Time to hit the brakes?

In order to safely reopen our schools, we may need to hit the brakes on our phased reopening of the economy in Massachusetts. The latest numbers are telling us that we may need to reclose some businesses or find other ways to reduce infection.

As we manage the reopening of the economy, we need to think more clearly about the trade-offs we are making and the consequences we are willing to accept.  The decision to open optional services like casinos, movie theaters, and health clubs may make it impossible for us to safely reopen our schools.

There is some guesswork in estimating how each specific business closure or infection control measure will affect the average rate at which people with COVID-19 transmit it to others. That transmission rate is referred to by the letter R. It is not possible to reliably estimate the R that will result from a particular level of economic opening.

But there is no guesswork in the consequences of different R values. If R is greater than one, then the epidemic will expand.  If it is less than one the epidemic will wane.  When COVID-19 was initially expanding, R was between two and three and the positive test count was doubling every few days.  By late April, the shut down had spread people out and reduced transmission opportunities, driving R below one.   As a consequence, the daily new case count began to drop and is now a tenth of what it was at the peak.

Yet, about a month ago, as a result of additional social transmission from reopening, R rose back to roughly 1.  Each infected person is now infecting roughly one other person.  We know this because the new case count has stopped dropping.  Over the last month, it has been fluctuating in the low hundreds (well above the levels in early March when alarms first went off).  Most recently, the new case count appears to be drifting up, even though the volume of testing has remained steady.

The fact that case counts are not dropping suggests that what we are doing now is just barely keeping a lid on the epidemic and that if we open up much more, R will rise above one and the epidemic will start growing again.  For all the imprecision about particular measures, the leveling off of the case count is sending a clear message:  We open further at our peril.

Yet we plan to open further.  We plan to receive thousands of college students back into the state, especially in the Boston and Northampton areas.  And we hope to at least partially reopen our elementary and secondary schools.  While safety precautions will help control transmission, it seems a stretch to imagine that transmission among students and from students into the community will not push our infection rate up substantially. 

Ideally, as we prepare for the fall and the added transmission that school opening (and generally increased contacts indoors as the weather changes) will bring, we would still be seeing falling case rates suggesting that our R value was below one.  That would tell us that we might have the capacity to add some additional social contacts without pushing our R above one.  But that is not where we are.  Currently we are embarking on the third phase of the Governor’s four phase reopening plan and R is already creeping above one.  

Moving back from Phase III to Phase II would mean closing casinos, fitness centers, health clubs, movie theaters, and museums. It would also mean delaying the arrival of college and university students on campus. Alternatively, maybe we should revisit elements of Phase II that may be contributing more to infection than some elements of Phase III.

Our elementary and secondary schools should be a high priority — for children and for working parents. We should demonstrate that we can get them functioning without driving our total transmission rate above one and then we should open less essential businesses and bring students back to our universities.

Massachusetts has done a good job in shutting down the economy to bend the rapidly rising COVID-19 curve, building up the health care system to avoid care shortages, and defining clear safety rules for each kind of business and institution as they reopen. But the numbers are now sending a message: We may be setting ourselves up for trouble in the fall. We could be on the cusp of making the same mistake that other states have made.

Each choice to reopen a category of business adds to the transmission rate. Let’s face up now to the fact that our transmission rate is creeping above one and reassess our plans. We need to make choices about what businesses and institutions should stay open in a way that reflects community priorities and acknowledges that there are trade-offs — we can only reopen so much of the economy without risking catastrophic resurgence of the disease.


Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

169 replies on “Time to hit the brakes?”

  1. If we put health and safety first, which, in the long term, is also putting the economy and everything else first, we should just listen to the numbers. It’s clear that the continued reopening of our economy has flattened the curve in the wrong direction, halting progress since basically mid-June.

    If we want to reopen schools we need to make different choices now. In addition to your list of movie theaters, casinos and gyms, we should probably also stop indoor dining.

    1. Aaron’s said it well. Putting health and safety first does put the economy first, and indoor dining should be added to the list of things to stop now.

      Somerville seems to have the right idea. It’s re-opening more slowly than the rest of the state — it’s still in phase 2.

      1. Except for baseball because the Mayor coaches and wants his team to play. You shouldn’t be picking and choosing.

    2. Agreed & indoor dining during summer months when we can expand to dine outdoors still is pushing it.

  2. I’m quite concerned about this also and support getting the state ready for back-to-school as the driving priority, not only for kids and families but also for the economy.

  3. Hit the brakes! Baker said we’d roll back Phases as needed, based on the data. And the data is concerning.

  4. I suspect that a lot of us were afraid that would happen. Especially since apparently we are still in the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic, not the second, and since flu season is coming too. Some questions which might be relevant are:
    are there treatment options available now which were not available during the first couple of months which might mitigate some of the increase in cases;
    should there somehow be emphasis on vulnerable populations staying sheltered in place rather than on major shutdowns (I’m in one of those populations myself);
    and I know this sounds horrible, but at what R do hospital facilities become stressed and what R might be seen as a tolerable increase especially if there are better treatment options?
    There is also the factor of increased ability to do reliable tests to detect asymptomatic “carriers”, and some determination of whether/how much immunity is conveyed by having been diagnosed and recovered. I won’t go into the idea of “herd immunity”.

    1. I have been seeking herd immunity. Only wear a mask to gain entrance to a place I want to go, e.g., Casino. I have COPD/Emphasima and wear Oxygen and glasses. I do not wear a mask on top of that. Been out and about everyday and hoping for the herd immunity since very, very few people die after being sick with ANY FORM OF VIRUS. Media keeps everyone scared and stretching this out up ’til election to blame Trump for it. AND, Dr. Fauci stems to gain big time financially in Big Pharma when all is said and done.
      You want to look like a 3rd world country immigrant, you are free to. I am an American and FREE TO CHOSE.

      1. My understanding of what it means to be recovered is incomplete, because very few states have defined what it means. Without the CDC and WHO, no one is defining it and the data is being collected haphazardly if at all making the analyses much more difficult. Also, I had a healthy, athletic 66 year old friend recently taken off of a ventilator after 30+ days of Covid-19. He needed new lungs. Unfortunately, he won’t be needing them anymore. If you don’t care about your own health, please, choose to care about your neighbors and friends. You are indeed an American and FREE TO CHOOSE to care about others, too.

        1. As for ventilators, I (@85)have made up my mind to avoid being intubated, and will take my chances on other available thereapies. Wish me good luck!!! That line, “….he needed new lungs…” is a classic.

      2. You may seek herd immunity, but you will not get it any time soon, not until there is a widely available vaccine. I don’t know if you understand the amount of infection — and cost, and disability, and death — that this would require, because if you did I think you would recognize that this idea is horrifying and intolerable.

        Herd immunity in Massachusetts implies roughly 4 million cases (2/3 of 6 million people). If we assume we only see 10% of actual cases, then 400,000 confirmed cases. At our current rate of 200 cases per day, that will take five and a half years. Among confirmed cases, in Massachusetts, we have a mortality rate of about 8%, implying 32,000 deaths (this remains true in July, comparing to cases 3 weeks earlier). This bug also causes various disabilities in more people than it kills (heart, lungs, kidneys, testes, is what I have read), and of course the hospital care, survive or not, is costly.

        Most people reject this, so though you may be seeking herd immunity, it’s not going to happen either for a very long time, or until there is a vaccine. Almost nobody else is cooperating with your herd immunity plan, not least because we dread the risk. You might want to look for a plan B. Most of the rest of us are wearing masks, because what good research we can find, suggests that it helps a lot, and it seems to be what helps other countries keep their case and death rates far below ours. I like to think of myself as looking like a socially responsible citizen of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, or Japan — not 3rd world countries at all.

        The virus doesn’t “care” about profits, politics, or anything like that. If it can spread, it spreads, and often enough it disables or kills. That’s all that matters. Finding someone else to blame for its existence doesn’t make it go away — only denying it the chance to spread will do that. So, please wear a mask whenever you’re out in public.

        1. David Chase, thank you. Very good stuff there. Sadly, we have too small of a percentage of folks that will dive that deeply and cogently into most any subject. Most especially one as complex as this/these. In fact, we should all be on alert to anyone offering simple solutions to complex problems, because they are most assuredly charlatans and/or morons.

          Let’s all keep in mind, Covid-19 is of the virus family known as Coronas. Did everyone get their MERS and SARS vaccines last year? How about the AIDS vaccine? No? Why not? It’s been 40 years? No vaccine exists for any coronavirus. How we keep hearing talk of a Covid vaccine being available next year is, in my opinion, negligently irresponsible. Our new normal may be what we have now and that’s that. So, please test, trace, track, test, isolate, test, stay home, test, keep your distance, test, avoid socializing, test, avoid all contact with others, test, and wear masks! We know that this stuff works! Well, it does for those committed to each other and willing to do the work to get it done.

          So, schools and livelihoods:
          Follow all of the above. For those that can’t, make reasonable accommodations.

          Mandate that employers allow working remotely, if they can’t, mandate they allow parents to bring children to work so that the children can attend school remotely. For those that can’t, allow limited occupancy in the schools with written proof from the parent’s employer.

          For those jobless, hire them to disinfect schools, buses, mbta etc. Hire them to test, trace, and track. Train, certify and hire folks to conduct small group after school activities. Hire folks to deliver school meals. Hire folks to on Virus-Safety detail at malls and stores and entrances to keep surfaces clean and keep mask compliance. Train and hire air/HVAC technicians to upgrade, install and maintain HEPA/UV air cleaners in every indoor commercial and public building.

