FOR MONDAY, AUGUST 22, AT NOON EST
Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity (MCHE): MassCHE2020@gmail.com
Doctors, Public Health and Community Leaders Demand COVID Preparedness for the Fall and Winter
BOSTON, MA - Physicians, public health experts and community and union leaders announce a virtual press conference on Monday, August 22 at 12:00PM, led by the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity (MCHE), to urge the Baker administration, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, local universities, schools and business leaders to implement a comprehensive, public health plan to keep Massachusetts residents safe and healthy this Fall and Winter.
WHO: Physicians, public health experts and community and union leaders (See full list at bottom of advisory)
WHAT: Virtual press conference on led by the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity (MCHE) calling for a comprehensive public health plan to keep MA residents healthy and safe this Fall and Winter
WHEN: Monday, August 22, Noon (12:00 p.m.) EST
WHY: Experts urge officials to take COVID seriously amid CDC warnings of 100 million COVID infections and a predicted resurgence of flu, which threaten to strain the health system this fall. Massachusetts schools dropped the statewide mask requirement last February and the state testing program concluded at the end of the school year.
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has announced that children exposed to COVID will be permitted to remain in class without testing, in spite of the fact that an estimated 40% of COVID cases are asymptomatic. DESE will also permit children with COVID to return to class after only 5 days, even though CDC data show that over half of COVID patients remain contagious on days 5-10 of illness. Experts warned this was a recipe for outbreaks and serious health outcomes, particularly following CDC reports that one in five adults develop long COVID and children are twice as likely to develop serious health problems, like blood clots and heart problems following COVID infections.
“As an organization representing nurses on the frontlines of this ongoing pandemic, be it those working in schools, hospital, clinics and other settings, we are always focused on the need for implementing science-based policies that focus on prevention, testing and other measures that protect the most vulnerable in our society, something we are not seeing as we enter the fall and winter seasons and the prospect of new variants and the potential for another COVID surge,” said Katie Murphy, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and a practicing critical care nurse at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “We are also the providers that will be called upon to respond if and when the health care system is once again overwhelmed with those victimized by this failure to take proper precautions. We cannot afford to be complacent.”
“As the fall approaches, millions in Massachusetts have not received booster doses and many children remain unvaccinated.” said Jon Levy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health and press conference speaker. “We must invest energy to dramatically increase vaccination and booster rates, ensure easy and free access to tests and high-quality masks, and improve ventilation and filtration. Six-months ago we took an off-ramp, but if cases rise we need an on-ramp. We need to be nimble in turning off and on mitigation policies to reduce COVID transmission in schools and other public spaces, which will reduce disruption and save lives.”
“Even with vaccines and treatments, COVID has remained among the top ten causes of death for adults and kids. We aren’t living with COVID. We are dying from COVID,” said Lara Jirmanus, Primary Care Physician and Instructor, Harvard Medical School. “High risk families and individuals have the right to get their basic needs met without risking COVID exposure and anyone can get long COVID. We need a plan that protects everyone, instead of pretending the pandemic is over.”
Event organizers highlighted recent polling data which showed that 70% of Americans would wear masks if COVID cases were increasing, and over half of Americans still support school mask mandates. Black and LatinX poll respondents supported masks in even greater numbers. Ventilation can further decrease COVID transmission by nearly 50%, but event organizers highlighted that few school districts across the state used CARES act funding to update school ventilation.
“COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and Latinx families in Massachusetts. By ending funding for testing, the state shifted prevention costs onto districts and families least likely to afford them and shifted harms onto communities that have already suffered so much.” said FamCOSa co-founder and Boston Education Justice Alliance organizer, Suleika Soto. “FamCOSa calls for equitable COVID policies that Black and Brown families overwhelmingly support - mask mandates during surges, routine pool PCR and at home rapid testing, improved ventilation, and vaccine availability at regular school events.”
Press conference speaker, Tori Cowger, PhD, Fellow at FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, drew attention to her recent study which showed that Massachusetts districts with school mask requirements had significantly fewer COVID cases and missed school days than districts which lifted mask requirements in spring 2022. “Even though the schools with mask mandates had older buildings, more crowded classrooms and a higher proportion of low-income students, masks protected students and staff from substantial illness and loss of in-person school days,” said Cowger. “Masks are low-cost, effective tools. We need to build back the political will to use them to protect lives and learning and promote equity.”
Event organizers issued the following demands:
“This is a time of great importance for policy leadership. We want leaders to know that they have support on implementing evidence-based COVID mitigation policies aligned with equity and inclusion. This included mask policies that turn on at the start of surges to keep schools and public spaces safe, staffed, and accessible for everyone.” said Julia Raifman, Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.
“Universal masking in surges is essential for people at high risk of severe COVID to have access to all public spaces in surges. In school settings, universal mask mandates and remote education options in surges are necessary accommodations for students, educators, and families at high risk of severe COVID to have equal access to education without high risk of severe illness. ” said disability rights advocate and MCHE Member, Ellen Leigh.
Press Conference Speakers to include:
MC: Noel Sanders, Community Organizer, Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity & Disability Policy Consortium
Professor Jonathan Levy, Boston University School of Public Health
Assistant Professor, Julia Raifman, Boston University School of Public Health
Suleika Soto, FamCOSa co-founder and organizer with Boston Education Justice Alliance
Postdoctoral Fellow, Tori Cowger, PhD, MPH, Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights
Katie Murphy, President, Massachusetts Nurses Association
Deb McCarthy, Vice President, Massachusetts Teachers Association
Ellen Leigh, disability rights advocate and MCHE Member
Ed Childs, union organizer, UNITE/HERE
Lara Jirmanus, MD MPH, Primary Care Physician and Instructor, Harvard Medical School
The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Equity (MCHE) is a growing coalition of physicians, public health advocates, and community leaders united in their demand for a comprehensive and equitable response to the COVID-19 pandemic.