Some Mass. legislators persist in calling for shelter-in-place

Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Aaron Ye/BU News Service)

By Anju Miura
BU News Service

BOSTON – Some legislators say a shelter-in-place order is necessary to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, adding that they’re utilizing telecommunication to deal with constituents’ concerns while practicing social distancing.

Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo decided March 23 to close the State House to the public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

State Rep. Tami Gouveia, D-Acton, said she sent letters to Gov. Charlie Baker and Spilka on March 12, calling to close the State House to not only visitors but also staff who work in the building.

She said she supports a widespread shelter-in-place order to allow residents to go out only under specific circumstances, such as medical care, grocery shopping and work which cannot be conducted remotely. Several states, including California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut have imposed such orders.

“I think it’s imperative that we maintain social distancing strategies and [issue] a shelter-in-place,” said Gouveia.

She said she has been working remotely and directed her staff to follow suit since last Wednesday.

Gouveia noted that a House employee confirmed to have tested positive this week had visited her office suite a week earlier.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that I was trying to prevent and calling on leadership to close the State House,” she said.

Gouveia said she did not have direct contact with the person becausee she has been working remotely, but other people who were in the same room have health conditions, which put them at greater risk.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, also said a shelter-in-place order is necessary in addition to Baker’s order to shut down schools and cancel elective surgeries, in order to secure equipment and for health care providers to be able to meet the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

“I’m dissatisfied with Gov. Baker’s response,” said Eldridge, who filed a request March 18 with 31 other state and city officials to issue a shelter-in-place order.

“Massachusetts is still behind” in dealing with the pandemic, he said. “Unfortunately, Gov. Baker continues to be four or five days late on comprehensively responding to the coronavirus.”

While lawmakers practice social distancing, they are utilizing telecommunication to address their constituents concerns virtually.

“I’ve been using technology to communicate with individuals and communities about the need for taking social-distancing measures seriously,” said Gouveia, who had previously used telecommunication as a public health social worker.

She said she has sent updates of the impact of coronavirus and conducted live videos on Facebook and Zoom meetings to provide information and answer questions virtually.

State Rep. Jeff Roy, D-Franklin, has held virtual office hours through phone and video calls to answer constituent questions.

Roy also created a new page on his website that provides constant updates on the COVID-19 cases and various types of information that can be affected by the pandemic, such as unemployment insurance, housing, substance use disorder, education and pet care.

“I’m just thankful that we have all of this technology,” he said. “I’m able to keep my constituents updated and notified in real time as to what’s happening.”

Eldridge said telecommunication is necessary for the Legislature to make sure of the checks and balances.

“It creates a barrier to serving constituents, but we are responding to people who inquire about different issues,” he said.

“We’re not really used to being prepared for that,” said Gouveia. “I do believe firmly that we can get through this together. I think it’s about trying to figure out how to operate in the new normal.”

This article was originally published in The Metrowest Daily News.

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