          It sounds hard, right?
          … What did JFKennedy ask of this country? “We endeavor to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

          1. Um.. I’m not going back into a school that was full of kids during a pandemic. I’m not going to even teach small #’s of kids after school. This is a not a good idea. I am a teacher who will not be teaching this year. I’m afraid to send my kids to school, and am not keen on them going back. Even before the pandemic when I taught full time, I would get some kind of nasty cold or flu every year, at least once. This thing, Covid 19 is ruthless, and you can lose your life. Until there’s a vaccine, I will sit out this “war” thank you!

      3. Ignoring the fact that you are hoping to catch and spread a virus that has killed over 140,000 Americans, you do realize there is evidence that people can catch Covid-19 more than once, and the second or third times are worse than the first? It is not like chicken pox. Walking around hoping to get sick is not going to produce herd immunity.

        1. Actually, today’s NYT has an article showing it is very unlikely to catch Covid19 a second time. Sorry I couldn’t get a link to paste. But more likely was that a mild case later turned into a bad case after a month or two.
          Yes, I agree we should tighten and focus on getting students back to school. For that we need to keep R well below 1.

      4. hi Gordon- you could try a face shield, that would not interfere with your oxygen and glasses. I trust the numbers and I trust Tony Fauci, who has been at this a long time. Please be courteous and wear a face covering when asked to do so. It’s just common sense.

      5. Hi Gordon — We are a long long way from herd immunity. The estimates for the percentage of the population in Massachusetts who have been exposed is only about 10% and I think we’d need something like 70% to approach herd immunity. I don’t know why you think very few people die, given the number of deaths we’ve seen here in Massachusetts. You are lucky to live in a place where most people think very differently from you and have taken precautions. You are being protected by “herd intelligence.”

      6. Respectfully, please stop watching Fox News and listening to Rush and Tucker. Now’s the time for real information, data, and science–not partisan infotainment and propaganda.

  5. Super concerned about re-opening. It is definitely too soon for what we already have re-opened, much less for bringing thousands of people back together under the same roof in schools. I know teachers who are thinking they will quit if they are forced back to school. I have friends with children who are terrified about sending their kids (and also having the uncertainty of it).

    Additionally, with so many people traveling into the state, there is no way to control the spread that they bring to us if we don’t have greater lockdowns in place. If they don’t have anywhere to go, they won’t come here and infect the rest of us.

    At a bare minimum, there need to be much higher consequences for not wearing masks and we need to keep restrictions on gatherings–with the reopening, people are becoming lax. I’ve seen a number of parties in my neighborhood (Belmont) since the 4th with 30-50 people at them, none of them wearing masks.

    We can eventually recover economic losses over time. We can’t raise the dead. It’s mind-blowing to me that people care so little about the lives of the other people in their communities that this is even a question at all.

    1. thanks for bringing up masks- I agree there is little if any enforcement of wearing/ not wearing masks. Few wear them on public sidewalks or driving cars with open windows and I thought a sneeze or spit with virus will carry ten feet

    2. Excellent points. It’s time to stop fooling ourselves that hosting parties and defiantly refusing to wear masks in stores merit only a sad look and a head shake. Please explain to me how these actions are not bioterrorism and why they should continue to be indulged. We can make enforcement easy. Video a house party, include the street number, make sure an excessive number of occupants are visible, then email the video to an officer who can blandly mail a $1500 fine.

  6. It’s unfortunate that if more people were to follow the simple public health guidelines we know to be effective this could be largely contained.
    How do we get more people to buy in? More stringent regulations? More enforcement? Additional messaging to reach more people? There are limits and risks to such measures for sure. But we have a good understanding of what actions people need to take to contain this and a sense that not enough people are doing these things. How do we bridge this gap?
    I think the most up-to-date science, public health guidelines and knowledge of in what settings transmission is most likely/frequent have to be the sources of decision-making. I think we need more information about the risks of and to be more careful with indoor activities. I would support a roll back from Phase III to Phase II if it’s believed this would be likely to get this under control.
    But it would be disappointing because at this time I think the biggest factor is individual people’s behavior. Theoretically, if everybody wore masks and kept a safe distance from others, we would have this largely under control and wouldn’t need to scale back reopening.
    Wear a mask, physical distance, wash your hands and in return we have our health, an economy, and a greater sense of normalcy.

    1. “How do we bridge this gap?”
      I think a big part missing in the gap is paying people to stay home. A lot of unnecessary activity and transmission is happening because people are forced to go to work to perform non-essential activities, because they can’t survive otherwise.

    2. Chris, I agree with your focus on reinforcing known behavior that helps contain spread and thus reduce the probability of driving up the R that Will explained.

      Those on this thread may be experiencing something different, but there are still too many people not wearing masks. I live near an entrance to the Esplanade, and I can tell you, given how serious all of this is, there is not an appropriate level of compliance.

      Our political leaders have properly asserted how important it is to wear a mask, but we need either to reinforce or further encourage that behavior, whether that is done by having the police offer masks to those without them, imposing fines, or restricting access to areas where non-compliance is likely.

      We are in a limbo between recommending the right behavior and ensuring it, and this is an important lever we can pull, along with the options that Will articulated.

  7. This is certainly the prudent course of action, despite the pain experienced by nearly all of us, some much more than others. What we should be concentrating on are the ways we can support the least able among us to pay bills, put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads while we wait out this catastrophe. This is not a time for selfishness, but a time to recognize our collective interconnectedness and do the right thing.

    1. This is the only way. A virus that might not kill you may not sound so bad compared to starving, homelessness, and more. And the businesses that are being discussed for re-closure are not really places of high wage earners.

  8. Agree and support a step back. Hot spot Brockton reports highest weekly increase since June matter of time for other places.

  9. Agree with a step back on casinos, movie theaters and gyms.
    Everyone please wear masks and practice good hygiene – our kids need to get back to school! Let’s not close down all our businesses!!

    1. I favor prioritizing k-12 opening including using large spaces like gyms, churches, community centers to spread out class spaces and closing indoor activities like casinos,…
      The resurgence is a concern, I agree.

  10. We in Massachusetts have done well to flatten the curve. We know from other states that a resurgence of the virus happens when restrictions are lifted. It is not clear to me
    why colleges and universities cannot continue to teach by remote access. My daughter who teaches at the University of Hartford did that successfully and feels students got full access to the information. I would hate to see a resurgence of the pandemic, and agree with you, Senator Brownsberger, on all your points. Thanks for your leadership.

    1. Have you ever read a credible argument that reopening colleges will NOT lead to a devastating spike? Close indoor proximity, global student body, immature ego control, drugs, alcohol, sex—college is tailor made to spread pandemics.

  11. The virus is mutating and becoming MORE infectious. Time to return to Phase II!
    Thanks also for being rational.

  12. I would feel safest if we slowed the opening even though I very much miss everyone I used to see in all my favorite places. I see many people not wearing masks, and many cars from out of state, some from states doing okay, others from states not doing well. I hope though that there will be some extra money from somewhere besides what’s been available up to now in order to help those businesses survive if they have to wait longer to open, or have to shut down again. If we can keep them afloat I think in the end their longterm security will be better– when we’re keeping virus numbers down. The money would of course decrease the terrible anxiety we know they’re going through as well. Maybe we could have more public service announcements asking people to support with a few dollars their favorite businesses that have to be shuttered again. What my husband and I have been trying to do is spend some money in local small businesses whenever we can, and leaving big tips at coffee shops, etc. One coffee shop we love that has not reopened at all has a go-fund-me site to help its baristas survive, and we’ll be giving something to that shop. We can’t do too much of that since my husband’s work hours have been cut in half and he’s the only earner right now. But we’re grateful to have any work at all.

    As for schools, I can’t bear to think of even one child, teacher, custodian, or cafeteria worker getting sick due to schools opening too early, and it’s another reason to wait though I know how hard that is in so many ways. Another point about that is how often I hear about teachers hurriedly writing their wills in some states where they’re feeling forced to open. How can you teach if you’re feeling pretty sure you might die in the process? That’s so very tragic.

    We have to keep in mind too that there’s still no national plan to get PPE to all the places that are about to run out. My sister in law is a hospital chaplain in the Boston area and a few months ago was desperate for PPE for her colleagues. We had some wrapped N-95 masks left over from a project here and sent them, and the hospital was very grateful. It seemed as if eventually the hospital got more PPE and was okay for some time, but we could end up with a shortage again if the numbers start to increase fast enough. That of course puts all patients, doctors, nurses, EMTs, and others in grave danger and adds to the caseload. Sadly, the last I heard, we still can’t depend on the national goverment to supply enough PPE for all who need it.

  13. On Sunday we arrived on Martha’s Vineyard for 2 weeks to escape our high rise Boston apartment building which had a case and has not been enforcing rules including mask wearing. We were shocked to see crowded parking lots and large clusters of people at the beach, embracing their friends, not wearing masks. I lost my job due to COVID yet fully support rolling back. We do not have children and while I understand their need for in-person learning and socialization, I think the entire nation needs to go back to phase 1 and mandate mask wearing. We have the playbook on what works from Asia and Europe, let’s use it.

