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Road to Recovery- Tuesday 3/1/2022

Posted on March 1, 2022


Tuesday March 1 

Monday March 7 

Employers Roll Out Return-to-Office Plans (Again)

Boston Globe – Now that the Omicron threat is subsiding and COVID-19 restrictions are easing, large employers are again preparing to bring people back to the office, with several announcing return dates over the next six weeks.


For some companies, it will be a resumption of an aborted effort that began last year. For others, it will be the first time back since COVID-19 swept into Massachusetts two years ago. And for just about everyone, the new office plans will allow for at least some amount of remote work each week.


Baker Seeks to Waive Requirement to Recoup Unemployment Overpayments

Boston Herald – Governor Charlie Baker’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development has sent a letter to former Boston mayor and current Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh, asking him to waive the requirement to recoup overpayments of unemployment relief.

“Without a blanket waiver option,” the letter states, “the agency must evaluate on a case-by-case basis potentially more than 300,000 waiver applications. That process is laborious for the agency and can be frustrating for the claimant.”

The letter, sent Thursday by Secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta, asked for a “blanket waiver”  for all non-fraudulent overpayments to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs, who received the “vast majority of overpayments,” according to a spokesperson.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program helped those who primarily worked in the gig economy and those who are self-employed, rendering them ineligible for other unemployment programs. Other groups the request applies to include those who received Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation.

Acosta noted that many affected by the overpayment issue “spent these funds months ago to help preserve their own economic stability,” she said. “Meanwhile, we know from historical experience that even with a significant investment of agency time and effort, the recovery rate for overpaid funds is relatively low in view of all the attendant challenges and the limited financial resources of most claimants.”

COVID-19 Antibody Testing Not Useful for Most People

Boston Herald – A type of COVID-19 test rushed out in the early days of the pandemic, before vaccines became widely available, isn’t much use any more for most people, doctors say.

So-called antibody blood tests can tell whether you had SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the past, but not whether you have it now, said Dr. Jeannie Kenkare, chief medical officer and founder of PhysicianOne Urgent Care.

“If you’re a healthy person and you’ve never had a bad immune response, I think it’s not worth getting,” Kenkare said.

One exception is people whose immune systems are compromised, such as people undergoing chemotherapy, said Dr. Todd Ellerin, head of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital. In those cases, antibody tests might help determine whether they should get a booster shot more often or have some other prevention strategy, Ellerin said. But even for that group, antibody testing isn’t clear-cut, he said.

Boston Board of Health Plans Meeting on COVID-19 Restrictions

Boston Herald – The Boston Public Health Commission will meet Tuesday to discuss mask mandates and pandemic-related metrics — not a day too soon, critics say of the board that meets rarely and has had little to do with recent coronavirus decisions by the Wu administration.

Mayor Michelle Wu’s said for more than a week that the Boston Public Health Commission’s board will meet to determine what to do about the city’s indoor mask mandate, which has been in place since last summer after a brief hiatus.

The virtual Board of Health meeting will happen at 4:30 p.m., running for an hour, with 45 minutes devoted to “COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Updates and Discussion.” The mayor has said the discussion will focus on metrics related to the mask mandate and other restrictions.

That’s sure to be a highly publicized meeting — a rarity for the Board of Health even in the middle of the global pandemic and recent Omicron-variant-driven surge, when power instead has been concentrated in City Hall, rather than the statutorily created board that features well-known medical professionals.

Indeed, the board last met Jan. 12, and the agenda only slotted 15 minutes for “COVID-19 Updates,” even though it was right in the middle of the Omicron surge and just a couple of weeks after the mayor had introduced a raft of mandates, including requiring vaccines for city workers and patrons of restaurants and other public venues.


Hearing Over Boston Vaccine Mandates Gest Testy

Boston Herald – The first in-person hearing of the City Council in nearly two years was a testy one, as councilors exchanged jabs over the Wu administration’s response to COVID-19 and slates of union heads, city officials and anti-vaccine activists testified in the hours-long meeting.

The hearing was originally scheduled for last week by City Councilors Frank Baker and Erin Murphy, but they pushed it off as the top city health and legal officials who they wanted to attend weren’t going to do so.

This time, Health Commissioner Dr. Bisola Ojikutu and a Boston Public Health Commission official did attend and speak, though the absence of the city’s legal department frustrated Baker, who told the councilors he was already fired up because of the possibility of city workers losing their jobs in a way that reminded him of how he’d suddenly lost his when the city suddenly cut its printing department a decade ago.

“I’ll be damned if I let people lose their jobs,” Baker said, adding that when the city cut the print shop, the council was “complicit” in people getting laid off. “This administration is playing games.”


Baker Says He Doesn’t Know Scope of IG Investigation into EEC Commissioner

Boston 25 – Governor Charlie Baker says he’s not clear on exactly why the Massachusetts Inspector General is investigating the commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care {EEC}.

On Tuesday, 25 Investigates broke the news that EEC Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy resigned amid an investigation by the inspector general.

Sources say the investigation centers around a contract Aigner-Treworgy personally arranged and gave to someone.

