Keller at Large

Keller: Mayor Wu’s COVID Storm Challenge

On this week’s Keller at Large, Jon Keller takes a look at Boston’s proof of vaccination requirement and ways to boost vaccine numbers. Keller’s take: “So with a blizzard of COVID-19 infections burying us, hundreds of citizens waiting in long lines for tests, and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu correctly noting that “vaccination is the most powerful tool we have to fight this pandemic,” enquiring minds want to know: why can’t the mayor – who is requiring patrons of indoor businesses to show proof of vaccination starting next week – seize the moment by mandating the same from people who want those free tests?”

SoundCloud

Happening Today

Today | Voters in the First Suffolk and Middlesex Senate district officially choose their next state senator in a special election to fill the seat last held by Massachusetts Biotechnology Council CEO Joe Boncore, a Winthrop Democrat. The only candidate on the ballot is East Boston Democrat Lydia Edwards.

9 a.m. | Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders hold a press conference at the State House to make an announcement regarding COVID-19 testing.

10:30 a.m. | Housing justice advocates and tenants rally outside the State House in support of legislation on the agenda for a Housing Committee hearing later in the day that would revive various forms of local-option rent control.

11 a.m. | Housing Committee takes up 20 bills involving landlord-tenant matters, including rent stabilization, barriers to housing and tenant protections.

11:30 a.m. | Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee holds a hearing on bills dealing with an array of topics, including consumer protection, environmental justice, public safety, security systems, siting and towing.

12:45 p.m. | Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness expects to hear from Gov. Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on the state’s COVID-19 response amid the omicron-fueled surge in cases and hospitalizations.

Today’s Stories

Baker set to appear at COVID oversight hearing later today

Good morning and happy Tuesday! It may seem like a long week but remember that you’re already through Monday.

Gov. Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders plan to appear before a legislative committee this afternoon to answer lawmakers’ questions surrounding the latest COVID-19 case surge. Fueled by the omicron variant, hospitals have found themselves overwhelmed with patients, testing lines dramatically increased after the winter holiday, and schools are dealing with a chaotic return.

In a letter inviting Baker and Sudders to testify, the two co-chairs of the Emergency Preparedness Committee said they want to hear how the administration will expand access to testing, increase vaccinations, management of PPE, and preparation for potential prolonged or future COVID-related disruptions.

Here are several other story storylines that could come up at the hearing:

– The return to schools after the holidays has been chaotic, to say the least, as districts resort to cancellations amid COVID-related staff shortages. Lawmakers likely will want to hear from Baker about what he is doing to maintain public health, and whether remote learning could become an option

– Baker got ahead of one question on Monday when he announced a new QR-based initiative that allows people to carry their vaccine cards on their phones. After a day of people being able to test the system, some questions about its design and impact are a good bet.

– We’ve all seen the long testing lines across the state as people scrambled to make sure they did not have COVID after returning from the winter holidays. At-home tests have been hard to come by and lawmakers on the committee say they want to know how the administration is managing the distribution of test kits and other PPEs.

– How will the state help stabilize overwhelmed hospitals? Gov. Baker has already moved to cancel or postpone non-elective surgeries but legislators will most likely want to know if there is more that can be done. Expect Baker to talk about the number of people with COVID-19 hospitalized for other health conditions and the need to increase vaccination and booster rates.

Baker administration rolls out new digital vaccination passports

Smartphones are becoming more powerful in Massachusetts. Starting Monday, vaccinated residents can access a digital version of their COVID-19 vaccine history and present a scannable QR code to establishments that require proof of vaccination. 

State House News Service’s Matt Murphy reports the Baker administration unveiled the new initiative yesterday — dubbed “COVID-19 SMART Health Care” — just as Boston prepares to implement a new vaccine requirement for restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues.

State House News Service

Boston Public Schools cancel classes as frigid temperatures roll into the area

Bitter temperatures expected today led Boston Public Schools to cancel class in an effort “to keep everyone safe,” the district said on Twitter. This is the second time in less than a week that the district has used a snow day, reports Boston Globe’s James Vaznis, who also notes that COVID-related staffing shortages played a role in the day off from classes.

Boston Herald’s Meghan Ottolini and Erin Tiernan report more than 1,200 school employees and teachers were reported absent on Monday. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said she does not expect a district-wide closure as a result of absences and that school closures are a “last resort.”

