Baker visits Lowell with grants, COVID updates
September 23, 2020 : Nashoba Valley Voice, by Jon Winkler
LOWELL — With the coronavirus pandemic in its sixth month and the nationwide death toll now over 200,000, Gov. Charlie Baker is not backing down on providing testing and advisories.
Baker held a press conference at Mill City BBQ & Brew in Kearney Square to offer information on two different grant programs and new information related to the state’s handling of the virus.
One of those two programs is a $650,000 effort meant to help organizations that are assisting people of color in multiple towns. Baker said that the funds will support public awareness and targeted community intervention efforts in coordination with state community intervention teams.
“These funds will be used to remind people about mask-wearing, social distancing and other steps that they can take in their community to help stop the spread,” Baker added. “It will also support training and messaging on COVID-19 prevention for people who provide in-home services like meals assistance and wellness checks.”
Those interested in applying for the program can go to www.hria.org/macovidcommunitygrants for more information.
Baker’s announcement came after he detailed new COVID-related data.
He said the state is still a national leader in testing for the virus thanks to its Stop the Spread testing program, which is being implemented in 18 communities, including Lowell.
He said the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 10,000 people were tested on Tuesday, with 143 of those people testing positive for the virus. As of Tuesday, the department has reported a total of 125,866 confirmed cases of the virus. Baker announced that Stop the Spread will be extended through the end of October in towns including Chelsea, Fall River, Methuen and Worcester.
“These statewide numbers indicate that Massachusetts continues to make progress in containing COVID,” Baker added.
Baker also talked about instances of upticks in cases in communities and how they’re usually tied to a particular event, like an outbreak in a nursing home or a private gathering. He noted how in those instances, contact tracing usually identifies the inciting event and how people quarantine to bring COVID numbers back down. With that in mind, Baker concluded that local governments need to look at three weeks of data and determine if there is a trend before making decisions about reopening locations.
“We don’t parse the data,” Baker said. “We just put the numbers out as they are and then we work with our colleagues in local government to make decisions and determinations with respect to what it is that creates the bump up or the bump down. If you look at the data week over week over week, there are a lot of communities that bounce around.”
Baker believes this method also applies to communities bringing kids back to school for in-person learning sessions, a timely talking point after state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote a letter last week to officials in 16 school districts. The letter was issued to districts that have so far offered remote-only learning options for the school year, asking for information on when those districts plan to start in-person classes again. Those districts are Amesbury, Bourne, Boxford, East Longmeadow, Gardner, Pittsfield, Provincetown, West Springfield, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public, Hoosac Valley Regional, Gill-Montague, Mohawk Trail, Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont, Manchester Essex Regional, Belmont and Watertown.
Baker noted those 16 districts and how public health data supported a return to in-person learning in those schools. He also mentioned the letter sent out to those district and its requirement of a response within 10 days. Depending on the response provided by the districts, Baker added that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education can pursue an audit.
“Local officials run their local schools, we understand that,” he added. “But this data is an obligation to ensure local officials are providing the best possible education in these difficult circumstances to kids in their communities.”
The conference was also used to announce more grant money to be awarded to 10 state projects through MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program. Created in 2016, the program is meant to offer financial assistance to communities working to improve its own public spaces. The company is awarding $86,415 as part of its COVID-19 Response Round: Resurgent Places, which is meant to help communities economically recover from the pandemic by improving commercial districts for newcomers and return patrons.
“Now in its fifth round, our Commonwealth Places program has been a resource to help communities implement place-making projects that improve public spaces, create foot traffic, and stimulate economic activity,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Lauren Liss said. “In the wake of COVID-19, we were pleased to direct this funding towards projects that enable residents and visitors to safely dine, shop, and spend time outdoors in downtowns and commercial districts.”
The money is being distributed in different amounts through grants.
These include a $10,000 grant to Do-it-Yourself Lowell for the development of two self-guided walking trails in downtown Lowell highlighting Black history and art, a $4,250 grant for Beyond Walls, Inc. to create a stainless steel hand-washing station and curbside barriers to support an outdoor dining space in Lynn, and a $7,200 grant for the Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives to host three monthly pop-up events featuring artist showcases and presentations on the library’s front lawn.