“Commissioner Sam did a great job working through a very difficult period of time, especially for the early care and education community here in the Commonwealth throughout the course of the pandemic. I don’t know that much about the Inspector General. But the bottom line is, you know, when they ask for stuff, we give it to them. But it has nothing… one has nothing to do with the other,” Baker said.

Survey Shows Massive Exodus of Teachers, School Staff Over COVID

Boston Herald – The head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association blamed Gov. Charlie Baker and Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley for rock-bottom morale that is causing many teachers to leave their profession.

“This is not burnout; this is demoralization,” said Merrie Najimy. “Students are struggling socially, emotionally and academically, and yet the governor and commissioner want us to return to a normal that doesn’t exist anymore. They don’t give us time to pay attention to students’ needs because teachers are teaching multiple classes,” including those of their colleagues who are absent due to COVID.

One of the polls, commissioned by the National Education Association, which represents nearly 3 million educators, found that the massive staff shortages in America’s public schools have left 55% of teachers saying they’re ready to leave the profession they love earlier than planned.

Today, there already are 567,000 fewer teachers in America’s public schools than there were before the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And nationally, the ratio of hires to job openings in the education sector currently stands at 0.57 hires for every open position, according to the BLS.

“This is a five-alarm crisis,” said Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association.

“We are facing an exodus as more than half of our nation’s teachers and other school staff are now indicating they will be leaving education sooner than planned. If we’re serious about getting every child the support they need to thrive, our elected leaders across the nation need to address this crisis now.”

Massachusetts Among Top States in Declining COVID Hospitalizations

MassLive – Massachusetts is among the top five states and U.S. territories in declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, averaging more than 50 percent fewer than the state tallied two weeks ago.

On Thursday, the state Department of Public Health reported 512 hospitalizations, about the same as what the commonwealth faced before Thanksgiving and a winter surge of cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The state also reported 1,556 new cases Thursday, an uptick from Wednesday but only due to system errors that made the previous day’s total lower than it should have been, according to DPH.

According to national data tracked by The New York Times, the state currently averages about 630 hospitalizations, about 53 percent fewer than earlier this month. The nine hospitalizations per 1,000 residents in Massachusetts, where at least 78 percent are fully vaccinated, is among the fewest in the nation.

DPH reported that 55 percent of the hospital patients were fully vaccinated; the other 45 percent have not had two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the single-shot dose made by Johnson & Johnson.

Ninety-seven patients are currently in intensive care units and 63 are intubated.

About half of the patients are reported as “incidental” cases — patients who are being treated for other reasons but still test positive for COVID-19.

Local Movement Emerges to Support Income Surtax

Berkshire Eagle – Months ahead of the November elections, Berkshire County Democrats are beginning to spread the word about a ballot question that they see as key to funding the future of education and transportation in the state.

The question, known as the Fair Share Amendment, would generate revenue for education and transportation investments through a 4 percentage point surtax on annual income more than $1 million. Currently, all income is taxed at a 5 percent rate.

Under the proposal, residents making more than $1 million would pay 5 percent on the first million and 9 percent on the amount above $1 million, a threshold that would adjust for inflation in future years. The change would generate up to an estimated $2 billion per year dedicated to education and transportation. The state Department of Revenue estimated in 2015 that it would raise $1.6 to $2.2 billion from 19,600 residents.

Many Hospitals are Short-Staffed. The Culprit May Not be a Shortage of Nurses

WBUR – There’s a lot of talk about a shortage of nurses and other hospital staff during the pandemic, a shortage that means patients sometimes wait in hallways until a bed opens up, or have to reschedule surgery.


But state numbers show there are more licensed nurses now, in almost every category, than before the pandemic. The state Board of Registration in Nursing shows a 24 percent increase in licensed registered nurses this month as compared to June of 2019. And that’s in addition to nearly 12,000 temporary — or travel — nurses licensed during the pandemic. So, why do many hospitals, community health centers and clinics have job openings?

The state’s main nurses’ union says the answer is not because there’s an actual shortage of nurses.

“It’s a shortage of nurses willing to work under these conditions,” says Katie Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Conditions that many nurses say leave them in tears or unable to function immediately after a shift. While the state doesn’t track how many of the nurses on its rolls are currently employed, many nurses describe leaving jobs they once cherished in the wake of COVID and its ripple effects.


Tensions Run High Between Porter Square Business and Bikers Over Bike Lane Project

Boston Herald – A Cambridge project to install bike lanes this April along a small strip of one of the city’s main thoroughfares, eliminating most metered parking spaces in the process, has sparked tensions between the city’s business owners, bikers, local officials and concerned citizens around Porter Square who all have a stake in the game.

The business community has banded together, forming a group to sign petitions, disperse flyers around the neighborhood and generally rally against the project.

“We’ve been here for 34 years, I have probably been told more than 1,000 times, ‘I found a parking spot, so we stopped in,’ ” said Seth Lamoreaux, who owns Cambridge Clogs, a specialty sock and clog store. He added that some customers come from other parts of New England to his shop and definitely need parking.