  14. Thank you for explaining what is going on, and a way to measure this. The R value seems dependent upon not keeping social distancing especially. Why not allow affected businesses to open day or at night, thereby lowering the concentration of crowds or people. Maybe alternate Saturdays or Sundays. Include some of the Phase 2, or 3 but at different times. If we spread social distancing to 24 hours instead of just 12 hours, we could saves our businesses while having more space. This would give us all a lower R value while saving our economy, at the same time. More hours but less people.

    1. I fear that reducing the number of hours
      would increase the number of people
      pressing for access at these times. Al-
      though they could be required to control
      access, as supermarkets do, to ensure social distancing, doing so within a hours li-
      item time frame, would I think put them
      in an impossible situation. Wouldn’t it be
      better to limit access to require social dis-
      tanning and deny permission to businesses, such as bars, which logistically can not
      control social distancing.

      1. Businesses that are struggling financially can barely afford to keep the minimal staff they have with shortened hours. Very few would be able to support the payroll of being open for these types of hours.

  15. Why not allow affected businesses to open day or at night, thereby lowering the concentration of crowds or people. Maybe alternate Saturdays or Sundays. Include some of the Phase 2, or 3 but at different times. If we spread social distancing to 24 hours instead of just 12 hours, we could saves our businesses while having more space. This would give us all a lower R value while saving our economy, at the same time. More hours but less people.

  16. Glad that the consensus agrees with Sen. Brownsberger’s own recommendation. Casinos, gyms and bars may have some political pull, but they are not as essential to the long-term health of the economy as such sectors as pharma, high-tech and start-ups — let alone the importance of safe school reopening.

  17. The general input seems to favor putting on the brakes. I believe that we have to be flexible and adjust to the realities. If the R indicator doesn’t go down, then we have to select the most likely cause and modify. The state and local governments have shown superb leadership. Keep it up so we can survive! Thanks for what you do.

  18. Yes, we have to do something. If we don’t, there is no question that the reopening of colleges and schools in August is going to cause a surge in infections and deaths. This is not acceptable.

  19. Thanks for the well reasoned and fact based update.

    I completely agree with the prioritization of schools over some of the Phase III options and if necessary Phase II options. Please keep up the great work actually solving problems using facts and scientific reasoning rather than simple dogma and ideology.

  20. Agree. I would also add that a phased reopening of schools would be a good idea. Let’s get the highest need kids in first and practice routines and/or make physical changes that are needed. We will learn a lot quickly without putting kids and faculty/staff at undue risk. Then get the next group of kids in. We should measure success by how many days kids spend in school total this year, not how quickly we can shove them in the buildings or how long we go before we have to close schools again. Thanks for this post and for the interesting comments.

  21. I agree, we should go back to Phase 2. Many of us don’t feel ready to go to restaurants, movies, etc, anyway. My children are grown, but even if they weren’t, I’d put off opening schools until we have a vaccine. If that’s not feasible, I’d open schools for older children, not preschool, where it’s really hard to enforce social distancing and wearing masks.

  22. Shouldn’t we be looking at the positive test rates and hospitalization counts? While the Transmission rate has fluctuated the positive test rate and the hospitalization counts have continued to trend downwards even with re-openings. I don’t think comparing to early March is as much a concern either as we had almost no testing capacity then vs what we have now. The real focus right now should be on more aggressive testing in communities with higher positive test rates and more general testing at places such as dentist offices and even encouraging employers to randomly test employees.

    If the positive test rate begins to trend more and more upwards than I think we should consider pausing or rolling back re opening. Transmission rate can be a useful metric but I feel like positive test rate is a much better indicator.

    Also there is no mention of contact tracing. Don’t we have significantly more contact tracing in place now than in March and doing a much better job with this then a few months ago?

    1. What the positive test rates tell us is that we are doing a lot of testing and that is good. Enough testing to have good view of what is happening. But the testing is basically a constant over the past 30 days and the cases numbers are steady, so that suggests R at 1.

      I do think the hospitalization count is also an important indicator and but hospitalization count lags new case count — people don’t need hospitalization right away and often stay for a while. The last 14 days of new hospitalizations have been roughly flat, consistent with the new case count being roughly flat for the last 30 days, assuming a two week lag. The stories told by new hospitalizations and new cases seem consistent — R is roughly 1.

      1. 1) Since it takes longer now to get test results than it has in the past, is that getting weighted into the positivity reporting so that we can accurately make policy decisions based on a 3-day trend? 2) Can MA go forward investing, producing & using the $1/day antigen test (see @MichaelMina_lab) ahead of the (head in the sand) feds? 3) With primary driver of infections being the 40% asymptomatic, college-age the least-adherent to social distancing & mask-wearing, and colleges acting independently on decisions re: testing, in-person vs online etc – seems we are heading into a storm without the right plan & gear.

  23. How about access to testing? As I understand it, the state is not using all of the tests we have available. My partner and I have gotten some insight into why as we have tried to book tests for asymptomatic people: unclear policies for testing asymptomatic people; rules that change weekly; hard to get the necessary referral; and the kicker – looping phone calls around hospital registration departments once we got the appointments. A five-minute test will have cost us 6 hours on the phone, time for our doctor to refer, time for all the appointment bookers, time for the registration clerks, …. Massachusetts might have the testing capacity we need. The bottleneck is getting it out there. It is sad that we may need to start re-shuttering businesses because we have the testing but we can`t get out of our own way to use it. I am grateful for the state`s efforts to expand access to tests and very much appreciate that we can even get the asymptomatic tests with reasonably prompt results (thanks, Will and other legislators). But wouldn`t it cost less overall to make testing free for everyone than to support an economy that can`t run because the tests we do have are sitting on the shelf?

    1. The state is doing a lot to push testing, including free testing in communities of need. It’s happening in a decentralized way though so the results are uneven. But overall, I think the main problem is lack of people coming in. Nationally, something like 10% of people with the disease ever get diagnosed.

      1. Thank you for the explanation. Particularly as it seems that we aren`t set up to wrestle the virus to ground via testing and tracing, I have to say that I agree that it is time to roll back some of the reopening. New York has been just a little bit more cautious than Massachusetts and it is making that difference which we need; might we take a cue from them on what to open/leave closed? I also agree with the discussion below regarding the importance of more information about what situations are leading to clusters of cases, if indeed cases are clustered. We should know enough by now (or very soon) to target closures in a way that will let us open schools.

  24. Thank you, Senator Brownsberger –
    Yes, above all, let us follow the science and the data, and respond accordingly.
    Our students, teachers, support staff, and
    communities deserve no less, as do we all.

  25. Yes, let’s pump the breaks.

    But with respect, Mr. Brownsberger, it strikes as a bit tin–eared that in a message about the reopening of schools, you mention ‘economy’ four times, ‘movie theaters’ twice and ‘teachers/’school personnel ZERO times.

    Clearly we agree that it is necessary to open up schools. We agree that it is a worthy cause worth some sacrifice. But I suspect we disagree on the reasons for reopening. To my mind, the only worthy rationale for endangering the health of school employees is at the altar of the physical and social-emotional health of children. Nothing else justifies the risk, especially (as you mention) given the current >1 R naught numbers. It is inevitable that schools will spread COVID-19, and it is inevitable that the first infections will disproportionately impact the adults in those buildings. Let’s make sure that risks we’re asking educators to assume is for an immediately human cause, not an abstracted economic one.

    For the reason of the (potentially) high human cost of reopening, it is also important that we prioritize the schools serving our neediest populations, and the students who will be most impacted by in-person classes. We should prioritize support to kindergartners, special education programs, and Title I districts WELL BEFORE we spread reopening wealthier towns; we should reopen state schools before Croesus-rich universities. So yes, let’s pump the breaks on everything – and develop phased school reopening plans that looks at our classrooms as places to foster our childrens’ welfare AND protect the adults that work with them.

    1. To my mind, the only worthy rationale for endangering the health of school employees is at the altar of the physical and social-emotional health of children.

      I definitely agree and I take your point that I did not touch on the important issue of teacher health.

  26. I said it before that we should wait to reopen the schools until there are no more covid cases for a month and then wait another three months as a margin of safety.

    At that time, someone responded that my suggestion was crazy.

    1. Michael, I agree with you 100%. Not only are we endangering the school teachers, employees, but the community in which the school resides. I cannot imagine how the school will be able to keep the students 6 feet apart and then wearing masks at all times. Also, how about the safe use of bathrooms at the school?

  27. Close the indoor bars. Close the theaters and casinos. Reopening schools — especially elementary schools — is crucial to the learning of the children who have already missed almost four months of in-person education. They should be our priority

    1. We have to decide what our priorities are. Schools or bars/cinemas/gyms? I would choose opening the schools and, therefore, I would close the bars, cinemas, and gyms. The next problem is that the schools don’t have the funds to transport children to schools in mostly empty buses or to put up see-through barriers to protect the students. What about the teaching staff and administrators? Can we keep them safe, too? Next, Covid-19 testing? Get in line and then wait a week or more for test results? That’s not going to do it. This is a complicated problem because there are so many moving parts. I think we have no choice but to step back, insist on masks and physical distancing, and find the funds to set up the school for safe learning and teaching.

    2. This isn’t just about what’s best for the children, this is about the safety of the people who have to educate them. Reopening the schools means forcing educators back to work. Can we reasonably ensure their safety? Can the State/Cities/Towns provide testing of students and faculty at a level that will protect transmission? Does the state have enough facilities to provide social distancing to reduce the possibility of the spread of infection? If schools can’t afford books, pencils, and other supplies, and I can’t imagine that they can afford hand sanitizer, N-95 masks, and COVID-19 tests on top of that. It’s unsafe and unfair to declare teachers essential workers and force them back into over-crowded classrooms if you can’t reasonably protect them at least to the same level that CVS protects their pharmacists.

