Lawrence & Revere Mayors Handing Out Fines For Gatherings in Their High-Risk COVID Communities; What is Framingham Doing?

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FRAMINGHAM – When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began to identify high-risk communities for COVID-19, the City of Lawrence made the list, last month. There are now eight communities deemed high risk on the state list out of 351 communities, including Lawrence and Framingham.

Lawrence, located in the Merrimack Valley is a City of about 80,000 and is a melting pot of cultures. Numerous languages are spoken in the city, and the poverty rate is high compared to Framingham.

“We think that being a red community is a scarlet letter,” said Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, last month. “We feel that it is something we need to work really hard to change.”

The City decided to review its contract tracing efforts. A review by the City of Lawrence showed about 75% of the last 100 people infected with coronavirus caught the virus from a large public or private party, from traveling outside of a safe zone, or from someone in their house who had gone to a large gathering or traveled outside a safe zone.

To combat the trend, the city issued “$300 fine for violating the noise ordinance and mask order.”

SOURCE has asked the City to release its contact tracing data so the public knows and understands where the virus is spreading. The City has not. SOURCE has requested multiple times for the City to release its virus cases by District, the City has chosen not to do that either.

Lawrence is one of the five communities with the highest rate of the coronavirus in the Commonwealth at 4.6%. So is the City of Revere at 5.7%.

And Revere is enforcing the gathering guidelines too, with fines.

Revere’s emergency response team is issuing citations to residences and businesses hosting large gatherings that don’t comply with state regulations. Violators face a $490 fine.

In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker revised the large gatherings order last month.

For indoor gatherings, the maximum is 25 people in a single enclosed area.

For outdoor gatherings, there is a maximum of 50 people in a single space. For smaller spaces, a limit of 25 percent of the area’s legal maximum occupancy — or eight people per 1,000 square feet where no occupancy is recorded.

But the Governor’s order requires everyone over the age of 2 to wear a face covering at organized gatherings of more than 10 people involving more than one household. That includes private indoor or backyard house parties.

Framingham & Large Gatherings

Framingham is 12th in state for coronavirus cases and as of Wednesday, has the 6th highest rate of infection in the state at 3.46%, over the last 14 days.

Framingham has been struggling with large gatherings too.

Framingham Health Director Sam Wong has said large gatherings is contributing to the City’s increase in coronavirus cases.

Wong told the Board of Health his department is working with Framingham Police to “step up enforcement” of these large gatherings.

Wong said on a Zoom call on Monday “police have been responding to complaints” and “dispersing crowd.” He said the police “provide written report to health department and follow up with citation if needed.”

SOURCE has requested copies of the reports and citations.

In response to large gatherings, the City closed the skate park and the basketball courts.

“Although I do believe the administration is working hard on the issue, there is a perplexing reluctance to enforce the requirements in place.  Given the very very large majority of people comply, they find it frustrating a small percentage does not.  As we know a small percentage can have a disproportional impact,” said City Council Chair George P. King Jr.

“The Health Department must work harder on enforcement of the many rules, regulations and advisories they have put in place.  Further education is also important, in multiple languages, so people know of the resources that are available.  If the Baker Administration if offering free assistance in this area, it only makes sense to take it,” said Councilor King.

The Mayor recorded a video on Friday in which she asked residents not to celebrate Labor Day with parties.

Residents can help with the enforcement, by reporting large gatherings to the police.through its anonymous tip app. The Framingham PD app and tip411 anonymous text a tip system are 100% anonymous, as the technology removes all identifying information before police see the tips and there is no way to identify the sender. Residents in Framingham without a smartphone can share information with police by sending an anonymous text tip via their cell phone to police by texting keyword FPDTIPS and their message/tip to 847411 (tip411)

Can the State Help Framingham?

On Thursday, Governor Baker said residents in high-risk or red communities, like Framingham “really ought to stay home if they feel sick and they really do need to get tested, if they go out. No one can afford to gather in large groups in these communities.

“This is critically important, time and time again, as our contact tracers have reached out to and engaged people who’ve become infected, gatherings — unsupervised, unofficial, people being familiar with people they’re familiar with — play a major role in the spread of COVID,” said the Governor.

City of Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo attended a press conference with Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday, where the state offered additional resources to the five communities with the highest rate of infection for the virus over the last 2 weeks.

Mayor Arrigo said his City averaged 12.6 new cases of COVID-19 each day in August.

