Gov. Charlie Baker and his top health official are back in the hot seat today as the Legislature’s COVID-19 oversight committee returns for a second hearing.
UPDATE 4:07 p.m.: Gov. Charlie Baker concludes his testimony by telling Sen. Jo Comerford he’s “surprised” to hear 173 of 351 municipalities — representing 4 million people — chose to reject the state plan. Comerford says they had “pretty harsh words for the work the Baker administration is leading.”
UPDATE 3:36 p.m.: Gov. Charlie Baker comes out swinging with stats, saying since the first hearing, “we’ve reached about 1 million Mass residents fully vaccinated, almost 1.2 million doses of COVID vaccine were administered during those three weeks.”
The Republican governor notes the state told everyone over 16 when they would become eligible, and made more than 400,000 teachers and educators eligible. It’s important to note, those steps happened only after pressure from the Biden administration.
Baker defends his vaccine rollout which he says “has made real progress” and says Massachusetts “leads” most states when it comes to vaccinating Black and Latino residents.
Sen. Cindy Friedman says she is “taken aback” by Baker’s comments saying “comparisons are odious.”
“When you have 4% of our Latinx community where they are 75% of the population, that is nothing to be excited about,” says Friedman.
She says it feels like Baker and lawmakers exist in “different worlds.” “What we’re getting from you is ‘you’re all wrong,’ ‘we’re doing great.’ Please. We don’t want to hear it anymore and I find it really hard to take.”
UPDATE 2:55 p.m.: Curtis Wood, Executive Office of Technology Services and Security secretary, said the state talked to three companies about a pre-registration system.
The state “had a conversation” with Burlington-based Everbridge, which is already employed for the state’s alert system and runs the pre-registration system in West Virginia, as well as Microsoft.
The state ultimately settled on Google for its pre-registration system because Microsoft “really was not ready to come in and do it the way we wanted to do it” and Everbridge wanted to “just do it the way they want to do it.”
UPDATE 2:45 p.m.: State Sen. Eric Lesser asks Curtis Wood, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Technology Services and Security, if there was any load testing done for vendors’ ability to handle the onslaught of people trying to book vaccine appointments.
“We personally did not do a load test,” Wood said, but added that vendors “assure us they were able to handle” the volume.
Wood later blamed website issues on “almost the panic of people trying to get” appointments.
“If the vaccines were available, it might have been a different story,” Wood said.
But state Sen. Jo Comerford said “if we had let folks know that we had a million appointments available in one day, we might have had 4 million people trying to book those appointments, so it could have cut the other way.”
UPDATE 2:15 p.m.: Lawmakers have reconvened the hearing for an hour-long panel discussing the technical issues of the vaccine rollout.
Sen. Barry Finegold says more than 1 million people have enrolled in the state’s coronavirus vaccine pre-registration system. While it appears to have “no apparent problems” so far, he wants to make sure the state’s online infrastructure “not only meets the challenges of today, but also is prepared to tackle the issues of the future. Our vaccination system has to be proactive instead of reactive towards that.”
Technical glitches and outright failures plagued the first weeks of signups for seniors and those with two or more medical conditions.
Curtis Wood, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Technology Services and Security, told lawmakers that “I don’t think anybody every expected” the “unprecedented volume” of people trying to find and book appointments through the state’s website and third-party vendors.
He said the state “immediately jumped into action” with third-party vendors PrepMod, Color and Curative, as well as Project Beacon, which contracted with the state to develop the Vaxfinder scraping tool to find appointments, and “were able to mitigate most of those issues within a week or so.”
UPDATE 1:05 p.m.: Lawmakers recess until 2 p.m.
UPDATE 1:03 p.m.: Sen. Jo Comerford says as local health officials “stretch a dollar,” lawmakers need to “look into the tens of millions of dollars going into mass vax sites that… seemingly have no end of funding coming their way while you guys work miracles.”
UPDATE 12:54 p.m.: Boston Democrat Rep. Liz Malia asks how the “large percentage” of undocumented residents are being reached.
Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, asks about the “millions of dollars that was shifted” away from local health depts and to mass vax sites. “In theory, those contracts and dollars could have been directed to all of us to scale up operations.”
Barnstable County’s O’Brien says “we probably could have covered a lot more at the local level — and have a lot more equity out there. I think we had a better opportunity to get out to those populations that were most vulnerable.”
Roslindale Democrat Rep. Rob Consalvo says constituents are still calling him asking how they can get tested and for information on vaccines. He asks how local boards of health can help disseminate “culturally competent” and “trusted” information.