  28. I strongly encourage the state to strengthen enforcement of mask wearing, especially on the MBTA. I’ve been disappointed by how many riders I find either not wearing masks or using them as chin guards. Being an enclosed area with often poor ventilation we need to do better. The MBTA is too critical for the region’s economy. Universal mask wearing can lower R enough to allow us to stay in Phase III.

  29. We should slow down now. If we allow the virus to get back to April levels, the Fall will be a disaster. And sadly, the math is not looking good: high R0 equals expanding caseload. We should also consider how to handle the flights into Logan from hotspots all over the country. Do we test or trace? We do not want all of the sacrifice thus far to have been wasted.

  30. I agree with everything our Senator said: back to Phase II. I say this despite our losses in the arts, particularly music (which he doesn’t mention), especially as a performing musician and club goer. I would like to see support for the arts & artists via initiatives such as http://www.nitolive.org. And more checks to everyone from the government. There’s plenty of money on the planet…going to all the wrong things!

  31. I couldn’t agree with you more. I am a sole proprietor in MA and have just submitted paperwork to homeschool. I have no idea how this is supposed to work but my business remains virtual and my child will remain home.

  32. Well I have a different view than most. I do think we need to open our schools and with safeguards. There is a risk to our kids education, social needs and the economic needs of parents by staying shut. I believe with mask use, pool testing, 3 foot separation and masks and face shields for teachers and staff we can find a way to open our schools. I think most are not in a rush to go to indoor restaurants nor to movie theaters. While one death is not acceptable, most deaths are sadly are among the elderly and those with pre existing conditions. Those who are at high risk will have to stay home and have home schooling and remote learning. There is risk and benefit for all and I do feel school opening with safeguards is worth the risk.

  33. Step back, close the bars, gyms, and places with crowds. Enforce social distancing on beaches and outdoor gatherings. Make people understand that by wearing a mask they are helping themselves too, not just others. Time to slow down, and make the virus impact much less before we comfortably can move forward. Lives are at stake. Let’s stop and be patient.

  34. A singular focus on the number of cases and deaths from a single disease is irrational and neglects more important general measures of well-being. Since there is no cure for COVID, the goal was initially to keep the number of cases from overwhelming the health care system. That goal was met. The longer the continuing shutdown of normal activities, the greater the adverse affects on people. For example, the unemployed die at rates 2% or more than normal. Thus 200,000 additional unemployed Massachusetts citizens will mean 4,000 added deaths. The fallout from the lockdown produces strains on physical and mental health that are not accounted for by focusing on an uptick in the number of cases of COVID. This virus is not a deadly as others in our history and the unprecented quarantine of the population is devastating businesses, including hospitals, and wreaking havoc with our daily lives. We should move more quickly to bring activities back to normal, including, but not limited to, getting kids back in school.

    1. Finally… a very logical and accurate post that I can agree with. Thank you, Grant.

    2. Your comment may make sense. But what are your safety priorities? Schools or bars/gyms/movie theaters? Where does one find the funds for making the schools and transportation safe? In Massachusetts, shall we mandate masks and physical distancing and have it enforced with fines? And then once the schools are open, when the children leave school, with Covid-19 (not terribly sick and perhaps completely asymptomatic), to their retired after school family members, what then? Won’t the employed parents need to replace their children’s afternoon babysitters and miss work or how will that work?
      I’m wondering whether we shouldn’t be organizing educational pods while this is being worked out. Retirees might be able to tutor 3 (a small number) children until they can return to public school buildings safely with teachers, administrators, and staff also adequately protected. It would take some organizing, but if we really want to see our children educated, it could work. (And, yes, I realize that retirees are in a high risk group due to their age, so this is yet another thing to consider.) My point is that perhaps we need to start thinking non-linearly to support making good decisions.

    3. Absolutely agree. Of course there may be some small uptick in cases as places reopen and more tests are done. We always knew that would happen. Focusing on one disease with a high survival rate at the expense of everything else, including mental and physical health, is not good policy. I do not support rolling back what little we have open.

  35. If the plan is to keep strugglingworkers out of work longer so you can put kids back in schools, I hope you’re fighting for the HEROES Act to pass. We are struggling right now! My income has been cut in more than half! I saw signs at yesterday’s rally saying people are looking at $160 a week of this Act doesn’t pass. You didn’t mention at all how you were going to deal with the unemployed if holding off on reopening is the plan in this article; Nothing about the looming housing crisis. You didn’t mention any plans for what to do if the HEROES Act doesn’t pass in its entirety. The idea of dealing with those problems when they arise is undiscerning. At least think about it. At least mention it.

      1. Hello Will – I just want to point out that the phrase “housing crisis” in this context is a little misleading. Everyone thinks that “housing crisis” means shortage of housing (and developers love to use that as an argument to build dense projects). At this point, we do not have a housing crisis in that sense — because our economy is not expanding and won’t for a while. We have a “personal income crisis” that building more housing is not going to cure. People not being able to work and pay for, or maintain their homes is a disaster in waiting – and a domino effect that will affect earners and investors in many parts of the economy. We cannot be cavalier about it. Realistically, this problem cannot be fixed with public handouts given to private citizens, I’m sure you realize that.

        People need to be able to work and be responsible for their bills. Any extended period of time when people are not making money will cripple many folks ability to maintain their living standards, to retire — not to mention affording their homes. This will lead to general impoverishment of the population. We cannot allow it. We need to find a way to keep the economy going.

        In war, people all over the world have always been making sacrifices for the good of their countries. This is a similar situation. I’m sure that if Biden wins the election, this argument will prevail, but democrats don’t want to make it now for obvious reasons. It’s disappointing to see this harmful partisanship on display.

        1. “Realistically, this problem cannot be fixed with public handouts given to private citizens, I’m sure you realize that.”

          Does he? I don’t.

          In fact, though it’s inaccurate to call it a public handout since people pay into it, unemployment insurance, extended and enhanced seems a great way of getting through this (at least one of Paul Krugman’s articles pointed this out). Where people fall through the cracks other kinds of welfare payments seem to me to be indicated.

          I’ve compared notes with my mom in Nova Scotia. It’s not exactly comparable, that’s fair. If you drew a graph of travel in and out of regions,Nova Scotia is no doubt much less connected than Massachusetts, so it’s initial hit naturally wasn’t as severe. But still, they did have cases and got R well below 1, so that their school reopening plans aren’t so difficult as ours (though, given their seemingly strong risk aversion I’m not so sure the approach is any more aggressive).

          Part of Canada’s success vs. the U.S. is attributed to their feds greater willingness to take extra debt and send money to individuals to avoid pressure on them to work (temporarily). U.S. has certainly done some of that, and with some success, but not as much, possibly with a good bit of corruption and mislaid funds, and it seems a fight all the way.

          In normal times you can argue about social welfare programs and UI, but when the pressure to get back to work acts in opposition to measures to control community spread, I’d suggest it’s time to put right wing ideology on furlough.

          1. It’s not a “right wing ideology” – it’s common sense and basic understanding of economics, which unfortunately most people lack. The unemployment insurance funds are exhausted, or will be very soon. Giving hundreds of thousands or millions of people money for staying at home and doing nothing that has any monetary value is not going to fly. The state cannot borrow money without mortgaging our future. And the country cannot be “robbing Paul to pay Peter” (i.e. shortchanging other needs), or just printing money, and not pay a huge price with its currency losing value, foreign imports becoming expensive to us — and that’s just a beginning of many negative consequences of drastically reduced productivity. People are fooling themselves if they think we won’t pay a very high price for suspending our economy.

        2. I have to disagree with you about the housing crisis. There are not enough homes in the area – there are more people who want to purchase than there are affordable homes. This is basic supply and demand and has driven up prices, especially in the city and surrounding areas.

          1. You wrote: “There are not enough homes in the area – there are more people who want to purchase than there are affordable homes. ”
            Sure, there are, and there will always be more people who can’t afford prevailing home prices in Eastern Mass. The region cannot accommodate everyone who wants to live here. Additionally, the supply of housing can’t go up if people don’t have incomes that make new construction housing economically feasible for builders/developers to deliver — with the cost of land, materials and labor what they are around here.

  36. Let’s face it no one talks about the protests ! Which would be making a difference in the up tick about now, why keep blaming the reopening! I was very up set to see all those people in crowds yet no one allowed together in a restaurant, it just does not make sense, not one peep from the media about the protests that could be the problem for the cases rising . You can’t say it’s ok to be in a crowd of thousands yet you can’t go to a restaurant ! No common sense !

    1. As I understand it, people have been looking at this quite carefully. Outdoors vs indoors makes a big difference. The protests were outdoors, and people mainly wore masks. They did a lot of free testing for people who went to protests. They don’t seem to have driven a spike in infections.

    2. G, having attended the protests, I saw high mask compliance, and distancing, coupled with the drastic reduction in transmission outdoors. Spikes from protests would have happened weeks ago and did not. Also, protesting is a constitutional rights while indoor dining and casinos are not.

  37. I can’t help but wonder that if our public health rules — wearing masks, maintaining distance, quarantining people from high-risk places — were rigorously enforced we could avoid stepping back into Phase II and start to open up schools for children in the lower grades (as it appears that children under ten are rarely infected and rarely infect others).