Framingham is now averaging 10.9 new cases per day, according to the state.

“We are cities of essential employees and frontline workers, many of whom rely on public transportation to continue to report to work. Many of our residents live in densely-populated areas and multi-generational and multi-family homes, and we continue to see clusters of cases emerge at single addresses,” Arrigo said.

“Half of our population is comprised of immigrants and communities of color. We know that this virus impacts Black and brown communities disproportionately and we are seeing those impacts in the city of Revere,” said Arrigo.

His statements also reflective of Framingham too, where more than 70% of the new cases over the last two weeks are on the southside of the City in Districts 7-8-9 and where more than 75% of the new cases are the last two weeks are residents for which English is not their first language.

District 7 City Councilor Margareth Shepard asked what the city was doing to help the immigrant population Thursday night to the City’s Chief Operating Officer Thatcher Kezer III. She was told there are three free testing sites in the city.

What Resources Can the Baker-Polito Administration Provide?

On Thursday, Baker announced added state resources for the five communities with the highest rate of infection with the virus – Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence Revere, and Lynn. Framingham – 6th – was not included.

The Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Enforcement and Intervention Team (CEIT), in partnership with local community officials, is leading this effort.

“A handful of communities have persistently received high case rate of transmission,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “We know that COVID can and will spread quickly in any environment, if swift action isn’t taken, to slow, and stop the spread. To take a more aggressive approach, in cities and towns, where cases are higher, we’ve launched a COVID enforcement and intervention team.”

This targeted initiative includes regular meetings with local leadership to understand residential and business activities contributing to trends, an even greater level of state focus to stop the spread and a new public messaging campaign.

The goal of the public messaging campaign is to ensure residents know they live in a high-risk community and reiterate the importance of wearing a mask and other best practices to stop the spread, and the messaging is available in English, Spanish, & Portguese.

The State’s campaign includes:

  • Advertising on billboards, digital and social media
  • Downloadable materials in multiple languages
  • Multi-lingual field teams deployed in the communities
  • Phone and text communications
  • Outreach to local community groups

During Labor Day weekend, the field teams will be active at approximately 15 locations in these top 5 communities. All aspects of this campaign will expand throughout the fall.

The state is also offering:

  • Targeted interventions and inspections by a range of member agencies, including Local Services, Labor Standards, DPH, Mass State Police and ABCC, coordinated by EOPSS and MEMA.
  • Increased enforcement, including fines, of sector guidance for businesses to ensure businesses and residents are aware of and following COVID-19 orders.
  • Cease and desist orders as necessary for businesses and organizations in violation of the COVID-19 orders.
  •  Support for ABCC and local licensing boards in exercising their existing authority to fine restaurants or suspend or cancel liquor licenses when restaurants do not comply with required COVID-19 safety measure or sanitation codes.
  • Targeted public messaging to alert residents of higher risk COVID communities (road signs, PSAs, reverse 911, etc.).
  • Technical support to local government officials to support enhanced local COVID-19 prevention efforts such as assistance in accessing CARES Act funding.
  • Potential restrictions or shutdowns for parks, playgrounds, businesses or other entities and locations believed to be contributing to the COVID-19 spread in higher risk COVID-19 communities.
  •  Additional public health support such as testing, tracing and quarantining

On Friday, Mayor Yvonne Spicer and the state met to discuss resources for Framingham at 10 a.m.

No press release was issued on Friday. It is unknown if any agreement was reached to provide the city with state resources.

SOURCE emailed the Mayor for a statement Friday morning, and no one from the Spicer administration responded at of 6 p.m. Saturday.

But Senate President Karen Spilka issued a statement: “Addressing COVID-19 remains my top priority. Throughout the pandemic, I have remained in close contact with the governor and executive office of health and human services. More recently, I impressed upon them the importance of providing additional assistance for the city of Framingham to assist in COVID-19 efforts. I am glad to see a meeting between the city and the administration has been expedited to address these pressing issues. As the state Senator for Framingham and as Senate President, I stand ready, willing and able to marshal all potential state resources to assist  the city in fighting COVID-19.”

And the City’s rest of the state delegation is fighting for Commonwealth resources, including State Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis and Maria Robinson.

“It is clear that our city requires additional help to stop the spread while we see numbers increase throughout Metrowest. In order for us to fully tackle COVID-19, especially before the school year begins, we need multilingual resources implemented as soon as possible,” said Rep. Robinson.

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