Wednesday, August 5, 2020

State Public Health Officials Announce Additional Risk Level Changes for EEE in the Commonwealth

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today announced ten new EEE positive mosquito samples. These results include samples from Carver and Wareham in Plymouth County and from Canton in Norfolk County. As a result, the risk level in Wareham has been raised to high. Carver and Middleborough are currently at critical risk for EEE. Kingston, Plympton and Rochester are already high risk. Bridgewater, Halifax, Lakeville, and Plymouth in Plymouth County, and Raynham and Taunton in Bristol County are at moderate risk. 

DPH is working with the local health departments, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, and local Mosquito Control Projects to coordinate surveillance and appropriate public health response activities.

All residents are reminded to use mosquito repellent any time they are outside, and those in high and critical risk communities are advised to schedule their outdoor activity to avoid the dusk to dawn hours to reduce exposure to the mosquitoes most likely to spread EEE. DPH recommends the following precautions.

Avoid Mosquito Bites

Apply Insect Repellent when Outdoors. Use a repellent with an EPA-registered ingredient (DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picaridin (KBR 3023), oil of lemon eucalyptus [p-methane 3, 8-diol (PMD)] or IR3535) according to the instructions on the product label. DEET products should not be used on infants under two months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30% or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age.

Be Aware of Peak Mosquito Hours. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning in areas of high risk.

Clothing Can Help Reduce Mosquito Bites. Wearing long-sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.

Mosquito-Proof Your Home

Drain Standing Water. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty unused flowerpots and wading pools, and change the water in birdbaths frequently.

Install or Repair Screens. Keep mosquitoes outside by having tightly-fitting screens on windows and doors.

Protect Your Animals

Animal owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools – especially after heavy rains. Water troughs should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months and horse owners should keep horses in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes. Owners should speak with their veterinarian about mosquito repellents approved for use in animals and vaccinations to prevent WNV and EEE. If an animal is suspected of having WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to DAR, Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795 and to DPH by calling 617-983-6800.

For information on Mosquito Control activities, visit the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources webpage at State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board (SRMCB).

For other updates about EEE in Massachusetts, visit the DPH webpage www.mass.gov/eee.

Information including all West Nile virus and EEE positive results can be found on the Arbovirus Surveillance Information web page or by calling the DPH Epidemiology Program at 617-983-6800.

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Friday, July 31, 2020

Senate Passes Bill to Increase Reporting Requirements for Department of Children and Families

Also establishes a Foster Parent Bill of Rights and Increases Access to Mental Health Care

The State Senate today passed a bill to introduce new oversight and reporting requirements for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families also moves the child fatality review board to the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), establishes a ‘Foster Parent Bill of Rights,’ and increases access to mental health care for children in the Commonwealth.

“As a former Chair of Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, ensuring the safety and well-being of the Commonwealth’s children remains deeply and personally important to me,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the strength of this bill by looking at the needs of our children from a holistic point of view. I’d like to particularly thank Senator Chang-Diaz and Senator Rodrigues for ensuring this bill moved forward.”

Under the bill, DCF would be required to publish consolidated annual reports and quarterly profiles, establish a 3-year plan with targets for safety, permanence and well-being outcomes for children, and submit a report on young adults who continue to receive services after reaching the age of 18. The bill also updates reporting requirements that are outdated, irrelevant or duplicative, and requires DCF and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop clear plans for maintaining close contact with, and providing quality education to, children who have open cases with DCF during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

“This bill will protect some of the most vulnerable children in the Commonwealth while strengthening our foster system and providing support for foster parents,” said Senator Michael Rodrigues (D - Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Thank you to Senate President Spilka for her leadership, Senators Chang-Diaz and Comerford for their work on this legislation, and all of my Senate colleagues for championing foster families.

“The mission of the DCF is vital and the Senate has consistently adopted bipartisan supported legislation to strengthen the agency so that the people who are tasked with protecting these vulnerable children have standards of accountability that maximize the well-being and safety of those they serve,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester). “Importantly, this bill advances those goals in a timely and effective way.”

To increase access to vital mental health care for children in care, the bill eliminates prior authorization for mental health acute treatment for children experiencing acute mental health crises. It also requires emergency departments to have the capacity to evaluate and stabilize a person admitted with a mental health presentation at all times, and to refer them to appropriate treatment or inpatient admission, expediting the process for individuals under 22 years old. Additionally, the bill establishes a pilot program, administered by the Department of Public Health, to increase student access to tele-behavioral health services in schools.