Lamoreaux said that, the day before, a customer told him they refused to shop at his store because he had a sign supporting the small business movement against the bike lanes in his window.

“Many people are dug in in their position, and I’d like to see a compromise,” he said.

“A lot of the community in Cambridge, we all do kind of band together, because one neighborhood or one stretch of the street does affect the other,” said Amy Driscoll, owner of Susanna, a boutique just outside the bike lane area. “This bike lane project feels very threatening.”

But the tension cuts both ways, one resident said, with activists adding that the bike lanes could create crucial change for the area and help business.

“I’ve had a business owner yell at me just because I came in with a bicycle helmet,” said a local resident who identified herself as Katherine B. “It’s so hurtful and painful that I just have to step back from (organizing) for my own sanity.”


Supreme Court Will Hear Most Significant Climate-Change Case in a Decade

Boston Herald – In the most important environmental case in more than a decade, the Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments in a dispute that could restrict or even eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to control the pollution that is heating the planet.

A decision by the high court, with its conservative supermajority, could shred President Biden’s plans to halve the nation’s greenhouse emissions by the end of the decade, which scientists have said is necessary to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“They could handcuff the federal government’s ability to affordably reduce greenhouse gases from power plants,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.

But the outcome could also have repercussions that stretch well beyond air pollution, restricting the ability of federal agencies to regulate health care, workplace safety, telecommunications, the financial sector and more.


Healey Again Rejects Brookline Anti-Fossil Fuel Bylaws

Commonwealth Magazine – For the second time in less than two years, Attorney General Maura Healey on Friday rejected bylaws approved by the town of Brookline placing restrictions or prohibitions on buildings incorporating fossil-fuel infrastructure.

As she did in 2020, Healey went out of her way to say she agreed with the intent of the proposed bylaws approved by town residents last year — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

But the attorney general, who is now a candidate for governor, said her statutory obligation to review the legality of bylaws prevents her from taking policy issues into account. She said her review concluded the bylaws were preempted by the state building code and a law giving the Department of Public Utilities oversight of the sale and distribution of natural gas in Massachusetts.

“The attorney general supports the town’s efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels within the town,” Healey said in a letter to Brookline officials.

“And the attorney general notes that pending state actions may provide the town with greater latitude in the near future. However, the Legislature (and the courts) have made plain that at the present time the town cannot utilize the methods it has selected to achieve those goals.”

Berkshire Gas sees Natural Gas as Part of Its Plan to Meet State Climate Goals

Berkshire Eagle – Asked how it will help meet Massachusetts climate goals, Berkshire Gas said natural gas will remain a key part of its plans.

Consultants contracted by Berkshire Gas and other Massachusetts utilities released a draft report Feb. 15, detailing possible strategies.

Based on that report and the stakeholder process, Berkshire Gas concluded in a Feb. 15 document that “all scenarios taken together, including qualitative and feasibility considerations, envision an important role for natural gas in the energy transition.”

Observers who have followed the process continue to voice one central concern. While the changes being floated continue to rely on burning gas, they wanted the process, which Attorney General Maura Healey requested in June 2020, to look at how companies could shift to a business model built around electrification.

Opinion: Climate Advocates Applaud McGovern

Gazette Net – There is no better time than now to encourage elected government officials at all levels to pass effective climate legislation. Members of the Pioneer Valley chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) are thrilled that U.S Rep. Jim McGovern, has recently signed on as a cosponsor of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 2307).

Rep. McGovern joins 94 House colleagues in supporting the bill, including members of the Massachusetts delegation, Seth Moulton and Jake Auchincloss.

“This bill, when passed by Congress and signed into law, will be the most significant economy wide boost to our nation’s critical effort to decrease carbon emissions into the atmosphere” said Helen Seidler, a member of CLL’s local Pioneer Valley Chapter. “In addition, it will put us into a global leadership position to encourage other countries to pass similar legislation.”

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is one of the most robust pieces of climate legislation on the table in Congress. It will put a fee on carbon emitting fossil fuels when they first enter the economy and allocate that revenue to Americans as a monthly dividend or “carbon cash back” payment.

Gas Prices Move Higher in Massachusetts

State House News – Gas prices in Massachusetts shot up by 8 cents a gallon in the latest AAA survey.

The automobile association reported a $3.62-per-gallon average in its weekly survey results, released Monday. That’s up 24 cents a gallon over the last month and 98 cents higher than this week last year.

AAA said crude oil prices spiked after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to higher prices at the pump.

“Russia’s invasion and the responding escalating series of financial sanctions by the U.S. and its allies have given the global oil market the jitters,” AAA’s Mary Maguire said in a statement.

“Like the U.S. stock market, the oil market responds poorly to volatility. It’s an explosive situation, and a grim reminder that events on the far side of the globe can have a ripple effect for American consumers.”

In November, a day after AAA reported the average price of gas nudged up to $3.42 per gallon in Massachusetts, President Biden announced plans to release 50 million barrels of oil from strategic reserves and reiterated his support for a probe into possible illegal activity in the oil and gas markets. The White House called the moves “part of ongoing efforts to lower prices and address lack of supply around the world.”