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Comerford pushes for connectivity during COVID-19 health crisis


Staff Writer
Published: 3/19/2020 2:57:55 PM
Modified: 3/19/2020 2:57:44 PM

In a conference call with constituents, social service leaders and others throughout her district Wednesday, Sen. Jo Comerford said everyone can be assured that their state government is working tirelessly to address the issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented locally.

“This is a short-term crisis that’s going to need a long-term recovery,” she said. “It’s a significant and trying time. Communication is the most important thing right now.”

Comerford, D-Northampton, said she and others in the Legislature plan to get people the information they need and deserve in a timely fashion. She said she will hold 14 public conference calls over the next two weeks, including the one Wednesday morning and one Wednesday afternoon.

“The state isn’t taking this lightly,” she said. “This is a seismic shock like in 2008 (the recession), but it’s about health. It’s so fluid and changing so rapidly, and I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it yet.”

Comerford said she and other legislators will provide advocacy, communication, budget information, financial support, any legislation that is needed and more.

“We’re working on making testing more available, on prevention and containment, social distancing, in flattening the curve so that we can get through this quickly,” she explained.

Legislators are paying attention to small businesses and nonprofits by working with the federal government on loans and relaxing unemployment insurance laws.

“We know this is a trying time for them,” she said.

Comerford said legislators will be looking at how they can guide and help early childhood educators, as well as elementary, secondary and higher education, to offer fair and clear guidance. She said legislators are working with municipalities on the front line of responding to the crisis.

“It’s difficult to do so, because there are Open Meeting Laws, which have been adjusted, but the state is now preventing large gatherings,” she said. “We need to keep tweaking legislation so that towns and cities can continue to work the way they are supposed to.”

She said many meetings are being held virtually, but many of her constituents still have no broadband and thus can’t participate.

“These are such deep and complex issues,” she said.

Comerford said legislators are looking at whether first responders have enough protective equipment and other supplies, which is a major focus.

“We are also paying attention to food security,” she said. “We have to make sure we are taking care of the hungry.”

Legislators are also looking at public health policies to make sure the employees of necessary businesses, like grocery stores, are protected. She said they are also looking at how they can relax the bureaucracy connected to getting welfare.

Comerford said some of the reasons there aren’t more answers is because COVID-19 is so new to everyone. Even medical professionals are learning every day.

“I don’t think we’ve even felt the full impact yet,” she said.

When a constituent asked what the government will do for people once we “come out of all of this” and COVID-19 has passed, Comerford said she doesn’t know.

“We can’t plan for what happens then, because I think we’re just going into the eye of the storm,” she said. “We don’t know what the other side will look like or what it will take for people to return to a normal life. We’ll come out of this, but I’m not sure how it will look, because it’s an uncharted moment.”

The senator said besides people contacting her by email (jo.comerford@masenate.gov), they can also visit the state Legislature on Facebook and connect on Twitter to provide suggestions.

“We’ll get through this by keeping connected and sharing information,” she said. “Just remember, legislators are working on behalf of their districts.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.


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