The bill seeks to increase support for, and grow the pool of, foster parents in the Commonwealth through the establishment of a ‘Foster Parent Bill of Rights.’ Specifically, the bill includes several key rights important to foster families, including: access to training and resources; the right to appropriate communication between DCF, courts, and others involved with caring for the child; the right to be free from all forms of discrimination in carrying out their duties as foster parents; the ability to exercise rights without fear of repercussions; and establishing a reasonable and prudent parenting standard.

“This important bill will help the state do better business when it comes to serving one of the most at-risk populations in our Commonwealth: children in DCF custody,” stated Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “My heartfelt thanks to Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz, Michael Rodrigues, and Senate President Karen Spilka for their dogged work on this legislation. I am delighted that the rights of foster parents will be enumerated, strengthening their role and responsibilities within this complex system.”

An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families now moves to the House of Representatives for further action.

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Massachusetts RMV to Pilot Drop-Off Registration & Title Services

Alternative service channel will allow customers to drop-off paperwork for certain vehicle-based transactions to be completed within several business days

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) will on Monday, August 3rd begin to pilot drop-off registration and title services at the Braintree Service Center, with additional locations to follow beginning Monday, August 10th. These Registration Drop Off Centers will be dedicated to performing a number of vehicle-based registration and title services for both commercial and individual customer transactions on a drop-off only basis. Customers choosing this option will be able to drop-off appropriate paperwork for processing within a few business days.

“The RMV is excited to pilot and offer this new drop-off service to all of its customers for certain vehicle-based transactions,” said RMV Registrar Jamey Tesler. “Customers in need of one of these vehicle-based transactions can drop-off their paperwork and return to pick it up in just a few business days. This alternative service channel will help meet increased RMV service demands during a time when services are limited by appointment-only due to the need to enforce social-distancing to keep our customers and employees safe.”

Registration renewals will still be conducted exclusively online or by mail for individual customers. Customers will continue to be able to make appointments for certain vehicle-based registration and title services up to 14 days in advance.

How Does ‘Drop-Off’ Registration and Title Service Work?

Customers in need of one of the services listed below should compile and complete all appropriate paperwork and any supporting documents. This includes contacting your insurance agent/company to obtain a completed Registration and Title Application (RTA). Customers must drop-off the required paperwork within 30 days of obtaining their RTA. Drop-offs with an incomplete or inaccurate RTA will not be processed.

Customers will be able to visit any Registration Drop Off Center between the hours of 9:00AM and 4:00PM to drop-off their transaction paperwork. An RMV door advocate will review the customer’s paperwork to determine if it’s correctly completed and ask customers to fill out a coversheet with their name, email and phone number. Customers will not be allowed to wait and should expect a phone call or email from the Service Center within a few days when their transaction is completed.

Transactions will be processed in the order received. Customers will receive a phone call or email when their transaction is completed and be instructed to pay for their transaction online.

Customers will return to the Service Center to pick up their plates and/or registration.

Customers who are dropping-off or picking-up their paperwork will be served in the order of arrival and should anticipate a wait time for the intake and pick-up process, but will not have to wait for their transaction to be completed that same day.

How Long is the ‘Drop-Off’ Turnaround Time?

While the RMV asks for its customers’ patience during the initial days of this service offering, anticipated turnaround time for completion of drop-off transactions is within four business days. Drop-offs with an incomplete or inaccurate RTA (see above) will not be processed.

However, customers may expect additional wait times if their transaction paperwork is incomplete, inaccurate or requires additional review.

What If I Don’t Want to ‘Drop-Off’ My Transaction or Wait 4 Business Days?

Customers may alternatively continue to book an appointment-only reservation for these services. Appointments are available online up to 14 days in advance.

What Type of Transactions Can I ‘Drop-Off’ for Service?

The following types of transactions can be dropped off by both commercial and individual customers, including casual sales, campers, trailers and motorcycles. Registration renewals will still be conducted exclusively online or by mail for individual customers.

Register and title a vehicle

Transfer plate to a new vehicle

Reinstate a registration

Apply for a registration only

Transfer a plate between two vehicles

Register previously titled vehicle

Transfer vehicle to surviving spouse

Registration amendments

Plate cancellations

Where is My Nearest Registration ‘Drop-Off’ Center and When Can I Visit?