    1. Yes, let’s make it mandatory to wear masks and to maintain distance as much as possible.
      I heard, yesterday, that it is unclear whether younger children are less infectious than older children. It seems probable that the younger children are usually with their parents and don’t act as vectors, but they are just as able to infect others when out and about. There are no data on this matter. They may be just as infectious to a teacher who is in close proximity to her/his young students and if the teacher is at higher risk of dying from Covid-19, that teacher shouldn’t be put back into a classroom.
      The data keep coming in and if the CDC and WHO were tapped for their expertise we might do a better job of collecting and analyzing the data and then of opening up the schools and businesses.
      And as sad as this is, I think we must protest, too, but there is no reason why the protesters shouldn’t wear masks and march 6 feet from one another. They need not stand shoulder to shoulder without wearing masks.

  38. Yes, we need to hit the brakes. If we act now we can avoid greater problems later. Let’s be smart about this.

  39. Will,

    I think what has been missing from the reporting of the daily numbers of cases is the context in which people were likely to be infected. What types of profiles do the positives cases fall into?
    – Essential and retail workers with front line jobs exposing them to many customers daily?
    – People still very cautious and only going to grocery stores and visiting retail environments only to get essentials?
    – People visiting retail and closed indoor spaces in the past 14 days?
    – People visiting restaurants, bars, gyms in the past 14 days?
    – Family members of those that have engaged in higher risk exposures?
    – And do these people regularly wear masks in those higher risk environments?

    Getting and then distributing this data would help inform the public of higher and lower risk environments and allow government officials to tailor closings of businesses that are linked to higher spreading of the virus.

    I truly believe the way to minimize the affect on the public and promote as healthy a population as possible is through science and communication.

    1. I agree that this information is essential if those who are reluctant to comply are to be persuaded. If the information is not
      provided people will act based on their own speculations. Is the information not being collected or are “privacy concerns”
      preventing it from being shared?

      1. Thanks, Will. Are people analyzing data from the contact tracers? It seems like it might be more helpful than overall testing data in terms of figuring out what we might close and what can stay open. Also, it would be good to publicize research on whether protests drove infections or not.

    2. Hear, hear. Recent coverage of Germany’s successes focused on data-driven decision-making backed by high profile science communications. We’re not doing enough of either.

      For example, black population infection rate and mortality rate both seem to be higher. We still don’t know why this is and whether it has a biological basis. But if this is driving the spike, there needs to be targeted and effective communications to affected communities to take extra precautions, find resources, etc.

      1. Seems unlikely to have a biological basis since race is a social construct. People with darker skin and African features comprise a great deal of genetic diversity, such that when you see a trend like that it’s pretty obvious it’s based on historical/economic situation, the need to do essential jobs, etc. See the book Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini (in case it’s unclear from the title she’s exposing bogus “race science” and not suggesting one “race” is superior).

    3. Exactly last time it was nursing homes, now ages 20 to 29 which tells me it’s from protesting and going in crowds like you’re invincible!

  40. What communal benefits accrue from casinos, fitness centers, health clubs, movie theaters, and museums which can outweigh the communal costs of infections rising beyond R=1? Schools represent a less obvious answer, but what incremental benefit of learning in school rather than remotely can offset the communal cost of additional infections?

  41. Very thoughtful article. It is time to reassess. You should have mentioned though that Massachusetts unemployment rate in June climbed to 17.4%, the highest in the country.

  42. Thank you, Will, for your rational leadership on this. I agree with you on every point. I would like to see what you’ve written on the editorial page of The Globe.

  43. I don’t quite understand why re-closing some businesses has to mean closing all of the businesses that opened in phase 3; it strikes me there ought to be room to incorporate new knowledge about how this disease spreads if we do begin closing businesses again. For instance, we now know that masks are probably the most effective way to prevent spread of COVID, so why would we re-close all casinos, fitness centers, health clubs, movie theaters, and museums when many of these places can be visited and enjoyed while fully masked? It strikes me that any retrenchment in our reopening ought to focus on closing the highest-risk spaces (indoor dining, movie concessions), not just those places designated as phase 3 businesses during the original reopening planning.

    1. I think part of the problem is not just the quantity of mask wearing, but the quality. Some people use masks with exhale valves — those defeat the main purpose of the mask, which is to prevent unknowing asymptomatic people from spreading the disease. Other people wear their masks “nose free or die”. Not all masks seal around the edges; recently in a grocery store, I saw someone with a mask so loose that from the side I could see daylight between the mask and their face.

      And exercising hard in a mask, is hard. Many masks aren’t stiff enough to resist the force of a hard inhale, especially after they are damp from heavy breathing, and they collapse down onto your mouth, forcing all the air that you inhale to come through a much smaller area. (I have a home-made mask that looks like a bird beak that is better for this, but before that, biking up hill was awful).

      1. I implore you to watch this video. It covers something that has the potential to be a real game changer that may affect our decisions now as well as in the future. Apparently there is and has been a dirt -cheap at-home test that delivers results in 10 minutes. It was dismissed by the FDA out of hand because it has a 50% failure rate—but only recently have we understood those failures are not random at all. The rest does miss the long tail when a recovered patient has minute amounts of non infectious RNA remnants in their blood, but is actually highly accurate when the viral load is high. Which turns out to be when the virus is most transmissible. Being able to screen students at home or customers at a business would be economically revolutionary. You’re not the FFA of course but there is an opportunity to investigate and advocate here. https://youtu.be/h7Sv_pS8MgQ

  44. Thank you for this post, Will. I join the majority in wanting to control R, protect people, and prioritize education safely. Bars, gyms, casinos, and indoor dining are not absolutely essential in light of our present reality.

  45. Will, as far as business goes this is already a death knell for business!
    Shutting business down again will be that for sure!
    Gov Baker put a hook in all businesses that were allowed to open, putting
    Restrictions to hinder their ability to open!!!

    You have a constituency that tends to go along with you.
    Safety of course is important especially with schools.
    Why are you coming out of the woods with this idea?
    Have’t heard this before.
    Wait and see, do not rush it!

    Closing business again will
    Be a disaster!
    So many of them have no
    Reserves to rely on and are wondering how they will make it!
    Closing them now is a bad idea.

    1. The question maybe dial back now or dial back later. If we let the epidemic expand, that will croak even more businesses.

      But I agree that the judgment call is very hard and we have to keep looking at as much data as possible.

  46. Thank you Senator.
    I agree — caution and data. I like your suggestion that may be some Phase II and/or Phase III activities need be curtailed.
    This keys me to this idea: could it be possible to review each type of business for the anticipated risk, and rank the types of businesses into Phases. Not sure this was done “on data” initially.
    The risk should simply be the expected density of people, # interactions, or other measure of people-mingling — this is what drives infection transmission.
    Thank you — caution and deliberate, based on data and R expected…

  47. Thanks, Will, for speaking out about this. It seems like we’ve all (not just in MA, but in the northeast more generally) been patting ourselves on the back a little too hard and somewhat prematurely. Just today the NYT published an article about what a wonderful job we’ve been doing. R in Middlesex is at 1.12, according to covidactnow.org, up from a low of 0.77 in early June. In addition, if we are interested in enhancing the economy, it’s worth keeping in mind the potential economic cost of having to close schools this fall because we were overly enthusiastic about opening things up now.

  48. Hello,
    This is a very lucid explanation of how to gauge the status of the virus spread. Question: Is there an R for each main industry or social sector, or one for the whole state? I can imagine to keep the bars closed but open the schools to keep the overall R below one.

  49. A couple points, the risk of transmission is lower for kids under ten. Re open daycare and grades K-5. Strongly support online learning for grades 6-12 at least until March.
    We need a mask mandate, not a recommendation. It should be enforced, though I don’t think it makes sense to apply to drivers without others in their car.
    The gym doesn’t seem as risky as some make it out to be, we need better science or explanation of why these businesses are considered risky. And reassessment needs to be done periodically.

  50. Hello Will,

    Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I agree that we should take steps now to bring R well below 1 as soon as possible. Failing to do so only ensures that the costs of doing so later will be even more painful. We have seen how that worked out in other states.

    I am in favor of more stringent enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing. And of closing high-risk businesses if needed. But I hope that simply rolling back policies is not the complete solution.

    For example, a pervasive system of testing with rapid results and test certificates could allow businesses to refuse access to infected people and facilitate isolation of infected people before they infect others. In China, citizens carry certificates on their phones and must show them to enter stores, offices, etc. This may seem un-American, but the cost of doing so would probably be very much lower than the cost of keeping so much of the economy out of action.

    I realize that we may not have all the testing technology needed yet, but it seems to me that this should be given high priority. We know a vaccine is still a long way off and may not be very effective if it is developed so other options must be pursued as well.

    Thank you for raising this issue and I encourage you and the government to act proactively to prevent greater pain in the future.

  51. Case count is not the best measure — it is too susceptible to fluctuations in testing patterns. Confirmed deaths seems much more dependable. And those do not seem to be going up. Here are the last ten days of confirmed deaths: 10, 11, 14, 16, 17, 11, 11, 13, 10, 13, 5. I don’t see much of a trend there — and the numbers are very low. If you believe, as many do, that the virus will be around for a while, those look like the numbers we will be seeing for some time. Maybe years.

    1. Death count is a lagging indicator of conditions 6-8 weeks ago.
      Hospital admissions is a lagging indicator of conditions 10-14 days ago.
      Testing gives a result within 24-36 hours. (Unless overloaded like Texas).

