Scale Back Phased Reopening in MA

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October 7th, 2020

His Excellency Charles D. Baker, Governor                                      Commonwealth of Massachusetts                                  Massachusetts State House                                                               24 Beacon Street, Room 360                                                         Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Baker,

We at the COVID-19 Action Coalition write to you today as a coalition of physicians, health care workers, and concerned business and community leaders across the state. We thank you for taking decisive actions early in the pandemic to save lives. The measured reopening plan you implemented has been successfully phased-in without a concerning resurgence in cases--until now.

Massachusetts’ case numbers increased dramatically in recent weeks, which jeopardizes the health of our residents, the reopening of our schools, and the Massachusetts economy. The onset of the first resurgence in cases occurred in late July,  approximately three weeks after the transition from Phase 2 to Phase 3. Given the timeframe, this resurgence was likely associated with that transition. The additional influx of college students and colder weather driving more people to congregate indoors have likely played a synergistic role in the recent surge in cases.

DPH data and news reports show clear indicators of a continuing rise in community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. In the first week of October, we recorded two days with over 700 new cases, and our transmission replication number (R0), a measure of the number of people typically infected by each sick person, is one of the highest in the United States. Daily confirmed hospital admissions related to COVID-19 have climbed, and with at least 30 new admissions related to COVID-19 daily. Close to 500 Massachusetts residents are currently hospitalized from COVID-19, a number that has risen by 25% since August. Outbreaks of the infection in several hospital systems, including most recently the Brigham and Women’s hospital, and at several universities in the state, including U. Mass Amherst, which is now in the red zone, are concerning signs of increasing community transmission. If rates continue to rise, we may have to close schools indefinitely across the Commonwealth.

Given these clear indicators of increasing community transmission, the October 5th order relaxing restrictions on indoor gathering size will unquestionably increase the risk of still more super-spreader events. While other states experiencing similar rising case rates are aggressively acting to reverse this trend, Massachusetts is not. We expect to see the effects of this policy in mid- to end of October 2020, and we fear this will result in preventable loss of life and livelihoods in the Commonwealth.

Every restriction has the potential to impact the daily activities of individuals and business owners. Yet economic health and community health go hand-in-hand: it is impossible to have a vibrant economy with high rates of coronavirus infection incapacitating businesses with parents unable to work because schools are closed or open only in a hybrid model. Therefore, prevention of further infections and deaths must remain the highest priority to avoid a complete shutdown and resultant economic fallout.

We join public health experts, epidemiologists, physicians and health care workers across the state calling for rapid implementation of robust public health measures to lower community transmission and case numbers . We urge you to act now to protect everyone living, working, and studying in the Commonwealth by adopting strategic interventions shown to decrease case prevalence in other states, including the following:

  • Immediately close indoor bars (even if food is served); resume prior limits on seating at indoor restaurants; close or limit the capacity of indoor entertainment venues; and limit gathering size to less than 10;
  • Plan and implement state-funded and coordinated asymptomatic surveillance and symptomatic testing equitably for all institutions such as schools, hospitals, and other large essential institutional settings; 
  • Quarantine cases and restrict travel for students and staff at educational institutions that have experienced a large increase in case numbers;
  • Allocate funds for PPE and additional infection control measures in nursing homes and assisted living settings to reduce mortality in that disproportionately affected, vulnerable population.

Governor Baker,  your urgent action is critical to drive down community prevalence and to ensure an optimal opportunity for schools and the economy to continue to reopen safely. We  thank you for taking decisive actions that will have long-lasting consequences on the health of all of those living and working in the Commonwealth. 

Sincerely,

COVID-19 Action Coalition Leadership and Members

Susanna Huh, MD MPH, President and Founder, Newton, MA

Sushama Scalera, MD, Vice President & Executive Director, Operations, Cambridge, MA

Rebecca Perkins MD, MSc, Founder and Lead Reopening Team, Newton, MA

Amy Fogelman, MD, Executive Director of Communications, Needham, MA

Brita Lundberg, MD, Co-Lead, Detect and Protect Team, Newton, MA

Leah Schafer, MD, Co-Lead, Personal Protective Equipment Team, Newton, MA

Nandana Kansra, MD, MPH, FACP, Shrewsbury MA, Co-Lead Personal Protective Equipment Team

Lori Zimmerman, MD, Co- Lead, Personal Protective Equipment Team, Needham, MA 

Supriya Rao, MD, Physician Media Lead, Newton, MA

Christopher Garofalo, MD, FAAFP, Co-Lead, Detect and Protect Team, North Attleboro, MA

Amy Mah Sangiolo, Treasurer, Newton, MA

Andrea Ciaranello, MD, Division of Infectious Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital

Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, MPH, Medical Editor, Sharon, MA

Jenifer Siegelman, MD, Newton, MA

Karen Leitner, MD, Newton, MA

Kriti Bhatia, MD, Executive Director of Public Affairs