Chair Driscoll Speaks in Support of House Bill
On Wednesday, January 19th, Chair Driscoll made the following remarks during House Formal Session in support of a House bill that will fund the procurement and distribution of tests, and high-quality masks for schools as well as efforts to close vaccination gaps:
Thank you. Mr. Speaker and through you to the members.
I rise in support of the overall legislation before us today and urge my colleagues to vote in favor of it and I ask them to include amendment number three as well.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for bringing this timely bill to the floor and for all that you have done to lead the House and support the Commonwealth during the pandemic.
I want to also thank the Chairman of Ways and Means and his staff for their tireless work on this legislation before us today and throughout these challenging days that began around this time two years ago.
I would also like to thank my co-Chair in the Senate, the gentlelady from Northampton, for her partnership throughout.
It was around this time in 2020 when a number of us began having conversations about the situation developing in other parts of the world. And since then, we’ve all had to adapt many times over to say the least.
It was around this time in 2020 that our healthcare workforce was first called and we continue to call on them, and they deserve our gratitude as they continue to care for patients as they are doing so currently in our latest surge. Our healthcare system has felt the brunt of this burden throughout this emergency, and while each of us has experienced fatigue and exhaustion throughout the pandemic our health care work force continues to relentlessly care for our family, friends and neighbors.
A special thank you to my committee Vice Chair, the gentlemen from Boston for the hours he has put in, in this chamber and across town in the emergency room as a doctor.
As we enter year three of the pandemic and amidst another surge, we have learned a great deal in terms of how to treat, prevent and reduce risk related to the virus, but we can also see where gaps remain.
Vaccinations are the most effective tool we have at preventing severe illness and the need for hospitalizations.
Well-fitting, high filtration masks and respirators can prevent transmission of the virus.
And testing helps us identify sources and spread of COVID19.
These along with other layers like the ventilation in schools that we invested in via the ARPA bill are important counter measures in charting a smart path forward.
There are still gaps, however, involving access and equity issues, and those gaps are what bring us here today as we seek to take additional steps and action towards closing them further through testing, vaccination and providing high quality, high filtration masks in elementary schools and secondary education settings.
We know that only 46 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have one shot at this point in Massachusetts, just over 35% today are fully vaccinated. Many communities of color and communities most impacted by covid are lagging on first shots and staying up to date with their vaccinations which includes boosters.
There is funding proposed today in this legislation that is designed to address those gaps and toward providing high quality masks for teachers and students, which can be expensive and thus consistently have been out of reach for many. This bill expands upon previous efforts in distribution of the high-quality masks in our school systems with millions of dollars and by including students.
In other words, the allocations put forward in this bill funds critical areas that need further and continued attention today, and the weeks and months ahead. The resources provided through this funding will help provide the opportunity for students and teachers to integrate and adopt high quality masking as part of their regular safety precautions whether they are required to wear them or not.
It is in these regular practices, including the usage of high-quality masks that continue to drive down infection and transmission rates from Omicron, and thus driving down serious illness and hospitalizations.
In addition to the provisions already outlined in the bill, I filed an amendment regarding Representative Town Meetings, it gives members the option to participate remotely. This provision existed previously and has since expired, and multiple communities, including my town of Milton, have a town meeting quickly approaching when trends may likely still be influx.
It goes hand-in-hand to say that we've already included and extended remote notarization in this proposal as well, and these types of remote options and date extensions prioritize everyone’s health and safety going forward.
We still face uncertainty with this pandemic, and if we fully understood how the virus behaves we may not be in this position still. The COVID-related allocations outlined here will provide the essential resources our communities need to take stronger and focused measures against this virus today, and the weeks and months ahead.
These allocations are crucial as we collectively venture to manage through the positive or negative changes in trends in the future and we hope they'll be a catalyst to drive infection rates down in the long-term.