  52. I support a return to phase 2. We should prioritize opening schools safely and informing students about their status via Covid-19 testing. In this way, we can maintain an R less than one by isolating infected persons. Since Covid-19 inflicts lasting damage to a person’s physiology, infection needs to be detected early, followed by treatment.
    Massachusetts doctors, nurses, and researchers are to be complimented for their continued efforts in treating infected persons. Many improvements in detection (improved swabs developed at the Wyss Institute; large-scale testing performed at the Broad Institute) and treatment (ventilator designs at Smith College) have been fostered by the collaborative atmosphere of Massachusetts. Let us respect these efforts by adopting safe lifestyles (wearing masks) and being good neighbors.

  53. Why has no one mentioned the crowds of young people at the beaches the past few weekends . No masks, no social distancing
    Radio stations saying its a great beach day. Please stay at homr.

  54. Although there are no specific studies for the comparative benefits of wearing masks vs. a vaccine for COVID-19, there are for the seasonal flu. According to Dr. Bala, the deputy chief medical officer at the Arkansas Department of Health, if everyone wore masks, it would be almost as effective as a vaccine. A compelling argument in favor of masking up!

  55. Yes. Step back to phase 2. I also am not happy about sending my high schooler back to in-person school at this point.

  56. Do NOT punish OUTDOOR activities such as smart restaurants and beaches.
    The facts are this: superspreader events like close-in bars, choirs, casinos etc. are THE sources of spread. There is nearly zero spread from open, distanced outdoor activity. That’s the science. The BS about masks while walking / outdoors has to end. If you crush safe commerce with a blunt hammer, shutting down safe activities with clearly unsafe ones, you are acting very very irresponsibly as an agent of government.

  57. Pretty much support any reason to close the casinos. They are already a virus as it is, no need for them to be open to assist in the spread of Covid-19. Shut them down.

  58. Will, in the Belmont Cittizen Herald you captured the essence of COVID-19 : the level of virus hasn’t changed; our behavior has, and that has made the difference.

  59. in addition, we need to close beaches, ponds and lakes. People get a bit selfish and think they are the only one going swimming. How can people swim without wearing masks and after swimming, we are fooling ourselves thinking they are going to wear masks. People will not die from one summer of not swimming, going to beaches, going to mail salons, indoor restaurants, theaters, etc. However, people could die from getting infected from Corona 19. So, let’s stop opening and go back to phase 2 and maybe adopt very save steps on phase 3.

  60. I agree that we need to hit the brakes and rewind at least part way into Phase II. Casinos, gyms, indoor dining, and (sorry!) churches should all be closed again. If there is anything we can do now to make it possible for even some K-12 schools to reopen safely, that should be our top priority. We should also enforce the rules we already have in place better. Watertown has a masks-everywhere rule, but even the police aren’t following it, so who’s to enforce it?

    As a college professor, I am deeply concerned that bringing tens of thousands of students from all over the country back to MA in a few weeks is going to send our cases skyrocketing. The universities (like mine) that are still planning to reopen in person are so terrified of the financial consequences of doing otherwise that it may take state-level action to get them to change course.

  61. I am a public school teacher and I am terrified by the demand that the Commissioner of Education has made to get every child back in their buildings if possible. We have played fast and loose with distancing guidelines in order to fit as many kids in as possible, yet our reopening plans are not going to allow for any of the important social-emotional aspects of being back at school – students not moving from their rooms all day, students not being able to play with blocks or soccer balls, students being with the same other 15-20 students day in and day out unless you’re lucky enough to have PE that day. It’s a soulless, institutionalized approach to education, and if you have to take this many precautions to have something resembling safety, it isn’t safe.

    The focus is on the children but no mention is made of the hundreds of adults who need to be in a building in order for those children to be there: the classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, the cafeteria workers and the custodial staff, librarians, PE teachers, art teachers, music teachers, the front office staff. All of those people are capable of spreading this disease to each other. And the newest study out of South Korea, which appears to actually have a valid methodology instead of the appallingly bad, cherry-picked data used by the Department of Education to justify reopening fully, demonstrates that child-child transmission is possible, that child-adult transmission can be possible, and that children over the age of 10 can transmit just as effectively as adults. Add to that the new consensus that this disease is airborne but most schools have terrible HVAC systems, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    And yet, not a peep from those in charge. Reading these words is the first glimmer of hope I’ve felt in weeks. Somebody gets it. Somebody sees the potential dangers in what we are proposing. It is misguided, dangerous hubris to think we will somehow escape the relapses seen in places like California.

    It is not safe to rush back to school. It is a twisted world we live in where, as a teacher, I have accepted that I may be shot to death at school and yet I return. I did not sign up for a potential lifetime of disabilities or death from a virus that is highly contagious and seemingly everywhere at once. The consequences of it can be devastating to children and teachers alike. We need to put the brakes both on reopening the state and on demanding schools return to normal ASAP.

  62. I can say I am not surprised. Even the most conscientious among us let go a bit this past weekend. Let’s just say a lot of people went to the beach. It was either that or sit next to a fan all day, which I can report as boring! So we will probably see a small tick up and that is probably how it will be until a vaccine is discovered. Of course, it could have been managed a hell of a lot better at the start but that ship has long sailed. Elections have consequences!

  63. We need to open the schools so working parents can go back to work. We can do it safely. We have vastly overreacted to this virus. The mortality rate is low. Children are seldom harmed from it and don’t infect others. No need for brakes. Learn to live and work with the problem.

  64. Will,

    Thanks for the simple, effective reminder about the science of this. Don’t understand why state won’t invest in real “life-guards”who would limit numbers on beach and send you home if no mask. Ditto for fresh pond walkway. Why let 5 to 10% who ignore basic safety ruin it for rest? Some enforcement is necessary…won’t take much. M-street beach pics in globe are scary. Simple math: no masks + crowding = more death. !! Strict capacity limits are good way to slow opening up just about anything. Use online Reservations at all sorts of venues…including museums, nature preserves etc to manage capacity and avoid long lines.

  65. I’m all in favor of rolling back some of what has opened, and agree with your suggestion of closing places in both Phase 2 & 3 where it makes sense. Gyms, indoor dining, movies, etc. We can’t have a healthy economy without healthy citizens. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and hard work!

  66. Thanks Senator Brownsberger. I really appreciate your points and your advocacy of a thoughtful and data-driven approach. We can either make small changes now or be forced to make big changes later down the road.

    How can we, as Massachusetts residents, best advocate for the points you outline? Is there any legislation that we should ask our legislators to sign on to, or is this process entirely driven by the Baker administration?

  67. It seems to me that people are focused on worrying about what could happen and worrying if what is happening in TX and FL will happen here. We still can’t predict the future. And if we look at the curves we are beyond any point of reasonable worry. So the unreasonable worriers are prevailing in the discussions. And our governor continues an illegitimate state of emergency in the face of a disaster which does not exist. The duck boats are running!

  68. If we knew where the positive tests were concentrated it would give epidemiologists a better picture of the venues, businesses and age group where cases are focused.
    Agree with leaning back on opening especially the universities. What harm one more semester of remote learning?… and not from the dorms, Harvard! That age group is a time bomb.
    Our youngsters are smart and will catch up if we keep them home a few more months…Massachusetts has a great education system already in place. The worry here of course is childcare for working parents. This is a huge challenge.

  69. Thanks for your support for keeping Massachusetts safe. The reopenings have given people the message the virus is gone. Mask wearing way down. Why is it not enforced. Construction crews, police with masks under their noses, parties in neighborhood, etc. It is just a matter of time before it surges and doesn’t creep. All the school opening plans are not original but expose teachers, students and parents. No creativity. All learning needs to be online and large venues should be used for children who need more structure. They can work online with distance, masks and oversight by non professionals and still get fed. Colleges should not allow kids to come to campus for online learning as the college kids I speak to all see it as a way to party. When did going to the gym or getting a haircut take a priority over public health and education? Thanks for your leadership.

  70. Will, I completely agree with your assessment. What would help you make the case? Do you need results from another survey? Letters to Gov Baker? Please let us know. Thanks for your voice of reason and ongoing leadership.

  71. Closing things down is one option. Testing the population is another. If we were to set up testing for everyone and do testing in batches of say, 100 (with individual follow up tests for those batches that test positive), we could identify and isolate those who are positive, as well as trace their immediate contacts. Testing could be done like flu clinics – locally, through boards of health. Yes, it would be a huge effort, but without widespread testing, we won’t know who is silently spreading the infection.

  72. Agreed, Will. Time to restrict more activities now so that we can reopen schools safely in the fall. Thank you.

  73. Please prioritize opening up schools safely and dial back on indoor activities with crowds, such as casinos, bars, movies, gyms. Apply all new information we have so that best practices are applied and required. And definitely provide financial supports for those suffering loss of income . Will, thank you for your services to our community. We all benefit from your commitment and intelligence.

  74. Yes, hit the brakes, at least–the mayor of Somerville is right, we don’t have the numbers to justify phase 3 reopenings.

    I also agree that we should close some of what has been reopened. I’d like to go sit at a sushi bar, or get a haircut, but those are trivial compared to reopening the elementary schools.

    I’m glad that it’s possible to have some in-person medical appointments–I took the opportunity to get a vaccine and have my sore wrist examined a couple of weeks ago.

