration delegated broad emergency powers to the Department of Early Education and Care via an order to create 24-hour care facilities for children living in residential homes that have tested positive for COVID-19. The agency was given access to key data that will allow staffing and oversight of these facilities to remain safe and in the best interest of the affected children and families. You can read the full order here.
To support families of essential workers and families with children who have special needs, EEC and Care.com have partnered to assist currently unemployed child care workers and provide skilled in-home care. Care.com is offering both eligible families and child care workers free 90-day premium memberships, accessible here.
Child Care facilities are starting to re-open in Phase 2. If you are operating a facility and have questions about the proper protocols, or you are a parent curious about what centers are doing to prepare, you can view the Mass Office of EEC (Early Education and Care) FAQs here.
Families with Nursing Home Residents
Families of nursing home residents can now use the Home Family Resource Line, a dedicated telephone line that will connect family members of nursing home residents with information and resources if they have questions or concerns about the care their loved one is receiving during the COVID-19 outbreak. The line is staffed from 9 AM – 5 PM, seven days a week. Staff will coordinate across state agencies to help callers find answers to their questions. Families and community members can call the line at (617) 660-5399.
As the Commonwealth prepares to reopen, it is vital to have a robust contact tracing program to help contain the spread of disease. You can read more about my thoughts on the program and the specific information you need to know here.
Guidance for Seasonal Residents
Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket are all anticipating the summer months with uncertainty and trepidation. The region’s hospitals, business groups, and elected officials released guidance to seasonal visitors effective through reopening Phase 3, Step I. You can read the full press release here.
You can view the full guidance document to seasonal residents in English, with Spanish and Portuguese versions forthcoming. Please recognize that many of the amenities you are used to enjoying in our communities are operating at limited capacity this time. The guidance is updated with each phase and posted to Senatorcyr.com/Reopening.
Staying Safe at Work
As the Commonwealth reopens, new safety standards have been set to make sure workplaces are providing an environment for their employees that allows them a low risk of contracting the virus. You can view these standards here. If your workplace is not meeting these standards, contact your local board of health. The most up-to-date contact information for all local boards of health is posted here.
Resources for Employees
The most important thing to know about receiving unemployment insurance is the difference between the state’s two offerings.
If you collected an annual W2 and recently lost your job, you are eligible for traditional unemployment compensation and can file a claim via this website. Due to the high number of recently eligible Massachusetts residents, applying online is the recommended way to file your claim. However, you may contact the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) by phone at (877) 626-6800.
Unemployment Assistance for 1099 workers and self-employed workers is available to those who are otherwise ineligible for W-2 unemployment compensation through a program called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). You can follow this link to learn more about the application process.
Those receiving unemployment compensation via an existing government program such as the regular Unemployment Compensation (UC), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Extended Benefits (EB), Trade Readjustment Act (TRA), and Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DA) are eligible for an additional $600 per week in accordance with the federal government’s Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. If you were already receiving unemployment compensation prior to March 29, 2020, the Massachusetts DUA will be increasing your claim amount to help weather the pandemic.
An additional 13 weeks of benefits is available on a qualified basis to those who have already expired their state unemployment benefits in the current benefit year. The state government refers to this as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. If your benefits have expired, you may qualify for this extension. Information to apply is here.
The DUA is offering town halls to those who have recently lost a job and are looking for more in-depth help with navigating unemployment. Support for these events is accessible here.
If you are having trouble with an unemployment claim in either program, please contact Katharine Thibodeau in my office at [email protected]
Health Insurance Information
It is absolutely critical that everyone continues to have access to health care that is affordable. If you’ve lost your job in the last month and your insurance was previously sponsored by your employer, you may need to explore options to ensure that you and your family continue to carry health coverage that meets Minimum Creditable Coverage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Before you enroll in a new plan, the first step is submitting your family’s information to the Massachusetts Health Connector, which matches claimants with affordable plans that suit their needs. The Health Connector has an open enrollment period available to those who are without a health plan as a result of job loss. You can view basic information about how to submit your information to the Health Connector in English and Español.
If you can submit your information online, you should. The COVID-19 outbreak has increased the caseload for call center workers helping families enroll in healthcare plans. You can submit your application here, but if you need to call the Health Connector, you can do so at 1-877-MA-ENROLL from 8am to 6pm, Monday through Friday.
After the Health Connector assesses your eligibility, you can select a plan and enroll. In order to make sure that your plan takes effect as quickly as possible, make every effort to submit your information, determine your eligibility, and select a plan by September 23rd. If you’ve recently lost your job, you may be eligible for free or subsidized plans on the Health Connector marketplace.
Depending on your income information, the Health Connector may determine that you are eligible for MassHealth. You can learn more about applying for MassHealth, next steps, and qualification requirements here.
If you require mental health care, all visits with a counselor, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional are being conducted via video-conference for as long as Massachusetts Stay-At-Home orders remain in effect. If you find yourself in need of assistance, you may consult Network of Care Massachusetts, which keeps an updated list of available resources. The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health also provides resources specific to COVID-19 related mental health issues. Even during a pandemic, it is vital that we allow Massachusetts residents who need mental health to receive care that is widely available. You can find additional state resources for managing isolation and loneliness during the pandemic here.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act Sick Leave Benefit
The FFCRA requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.
Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for paid sick time if the employee is unable to work (or unable to telework) due to a need for leave because the employee:
- is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
- is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
- is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
- is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
- is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.
If you suspect that you may be subject to the FFCRA, you can learn more about it here. These provisions currently apply through December 31, 2020.
Resources for Crisis Relief
The Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard has collaborated with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and created the Emergency Rental Relief Fund to assist renters unable to meet their rent payments due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. For a description of this program, please click here. Applications for rental relief may be found on the DCRHA website.