Drop-off hours will be between 9:00AM-4:00PM. The following locations will begin performing drop-off registration and title services on Monday, August 10th, while the Braintree Service Center will begin performing drop-off registration and title services on Monday, August 3rd:

Boston / Haymarket Service Center

Braintree Service Center (Monday, August 3rd)

Chicopee Service Center

Haverhill Service Center

Milford Service Center

Taunton Service Center

Wilmington Service Center

Why is the RMV Offering Certain ‘Drop-Off’ Services?

The RMV is introducing this service channel alternative in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency to encourage ‘social-distancing’ in its Service Centers and prioritize other essential in-person needs by appointment-only. All RMV customers are encouraged to visit www.Mass.Gov/RMV to complete one of over 40 other transactions available online, by mail, or by phone.

For additional information on RMV service offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit www.mass.gov/rmv or https://www.mass.gov/info-details/rmv-covid-19-information.

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SENATE PASSES GENOCIDE EDUCATION BILL

Establishes the Genocide Education Trust Fund to educate students on the history of genocide.

The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed An Act concerning genocide education to educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide and to promote the teaching of human rights issues.

“To forge a more just future, our next generation must be educated on the tragic history of the Holocaust and other instances of genocide,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “The importance of this bill cannot be overstated, and I say this as a Jewish woman and the daughter of a World War II veteran who helped liberate the victims of Nazi concentration camps. I am very thankful to Senators Rodrigues, Lewis and Creem for their advocacy on this issue and my colleagues for their unanimous support.”

“Seventy-five years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, we, as a society, continue to grapple with the root causes of hatred and discrimination. With the passage of this bill today, we take a critically important step to ensuring our students are educated on the Holocaust, the grave mistakes of the past, and stand ready to root out the injustices of the future,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “As the forces of fake news, division, and ignorance continue to march on, I applaud Senate President Spilka and my colleagues in the Senate for standing up to say that we will never forget the lessons of the past. I also thank my constituent, Dr. Ron Weisberger, and the advocates for their urgent efforts to ensure we use the power of education to address hate, broaden public awareness, and shape our collective future.”

According to a 2018 article in the New York Times, 31% of Americans and 41% of millennials believe 2 million Jews or fewer were murdered in the Holocaust while 41% of Americans and 66% of millennials do not know what Auschwitz is. This bill would establish a Genocide Education Trust Fund to promote and educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide. Funds in this trust would be used to encourage the instruction of middle and high school students on the history of genocide and ensure the development of curricular materials, as well as to provide professional development training to assist educators in the teaching of genocide.

"Thanks to Chairman Rodrigues for his leadership on a matter of importance - ensuring that students in our state learn about these horrific events so that our society can be better equipped to prevent anything like them from happening again, and sensitive to the impacts they have had on victims throughout history. Our caucus is pleased to join with all of our colleagues in this legislative effort," said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R - Gloucester). "By having opportunities to learn about these events of the past students will be enriched, better informed, and more able to reject hatred and intolerance."

The bill requires each school district to annually file a description of their lesson plan and programs related to genocide education with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The bill also establishes a competitive grant program that schools and districts can apply to for additional programming support.

An Act concerning genocide education now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Baker-Polito Administration Allocates $50 Million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to Schools and Colleges Across the Commonwealth

The Baker-Polito Administration announced today it will allocate more than $50 million in federal CARES Act funds to benefit education in elementary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities. The funding from the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund will improve early literacy, expand remote learning opportunities, and cover costs associated with reopening certain schools and colleges, as well as boost financial aid for college students in greater need of financial assistance.

As part of the federal CARES Act, governors in each state were granted a share of discretionary dollars to ensure continuity of educational services during the COVID-19 crisis. The Baker-Polito Administration previously allocated nearly $1 billion in federal funds to help municipalities, school districts, and colleges and universities in the Commonwealth address COVID-related expenses.

The funding announced today will support the following initiatives:
· Up to $10 million for early literacy programs that provide extra help to students through Grade 3, aimed at remediating learning loss children may have experienced since schools closed in March, as well as accelerate reading skills of children in high-need communities;
· Up to $7.5 million to expand access to online courses, including advanced placement, early college or dual enrollment courses;
· Up to $25 million to cover COVID-related expenses associated with reopening colleges and universities, as well as certain non-public elementary and secondary schools. Funds will be allocated based on the number and percentage of low-income students these schools enroll;
· Up to $2.5 million in financial aid for low-income college students attending public colleges to ensure they can cover emergency expenses to continue their education;
· And up to $5 million set aside in an emergency reserve fund.