    That’s a need. Education and social interaction for children is a need. Sitting in a restaurant, r even at an outside table, isn’t. Neither is live theater, browsing in a bookstore, or using the resistance machines at a health club (three non-trivial things I would be doing if there was no pandemic).

    Exaggerations aside, I wouldn’t kill for a meal out, or a new haircut, or the chance to try on shoes in person.

  75. I agree with you, Will. Thank you for this.
    The opening of casinos, fitness centers, health clubs, movie theaters, and museums, while we are trying to figure out how to safely get kids back to school (and parents back to work) seems somewhat asinine. Especially in view of the slow uptick of our Ro.

  76. Thank you for the thoughtful analysis. Please hit the brakes now, and reexamine which aspects of Phase II may have contributed to a resurgence before taking more drastic measures is no longer a choice.

    As we learn more daily about transmission, we need to consider some harsh truths before opening our schools:
    • We thought young and otherwise healthy adults were less susceptible until we learned that they weren’t.
    • We don’t know much about children under 10 as carriers. Putting children from multiple family units in proximity carries a certain risk to their families, teachers, administrators, and essential personnel who need to disinfect every surface they touch.
    • Physical structures were built to accommodate a maximum number of students without allowing for social distancing.

    What would be possible:
    Opening schools to a limited number of staff members who attest they have no symptoms, continuing to maintain logs for entry and exits. We could schedule staggered meetings for special ed. students who can’t reasonably learn virtually to meet in person at a distance.

    While far from ideal, that small start would allow for contact tracing.

  77. Thank you, Will, for sharing your thoughtful and
    sensible analysis. Like many others, I think that
    mask wearing and social distancing should be mandated rather than recommended and that re-
    opening policy should be determined by R value,
    ideally below, but certainly not above 1. I also think that school reopening should be a higher priority than reopening by business-category.

    That said, I think that school reopening should be guided by current research and best practices. Given the regional variation of covid-19
    cases, regional variation in school reopening poli-
    cies are to be expected. But local communities and the Commonwealth (and ideally the Feds) need to be prepared for the challenges and costs of creating safe and productive learning environ-
    mentos for all students, particularly those whose
    family resources can not fill in the gap. This will
    include identifying quiet and safe study spaces for
    those who have in the past counted on public li-
    braries. Schools will also need to think about how
    to compensate for the reduction of non-academic
    extracurricular and social opportunities so impor-
    tant to older students. Since some amount of on-
    line learning and non-classroom structure is likely
    to be necessary for some students in some areas,
    school administrators need to identify systematic
    creative approaches which do not assume that parents will function as teacher’s aides and provide appropriate educational space and resources.

    Business reopenings should be determined by
    the ability and commitment of the business to
    create a safe environment for clients and staff by
    ensuring social distancing (by regulating access)
    and requiring appropriately worn masks of both
    staff and clients. Applicants for reopening should
    be informed that compliance will be monitored and that permission is conditional and will be re-
    scinded if non-compliance is found. Since covid-19 is likely to challenge society for some time, bu-
    sinesses need to understand that it is in their eco- nomic self-interest to comply. Many grocery stores have gone to great lengths to create safe environments but some have not. As far as one can see, there have not been any consequences for non-compliance which is unfortunate because it sends the wrong message both to the business and to the clients. Many hair salons have also taken
    significant steps to create safe environments. I ex-
    pect that it might be possible for gyms to do so as well. Perhaps some inside dining might be possible at restaurants very committed to regulating access but others might decide that reopening might not be economically feasible under such stringent guidelines and not worth the hassle of turning large numbers of people away. The Boston area will need to find a way of ensuring that “open
    for business” does not disintegrate into long tight
    lines of people either waiting to pick up pizza or
    waiting for access to inside venues. This will be a
    real challenge when an influx of students eager for
    social time meets the needs of businesses desperate to stay afloat.

    I hope that the state will articulate an expecta-
    tion that its many educational institutions take
    responsibility for their students whatever their
    age or living situation. Many of these students will
    be coming to our state from areas whose citizens
    have been taken covid far less seriously than folks
    in this area. They will be returning to communities offering fewer social outlets than in the past. Not reopening bars will help but it will not be enough.

    Again, Will, thank you for representing us all so

  78. Mask wearing. Five days a week I walk 3.5 miles on a circuriteous route, Watertown-Newton-Allston-Watertown ie., Charles River, and encounter bicylists, runners and walkers, most wearing face masks. I just do not understand why the few do not; they seem to arrogantly pride themselves on what they are not doing. Of course, in any endeavor, there will always be that 10%, that when it’s “Greenside out,” there will be that 10% that will fall out with “Brownside out.” (An olde Marine Corps proverb 🙂

  79. I am curious if anything is being learned about transmission rates among kids at summer camp programs. And transmissions from kids to families. I believe they were allowed to reopen in Phase II though I assume most didn’t get going until the end of June so maybe it is too soon to tell? Presumably the summer camp experiences could inform the school safety strategies, if there is enough data.

  80. It is clear to me that we need to slow down the reopening process. Opening restaurants and bars is signalling to too many that it is ok to relax physical distancing, mask usage and other precautions. I have seen the queues of people waiting to get into bars in the seaport area – more than a few without masks and certainly not practicing physical distancing. The message needs to be loud and clear that this pandemic is far from over.

  81. As a physician at one of the local teaching hospitals, we have been dealing with COVID for months. The current dynamic in our area is nothing like March and April. Currently, testing is widespread and almost all of it is being done for situations such as pre-op, pre-procedure, hospital admission for other purposes and pre-travel screening. There is minimal influenza like illness in the region now and symptomatic respiratory illness is not the driver of positive tests. The small numbers of ongoing positives may be false positives, people at low risk of hospitalization or ongoing shedding of non-infectious viral particles. Furthermore, we have a good handle at our at risk populations (elderly, congregant settings like nursing homes etc …) and they are well defended now with better infection control procedures.

    Additionally, there was very little hospital based infection of health care workers. We are at the highest risk of any profession for COVID and we did not come down with it in droves, as we had good infection control practices in place to prevent infection. Furthermore, the majority of infections are due to household contacts, not casual and workplace interactions.

    To the extent this impacts reopening, social distancing, PPE, hand hygiene and avoiding mingling in large crowds of strangers can mitigate viral spread.

    The unemployment situation in our state is one of the worst in the nation and we had one of the worst death rates as well. We can start to baby step back into something resembling normal life and schools and gyms are a huge part of that. These can be operated safely if our hospitals were able to keep running without the majority of the staff getting COVID.

  82. Will, thanks for your concern for our collective welfare and careful thought on this issue. I’d like to suggest a slight shift of vantage point to help inform the many decisions about what to do.

    If this were a shooting war with other human beings, we would expect casualties and deaths, maybe a lot of them. That applies in this war against a microbial enemy. Thank god that the fatality rate for those infected is not very high, unlike for SARS or MERS or Ebola — we are not in the really desperate straits that could have been thrust on us if 20% of the infected died. Given this “low” lethality profile and how COVID is persistently, aggressively and sneakily spreading, I don’t think we should seek to absolutely minimize infections and deaths from COVID if the cost of that is economic and social self-destruction. Some number of COVID deaths and illness seems inevitable over the coming months and perhaps years – the cat is out of the bag.

    But how many is OK? I think the requirement for us to meet is keeping the healthcare delivery system robust and strong both now and for the long haul – not exceeding the facilities’ capacity for optimal treatment of both COVID AND non-COVID illnesses, not burning out our providers and staff, not running out of medicines, supplies and equipment. Eventually – again, perhaps in years – we will have a combination of treatment regimens, prevention tools like vaccines and updated ventilation and air purification practices, and possibly acquisition of herd immunity (though that seems very slow in coming). It will then make sense to aim at zero new infections as the most important measure of success.

    Until then, I am in favor of “opening up” just as far as the healthcare system status allows, and to allow the illness and fatalities that result from that in order not to destroy all the other public goods involved (education of children, the everyday fabric of human society, individual economic wellbeing and the economy as a whole). That point is clearly far short of opening wide up, but will be looser than an approach trying primarily to minimize infections.

    Due to the lag time between infection and going into treatment if serious illness results, this will be challenging to manage without swings that leave the system a little over- or under-utilized at any point in time, but that’s the skill we as a society – government, healthcare, businesses, individuals – will need to develop. And of course the public must be persuaded / required to implement the many preventive practices that help minimize infection and illness while more people are out and about. Thoughtfully and strategically setting priorities for deciding what to open will remain a key activity.

    I think it is a mistake to imply in our measurements, briefings, and news coverage that the lowest possible number of infections is the right goal regardless of what it costs in terms of economic and social damage. The virus is in charge, not us, and we don’t know how the biological part of this story is going to evolve or end. I believe the government is obligated to take reasonable steps to ensure our entire society survives, and accept that there will be some deaths. It is unwise to severely impair our society now and in the future, placing an incredible burden on our children and grandchildren, in an effort to prevent every single death now. As you know, we haven’t shut down society for influenza which returns every year and kills many thousands; we have actually accepted the fact we can’t fully control it.

    So closely monitor the healthcare delivery system status – if it has significant unused capacity to treat those who become ill, we can allow more activity to resume, even though more infections and deaths will result. When it approaches maximum utilization, clamp down in a measured but decisive manner, and clamp down as far as is needed to restore acceptable healthcare delivery system status.

    There is so much more to say on this critical topic – I’ll just end with my thanks for your thoughtful engagement on this issue Will.

