BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on Tuesday to support the Commonwealth’s response to the outbreak of coronavirus.
The Baker-Polito administration also announced new guidance for executive-branch employees in order to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This includes discontinuing all out-of-state work-related travel; canceling or virtually holding conferences, seminars, and other discretionary gatherings; informing employees not to attend external work-related conferences, seminars, or events; reminding employees feeling sick with fever or flu symptoms to not come into work; and encouraging high-risk employees to talk with their supervisors to review possible alternative work assignments.
Regular internal government business will continue, and these new measures complement other precautions that have been put in place in recent days encouraging proper self-care and hygiene and increasing cleaning and sanitizing of government buildings and offices.
“We will continue planning and preparing to mitigate the spread of this disease, and have issued new guidance for executive-branch employees in the Commonwealth,” Baker said. “I urge employers and other large organizations to follow our example and limit or eliminate non-essential travel, limit or eliminate large events where possible, and explore telework where appropriate for your organization. We are also urging older adults and those with health issues to avoid large crowds and large events.”
The guidance for executive-branch employees goes into effect today, March 11, and will be revisited in 30 days or sooner as circumstances dictate.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has been activated and is bringing together health, human-services, public-safety, and other government leaders. This working group follows the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) infectious-disease task force that was assembled in January.
The administration also issued updated guidance to members of the public. This guidance is posted on the DPH website, www.mass.gov/2019coronavirus.
The administration urges older adults and those with health issues to avoid large crowds and events. Individuals who live in households with vulnerable people, like elderly parents, should also consider avoiding crowds.
Today, DPH will distribute guidance to long-term-care facility operators. This guidance will outline how these facilities should protect elderly residents at higher risk for coronavirus. This will include banning visitors who show signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection (fever, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat). Visitors will be prohibited if they had contact in the last 14 days with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, are under investigation for COVID-19, or have been sick. Visitors will be prohibited if they have traveled internationally in the last 14 days or are residing in a community where community-based spread of COVID-19 is occurring. Visitors will not be allowed to visit long-term-care facilities if they currently feel sick or exhibit symptoms.
Regarding K-12 schools, the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) is providing local schools with relief from attendance and school-year requirements so that schools have the flexibility to make decisions on temporary closures due to coronavirus.
Specifically, the longest any school district will be required to go is its already-scheduled 185th day. No schools will be required to be in session after June 30. For accountability purposes for school year 2019-20, DESE will calculate chronic absenteeism as of March 2 and disregard all attendance data for the remainder of the school year.
In addition, DESE Commissioner Jeff Riley is strongly urging all districts to cancel all out-of-state travel at this time. This is in addition to the administration’s existing request for schools to cancel international trips.
The Department of Public Health will be issuing updated guidance to superintendents on how to address cases that arise at a school, including potential school closures.