UPDATE 12:31 p.m.: Sen. Julian Cyr says, “the fact that the commonwealth spent nearly 20 years planning with municipalities, with local health partners to provide vaccines and then somewhere along in this pandemic… they threw that playbook out and went with something different is deeply concerning.”
He asks local health officials, “what role could local health play in reaching the most vulnerable people who continue to be left out by this vaccine plan now?”
“We know our communities and we can do the work if we are allowed to,” said Dawn Carmen Sibor, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association.
Andover public health director and Barnstable County regional emergency planning committee coordinator, testifying together, reveal they were college roommates.
“Go UMass,” says Andover’s Carbone.
UPDATE 12:03 p.m.: Thomas Carbone, Andover director of public health, says this year for the first time, nine of 16 regional public health coalitions “voted to not concur with the operating plan” of the state for CDC funding.
Sen. Cindy Friedman calls the testimony of local public health officials “damning.”
“You’re dealing with such a level of frustration, I can’t even imagine,” Friedman says, asking about local boards of health’s ability to provide freezers, preparation for the “unique” logistical needs of the two-dose, hard-to-store Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Carbone says “there are multiple health depts that are capable of handling this vaccine. We have refrigeration. We have freezers… it’s not something that can’t be overcome.”
UPDATE 11:43 a.m.: Sean O’Brien, Barnstable County’s regional emergency planning committee coordinator, says the state’s fumbles forced Barnstable to invest in its own sites and call center to help connect residents with vaccines.
“We have done the impossible… Barnstable County now has one of the highest vaccination rates among people over 75.”
Worcester Health Commissioner Dr. Matilde Castiel said the city “tapped into” “myriad” academic and med partners to stand up vax clinics and serve local seniors and populations in neighboring towns. “This is what we trained for and what we are able to do.”
Dawn Carmen Sibor, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association admits public health in Mass. is “uneven, underfunded and understaffed” but says local public health officials work tirelessly.
Sibor says Gov. Charlie Baker “has chosen to not use these plans.”
“The administration instead has spent hundreds of millions more of taxpayer dollars to hire consultants, private organizations to manage clinics while ignoring the plans and capabilities of local health departments.”
“I ask why has the administration spent hundreds of millions more dollars for private organizations to do this work… this could be an opportunity to build our local public health infrastructure and prepare for the next pandemic,” says Sibor.
UPDATE 11:22 a.m.: Andover Public Health Director Thomas Carbone said local public health and community partners “have been planning for the operation of mass vaccination sites for 20 years.”
While vaccine supply has been limited thus far, “we believe that our oldest residents are best served by being vaccinated in our communities by people familiar to them,” Carbone said.
Carbone said Andover practiced drive-through vaccination clinics in the fall and held weekly meetings with town departments to discuss resources and plans. They also scouted “dozens” of indoor and outdoor locations to find the best sites for targeted clinics. Several local public health officials have told the Herald similar stories of how they spent weeks or months finding sites and preparing to administer coronavirus vaccines only to watch the Baker administration pivot in allocations to municipalities.
Sean O’Brien, Barnstable County’s regional emergency planning committee coordinator, said it was “frustrating” to watch the state ignore long-laid plans.
UPDATE 11:15 a.m.: Lawmakers say today’s hearing will cover continuing equity issues in the Baker administration’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, the utilization — or lack thereof — of long-time state and local emergency preparedness planning amid the pandemic; and the “rush to privatize” the state’s response.
“We will hear this morning that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in painstaking emergency planning and training since 9/11,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said.
UPDATE 10:50 a.m.: While the committee’s first hearing last month focused heavily on the vaccine rollout, lawmakers are now expected to probe the state’s emergency planning before and during the pandemic.
Here’s who’s been invited to testify today.
11 a.m.: Dawn Carmen Sibor, executive director, Massachusetts Health Officers Association; Thomas Carbone, Andover director of public health; Sean O’Brien, Regional Emergency Planning Committee coordinator, Barnstable County; Dr. Matilde Castiel, Worcester commissioner of health and human services.
1 p.m.: Hour-long recess.
2 p.m.: State Sen. Barry Finegold, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity; state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, House chair, Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity. They’ll be joined by Curtis Wood, secretary of the Executive Office of Technology, Services and Security, and Jackson Wilkinson, chief technology officer of Project Beacon.
3 p.m.: Gov. Charlie Baker.
4 p.m.: Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders; Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Samantha Phillips; Kerin Milesky, director of the Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management, Department of Public Health.