The Major Crisis Relief Fund for the Cape and Islands is offering support for individuals and families impacted economically by COVID-19. They can be reached at 508-778-7107. They are also seeking support and donations to their fund, in order to assist more people and families on the Cape and Islands. Please also reach out if you are in the position to make a financial contribution to their efforts. Check out their website here.
The Nantucket Fund for Emergency Relief is a grant-based organization providing funds to other sources of aid on the island. You can view the organizations that they've funded and learn more about them, based on your specific needs, here.
The Lower Cape Outreach Council is working to provide emergency assistance of food, clothing and financial support to residents of the 8 towns that constitute Lower and Outer Cape Cod. They can be reached at 508- 240-0694 and information about the organization is also available on their website.
Even if you didn’t (or won’t) file a 2019 tax return, you may qualify for some economic impact payments, depending on your circumstances. You can read instructions for non-filers here, and this page details the common scenarios that may qualify someone for economic impact payments.
If you need help heating your home, Massachusetts Community Action has resources for applying for fuel assistance, and for the time being, they’ve waived the face-to-face requirement for their application, which is available here.
Resources for Business Owners
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program
Unemployment Assistance for contractors, self-employed individuals, and gig economy workers is available to those who are otherwise ineligible for unemployment compensation. This new program provides up to 39 weeks of relief, and retroactive compensation for affected business owners left without recourse throughout April and March is available. You can follow this link to learn more about the application process and find out whether you qualify for this program.
Additional Resources for Small Business Owners
The application for the paycheck protection program (PPP) relief capital program is available here. This is a loan facilitated by the federal Small Business Administration and designed to provide an incentive for businesses to keep their workers on payroll. You can find more specific information, including how to apply and who is eligible, here.
The federal CARES Act provides cash infusions, capital to retain employees, and debt relief to certain qualifying businesses. For help navigating these resources, this guide is available.
If you are a small business owner seeking legal help, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office launched two initiatives last month to offer support. The first is the COVID Relief Coalition. The AGO joins a network of law firms and advocacy organizations to administer legal assistance to small business owners and help them apply for emergency loans and other forms of relief. You can view their website and see your options here.
The AGO also launched a grant program to fund municipalities in the Commonwealth that are actively looking for ways to help small business owners.
If you are a small business owner curious about reopening timelines, mass.gov/reopening is the best resource to consult. In addition to timl Save for bars, indoor performance facilities, and other businesses that involve a lot of potential for close contact, most business are able to be open, albeit with restrictions. For a full breakdown of which business can open at this time, check here.
Relief loans for agricultural businesses are available through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). This program’s homepage provides instructions for how to apply and what the eligibility requirements are.
Other Important Agency Notices
Registry of Motor Vehicles
In March, the RMV adopted a no walk-in policy for its Service Centers open to the general public. The only transactions that will be processed at service centers are those that the RMV considers ‘essential’. Examples of ‘essential’ transactions include obtaining a commercial driver’s license or commercial learner’s permit to assist with the supply chain during the State of Emergency declaration, registering a newly purchased vehicle as your primary mode of transportation for employment or obtaining medication and other necessary treatments, or transferring your license or registration from another state for residency requirements.
If you need to make an essential transaction, you must do so with an appointment. You can make an appointment via this link. The South Yarmouth RMV service center is the closest Cape Cod location that remains open. The Martha's Vineyard RMV is open as of June 29, and the Nantucket facility is open as of September 8.
The RMV has extended the expiration date for a number of licenses and related documents and credentials that have expired in spring & summer 2020. Check here to see if yours qualifies.
Department of Conservation & Recreation
Public playgrounds, athletic fields, courts, bathroom areas, and designated fitness areas have reopened. High-touch areas are sanitized by park staff frequently, but the surfaces remain only as clean as the last person to touch them — please by vigilant and wash hands often. This applies to any campgrounds and visitor centers managed by the DCR.
State beaches are open for passive recreational activities, such as sitting, sunbathing, picnicking, and beach fishing. Water sport activities are allowed, provided that participants are not sharing equipment and can still practice adequate social distancing. Group volleyball games, and anything with potential for high-contact, are not allowed. Wear a mask, and maintain six feet of distance between other patrons for transitory activities (walking) and twelve feet of distance between other patrons for passive activities (sitting, toweling). You can read the full guidance from the Administration here.
State parks continue to operate on a limited basis for families who need a short break from staying inside, but parking areas are operating at reduced capacity to limit occupancy in these areas. This will continue indefinitely. Check here for a full guide on how to visit state parks responsibly.
Cape Cod National Seashore trails and beaches remain open, but visitor’s centers, bathrooms, and other facilities are closed. Details are on their website here.
Department of Children and Families
DCF works in partnership with families and communities to keep children safe from abuse and neglect. Child protection is an essential function of state government and during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department remains fully operational with social workers responding to emergencies 24 hours per day.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, you must report it immediately to DCF. All reports of suspected child abuse or neglect must be phoned in.
During regular business hours (8:45 a.m.-5 p.m. M-F) call the Department of Families and Children (DCF) area office that serves the city or town where the child lives. Nights, weekends, and holidays dial the Child-at-Risk Hotline at (800) 792-5200. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
The EEA has jurisdiction over many facets of life in Massachusetts. For a full breakdown of their guidance for staying safe and healthy during the pandemic, you can check their homepage. There were a few specific pieces of guidance that we wanted to highlight here.
Beaches will still have variations on access and enforcement of distancing rules throughout the pandemic, but we are working with the Baker-Polito administration and the towns to make the rules as consistent as possible. The administration slowly began opening state beaches and urges that guests maintain 6 feet of distance for transitory activities (walking on the beach) and 12 feet of distance for stationary activities (laying on a towel)
General guidance for other shared outdoor community spaces is available here.