DESE extends mask requirement for K-12 public schools

Keep those masks handy if you have kids in K-12 public schools. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced an extension of its mask requirement for all K-12 public schools Monday. MassLive’s Michael Bonner reports the department said the mandate — which was scheduled to expire this week — will now run through February. The requirement can be lifted if a district shows that at least 80 percent of students and staff in a school building are vaccinated.

MassLive

No sale: State not buying masks from firms that got $7 million in grants

As school districts continue to scramble to provide personal protective gear to teachers and staff, Bay State manufacturing companies that received millions of dollars in grants from the Baker administration early in the pandemic to develop the ability to produce N95 masks say the state is still not buying from them, Marilyn Schairer and Paul Singer of GBH report.

GBH News

BPD sergeant leading Boston First Responders United has checkered work past

The 17-year Boston Police Department veteran leading a push against a vaccine mandate for City of Boston employees has a checkered past. Boston Globe’s Danny McDonald and John R. Ellement report that Sgt. Shanna Cottone, the leader of Boston First Responders United, was placed on leave over the weekend as a result of an internal affairs complaint. This isn’t the first time she’s dealt with that kind of issue.

GBH News’ Adam Reilly has more details on Cottone’s most recent suspension. Cattone told GBH News that a BPD explanation of her suspension claims she inappropriately filmed Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s speech at a police roll call in December, inappropriately told an officer to not activate their body camera during a January protest at Wu’s house, and resisted sending officers to Wu’s house in December. Cottone claims all the accusations are distorted.

Hovan hearing halted as SJC justice reviews New Bedford Light’s appeal for access

A show cause hearing for Southcoast Health CEO Keith Hovan was halted after a justice on the state’s highest appellate court said he would review a request from The New Bedford Light to open the proceedings to the public and media. New Bedford Light’s Anastassia Lennon reports The Light first sought to access a hearing on a possible felony charge against Hovan for alleged possession of illegal firearm feeding devices or magazines. That request was denied by a Wareham District Court clerk magistrate.

New Bedford Light

Heroux will take on Bristol County Sheriff Hodgson

Will there be a new sheriff in town after more than two decades? Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux says he’ll challenge longtime Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, whose outspoken embrace of Trump-era policies has long made him a national lightning rod. George Rhodes of the Sun Chronicle reports Heroux took aim at Hodgon’s longevity – he has held the post since 1997.

Sun Chronicle

Rollins sworn in as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins was sworn in Monday as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, becoming the first Black woman to hold the office. Associated Press’ Boston Bureau reports Rollins took the oath of office during a private ceremony in Boston. Kevin Hayden, the chair of the state’s sex offender registry board, now takes over as the Suffolk County DA.

Associated Press Boston

Boston officials plan to clear tents from Mass and Cass this week

A number of tents at the Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard intersection will be cleared by Wednesday, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu told reporters on Monday. WBUR’s Deborah Becker reports Wu updated the public on efforts to clear the area by a deadline the Wu administration set last month. As of Monday, 83 people have been placed in housing or transitional spaces while beds have been secured for the remaining 62 people.

WBUR

Rejected: Arbitrator shoots down Methuen police contract with astronomical raises

The city is off the hook. An arbitrator has ruled that Methuen does not have to honor a 2020 police contract that granted massive raises and made superior officers some of the highest-paid law enforcement workers in the country, Andrea Estes of the Boston Globe reports. The arbitrator ruled that a union official slipped language into the contract without the knowledge of the then-mayor and city council that approved it.

Boston Globe

Methuen City Councilor McCarty to make bid for state rep

New districts don’t come around all the time. Methuen City Councilor James McCarty says he’ll be a candidate in the race to represent the newly drawn 4th Essex district, which will have an entirely new post-redistricting look by election day. Breanna Edelstein of the Eagle-Tribune has the details.

Eagle-Tribune

Today’s Headlines

Metro

Holiday sales soar at Mass. small retailers this season – Boston Business Journal

FoxRock has scrapped plans for a hotel and residences in downtown Quincy. Here’s what’s next. – Patriot Ledger

Massachusetts

Vaccinated city employees to receive $500 stipend in Haverhill – Eagle-Tribune

‘Things are worse’: Cape Cod water quality is declining, says environmental group’s report – Cape Cod Times

Nation

Treasury warns taxpayers to brace for a turbulent tax-filing season – Politico

Manchin’s Coal Corruption Is So Much Worse Than You Knew – Rolling Stone

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