“Our administration is committed to supporting every student in our schools as districts and universities prepare for the start of the school year,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This $50 million investment represents flexible funding that can be used for a variety of critical resources for schools and colleges as they begin to reopen and bring kids back into the classroom, especially in our most vulnerable communities.”

“These additional resources will help us target funding to support schools and colleges recover from effects of the pandemic,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “Our administration looks forward to our continued collaboration with school officials statewide on how to best support the safe return to classrooms this fall.”

“Besides supporting financial stability and continuity of service in both K-12 and higher education, this plan will give more students access to high-quality online learning opportunities,” said Education Secretary James Peyser.

“We know districts will need more funding this year than in a typical school year, and I am pleased to see this money added to the financial support that is already on its way to districts,” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley.

“At a time of great uncertainty for those of us in higher education, this investment in our public colleges and universities and most especially, in our underserved students, will help ease the financial burdens associated with COVID-19 and lay the groundwork for a productive fall semester,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education.

Funding announced today builds on the nearly $1 billion previously allocated to schools, childcare programs, colleges, and universities.

· In June, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the allocation of approximately $200 million from the Commonwealth’s federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for costs related to reopening public schools.

· Other funding sources to support school reopening include:
$500 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund previously allocated to cities and towns.
$194 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grants.
$45 million to support the reopening of childcare programs serving low-income children.
$19 million for special education residential schools.
$25 million in federal funds for a matching grant program to help school districts and charter schools close technology gaps that inhibit remote learning.

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Massachusetts Legislature Passes Breakfast After the Bell Legislation

The Massachusetts Legislature passed legislation to fight childhood hunger and boost participation rates in school breakfast programs in schools with high percentages of students from low-income families in the Commonwealth. The bill, An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, would require all public K-12 schools with 60 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins.

“Research shows that students who eat a healthy breakfast get better grades, go to the nurse less frequently, and miss fewer days of school,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Yet, too often, missed meals equal missed opportunities for our children. As a state, we simply cannot accept hungry students as part of our reality. Students who don’t eat breakfast start every single day at a very real disadvantage to their peers; passing this bill into law ensures that students across the Commonwealth have equitable access to nutrition to ensure that they start every day right, ready to learn. I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Senator DiDomenico for his tireless advocacy on this issue, and to Senate Education Chair Jason Lewis, Speaker DeLeo and our partners in the House for their work on this bill as well.”

“We know that a hungry student cannot learn,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “Children who have access to breakfast at school are healthier, happier, and perform better in the classroom. This bill also removes any potential stigma for students by making free breakfast a shared classroom activity. In keeping with the House’s ongoing commitment to prioritize children’s health and wellness, I’m proud to support this innovative school breakfast program. My thanks to House Education Chair Peisch, Representatives Vega and Vargas, stakeholders, Senate President Spilka and our colleagues in the Legislature for their advocacy on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children.”

"Access to healthy food is a vital need for all children. Under the agreed-upon provisions of this bill such access establishes healthier habits, allows for more consistent focus, and enables more fruitful growth and development," said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester).

“Food insecurity remains a serious issue for many students in Massachusetts, and the COVID-19 global pandemic has only added to this problem,” said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading). “By implementing Breakfast After the Bell, we are taking proactive steps to make sure no student goes hungry and every student comes to school prepared to learn.”

Massachusetts currently requires all schools with high percentages of students from low-income families to provide breakfast to every eligible student. However, because breakfast is typically offered before the bell and in the cafeteria, participation levels are low—less than 40 percent—compared to 80-90 percent participation for free and reduced lunch. Moving breakfast from before the bell to after the bell is a proven strategy to boost breakfast participation and ensure that all students have the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn.

This legislation would require schools across Massachusetts serving low-income students to offer breakfast after the start of the instructional day through a variety of delivery models, including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go, and second-chance breakfast. This flexibility allows school districts to select the model that best fits their students’ needs.

As a federally reimbursed program, Breakfast After the Bell has the potential to provide up to $25 million statewide to Massachusetts school districts that increase participation rates to 80 percent and above. These payments are made directly to school nutrition departments, helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options.

This bill now moves to the governor for his consideration.

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Governor Baker Briefs From Pfizer

In the next hour: Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito will join Pfizer Andover Site Leader Jon Tucker and Pfizer Vice President of Worldwide Research & Development Dr. Meg Ruesch for a briefing on Pfizer’s COVID vaccine program. We will have live coverage at https://www.facebook.com/SenatorBruceTarr/.

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