    1. Thanks, David.

      If we could have a low steady state of infections, that might be acceptable. But my concern is that we may end up with a growing rate of infections on the course we are on. This will result in a whip-saw reclosure of the economy.

  83. Thanks for this, Will. I agree with you. Massachusetts did a great job from mid-March through the end of June, reducing the spread of Covid19. I was hoping that the state would work to reduce the infections levels to the lowest level possible in anticipation of the fall and the winter, when we will have less control and fewer options. The governor promised that the state would follow the numbers closely and respond accordingly. Now, I think, is the time to rethink reopening before that R of 1.07 is an R of 1.2.

  84. Going back to school has been successfully carried out in Taiwan, with only 2 weeks off. The government was prepared with masks and a strict method to deal with even one case in a class. Please watch this video from RTI Taiwan for measures on how students protected themselves and ideas on what could be adopted in MA.

  85. I am a public school teacher and I am terrified by the demand that the Commissioner of Education has made to get every child back in their buildings if possible. We have played fast and loose with distancing guidelines in order to fit as many kids in as possible, yet our reopening plans are not going to allow for any of the important social-emotional aspects of being back at school – students not moving from their rooms all day, students not being able to play with blocks or soccer balls, students being with the same other 15-20 students day in and day out unless you’re lucky enough to have PE that day. It’s a soulless, institutionalized approach to education, and if you have to take this many precautions to have something resembling safety, it isn’t safe.

    The focus is on the children but no mention is made of the hundreds of adults who need to be in a building in order for those children to be there: the classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, the cafeteria workers and the custodial staff, librarians, PE teachers, art teachers, music teachers, the front office staff. All of those people are capable of spreading this disease to each other. And the newest study out of South Korea, which appears to actually have a valid methodology instead of the appallingly bad, cherry-picked data used by the Department of Education to justify reopening fully, demonstrates that child-child transmission is possible, that child-adult transmission can be possible, and that children over the age of 10 can transmit just as effectively as adults. Add to that the new consensus that this disease is airborne but most schools have terrible HVAC systems, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    And yet, not a peep from those in charge. Reading these words is the first glimmer of hope I’ve felt in weeks. Somebody gets it. Somebody sees the potential dangers in what we are proposing. It is misguided, dangerous hubris to think we will somehow escape the relapses seen in places like California.

    It is not safe to rush back to school. It is a twisted world we live in where, as a teacher, I have accepted that I may be shot to death at school and yet I return. I did not sign up for a potential lifetime of disabilities or death from a virus that is highly contagious and seemingly everywhere at once. The consequences of it can be devastating to children and teachers alike. We need to put the brakes both on reopening the state and on demanding schools return to normal ASAP.

  86. The fact that R>1 is worrying, since surely it will increase when schools reopen, and if R gets too large we will have to shut down again to avoid overloading the hospitals. However, there are a lot of different options for reducing R, each with different costs. Shutting things down is extremely expensive to the businesses shut down and the employees laid off, in most cases it is not the cheapest way to reduce R. Shutting schools down is bad for student learning and also hurts the economy. We should try other options. It would be very cheap to provide everyone in the Commonwealth with N95 masks so they could protect themselves more effectively, maybe better masks would be enough to knock R down by a factor of 2. It might be affordable to do serious large-scale COVID testing with pooling (now allowed by FDA), followed by strong contact tracing/quarantines for those testing positive and their contacts, to try to suppress some of the many undetected COVID infections that are sustaining our outbreak, this could significantly reduce R. But for this strategy to work the Commonwealth would have to commit to buying a huge number of tests, so the lab companies would buy more test processing equipment and be ready to provide quick turn around on hundreds of thousands of tests. (Because only ~0.1% of the population is infectious at any moment, one needs to test 100,000 people/day to detect 100 cases per day, the minimum needed to materially affect R.) Probably relatively cheap fast do-at-home COVID tests will become available by end of 2020, well before vaccine is widely available. A legislative priority should be to figure out what the rules will be when these fast tests become available – do you have to test yourself the day of travel to ride an airplane? to ride the T? to come into a school building? Can an employer require employee to take the test before coming to work? Do barbers and massage therapists and nursing home workers need to test themselves each day? Will the state pay to test everyone in the Commonwealth twice about 5 days apart, and so make it possible to detect almost every infection and almost eradicate the virus? The Governor only has limited ability to spend the kind of money needed for large-scale testing or even N95 masks for everyone, and he is not in a good position to decide the associated civil rights/professional certification issues. It would be great if the Legislature could at least discuss these issues to be ready for quick votes if funds are required.

  87. Why not create phases to re-start in person schooling the same way that businesses were phased back in?
    Phase 1: Young children (preschool through second grade) should be the priority as they cannot stay home by themselves when parents go to work and struggled to engage in digital learning tasks. These students traditionally have one homeroom teacher they remain with for the whole school day so the ‘bubbles’ can be kept small. All other leaners could continue with digital learning at home, and the classrooms once used for those students could be utilized to spread out the little ones. This phase could also allow for students with IEP services to return to schools so that they could receive services and/or the support of an aide to complete their digital learning.
    Phase 2: If the first round proves successful, you could start to reintroduce more students back to in-person instruction. You could begin to allow all elementary students who have a single homeroom teacher to restart in person instruction.
    Phase 3: Middle and high school students could return for one day of instruction focused on a single subject (i.e. english or math). The tricky think with departmentalized learning is that kids switch and swap classrooms and cohorts for each subject and it is difficult to maintain small bubbles. If these students came for one full day of english instruction, then spent the other four days continuing digital learning, they would benefit from the social interactions, but also benefit from the safety on minimizing the number of humans they come into contact with. Perhaps half of the day is focused on the single subject in person instruction, and the other half of the day they remain in the building but work on their digital learning (with support and encouragement from the adult in the room).

  88. Dear Senator,
    Thank you for this crucial question. Yes. With the virus cases increasing exponentially in most states, over 4 million cases in the U.S. and nearly 150,00 deaths, it is a stark reality that the virus is with us and that opening as the country has in July is proof. This is July 22 map of our state showing the towns with the highest positivity rates in the previous 2 weeks (updated weekly): https://www.wcvb.com/article/massachusetts-covid-19-town-by-town-positivity-data-july-15-2020/33328295
    Data from the 1918 pandemic shows that the states that shut down had a fraction of the virus cases. The deadliest month was October.
    Epidemiologists, medical professionals, and scientists say they are still learning about Covid-19. What is known is how infectious and deadly it is.
    Educators have said that there is a loss with learning outside of the classroom and online classes but they have also said that the loss of a student’s or teacher’s life would not be worth what is gained in opening schools.
    My sister-in-law is an intensive care nurse who has been treating Covid cases in a Cape Cod hospital. She had the virus in May, along with 11 of her colleagues in the ICU, and many hospital staff. After quarantine, she was back to work in 2 weeks. She has 2 teenage children and a husband. America’s front line workers are dying. A recent article from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News reports that in some states, they account for 20 percent of deaths.
    Our livelihoods and economy are essential but our health but our very LIVES are even more so! The sick and dead cannot work or shop.
    I’m glad to live in our state that takes public health, medicine, and science seriously and where we have leadership. Every effort to continue it is essential in this new world.

  89. I do not know how bad the situation has to become, or how much evidence there has to be, or how close to home (or to one or more loved ones) the virus has to strike before the millions of Americans who seem to be being referenced in an analysis of attitudes in the US I have read with the title “Americans want to be free to be stupid”, will finally recognize the nature and seriousness of the threat we are confronting. The combination of conflicting and incomplete advice, restrictions that are a patchwork of the mandatory and advisory, and a frightening absence of competence linked to a callous disregard at the highest levels of our Federal Government for the welfare and health of other people do not bode well for the prospects of this country in the coming months and years. Restrictions and rules applicable to the different several environments within which we would like to live our lives, productively in some cases and enjoyably in others, will be insufficient on their own, until and unless they are accompanied by a much wider and more profound recognition and willingness among the population to act with care and attention to the wellbeing of others, instead of an overwrought emphasis on an individual’s freedom to act however he or she feels like acting, regardless of the foreseeable consequences (“Live Free And Die”, not “Live Free Or Die”). Freedom to play Russian roulette may be defensible, but not freedom to put the revolver with a bullet in at least one chamber against someone else’s head, and then spin the chamber and press the trigger.

    I see no prospect for the implementation of a sensible nationwide program to control the pandemic, modulated to take account of local conditions, as long as the current President is in office. He is being aided and abetted by formidable instruments of power in the hands of complicit individuals who appear to have abandoned whatever soul they may have been born with, or whatever feelings of empathy they may once have experienced, or whatever powers of rational analysis and reasoning they may have exercised in the past.

    Ultimately there must be a coordinated national effort, because in this battle the lowest common denominator wins because it can corrupt or infect the rest. And the lowest denominator in the US has been sinking very low indeed. Probably it has not yet even reached the bottom. Meanwhile Massachusetts must do whatever is in its power, working with like-minded States. Necessary steps probably include slowing down or even reversing some reopening initiatives, in the hope (which may be the most important preventive measure Americans can take in the next few months, namely voting, an even greater imperative than wearing masks and distancing) so that we will be able to start to protect and help ourselves and our fellow citizens and residents throughout the country more effectively and respectfully after January 20, 2021.

  90. I really appreciate your analysis. As the spouse of a public school teacher, the rising RO now 1.11, is scary. We must start rolling back parts of phase 3 immediately.

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