COVID – 19 has been dominating the news cycle as of late on the national scale, but what efforts are being made locally to combat this virus? Virtual town halls have been the way to go as of late and Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-MA)’s Town Hall Meeting included guests such as Dr. Karen Freund and City Councilor at Large Gerly Adrien to discuss the impacts of COVID –19 in their district. This meeting tackled cases such as how hospitals are holding up against the virus, what equipment is in high demand and the shortcomings of the CARES act and how we can contribute to local organizations who are providing aid to citizens during this crisis.
The Middlesex Virtual Town Hall Meeting took place on April 13, 2020, which was a windy and rainy day in Massachusetts [with over 100k losing power that day.] The event was run by Kennedy’s election team who is running all of their campaign and town hall efforts on https://www.mobilize.us/kennedyforma/ This event is a part of a series of Town Halls that Kennedy and his team hold each week during afternoon and evening hours. The description for this event read, “During this unprecedented time, Joe wants to connect with folks in Middlesex to hear directly from residents about their questions and concerns. As Joe says, “we will get through this together.” This town hall meeting had about 120+ listeners who listened online through zoom or dialed in via telephone. The team was very responsive and provided two emails for email confirmation and even called each person ahead of time to notify them if they had any problems logging into the event. As you can see from the images above, the event had two special guests. The guests were City Councilor at Large Gerly Adrien, representing the city of Everett and Dr. Karen Freund who is the Vice Chair of Medicine at Tufts Medical Center.
The start of this meeting began with their introductions. City Councilor Gerly Adrien discussed the initial efforts taken by her community and discussed the impact it has had on citizens who were worried about getting groceries and paying their mortgages. Next, Dr. Karen Freund was introduced and she discussed how developments were being handled on the medical side. According to Dr. Karen, the peak of the virus is in Eastern Massachusetts and that hospitals were staying active and aggressive against the virus. She thanked the listeners at home for staying home and said if that if any of them were sick, to please call their doctors. She has assured people that Massachusetts Hospitals are prepared and have a separate units available for COVID patients and for other patients that have separate conditions. She also said that she saw an increase in Black & Hispanic communities getting sick and that people must call their doctor in order to address their symptoms. Next, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) discussed how $1200 a month would not save people from eviction, mortgage payments, credit card bills and all the other challenges that would befall people in Eastern Massachusetts for a month plus. Kennedy previously had proposed a plan to provide $4000 per individual who made less than $100,000. He also talked about how small business and unemployment benefits also had to be addressed more heavily in the next financial package moving forward. According to Kennedy, the two major needs were PPE & testing to round up more equipment for hospitals and resources using the money from the CARES Act. He discussed how plans how started for an additional package and a subsequent recovery package that would need to be set in place after this pandemic. He also made sure to say that various measures were put in place to confront this virus but that the country as a whole needs to strengthen its healthcare sector in order to confront a virus at this magnitude in the future. Kennedy has said that the Trump Administration has to do more in order to confront this virus at a national level.
Furthermore Dr. Karen and Kennedy discussed shortages in equipment and that they are keeping an eye on swabs and testing kits. Swab tests were said to be more results in a shorter amount of time, however there is a worry that swabs will run out and thus make it difficult to implement a statewide measure of universal COVID testing. Rep. Adrien also discussed how citizens in Everett were dealing with the virus compared to those in Lexington at the time. She discussed how representatives had discussed with each other that if their town needed resources, they had to get their constituents , to contact Governor Charlie Baker (R-MA) directly in order to get some funds allocated to their town. She also stated that citizens had to be comfortable enough to have money in their pockets in the future due to the grave uncertainty that they might lose their homes which is one of the reasons why some are still working at their jobs. She’s also said its important to note that Everett has a substantial number of essential workers working in the city.
Finally, three major questions that stood out during the end of the meeting were about students not getting money in the first bill, elections in Massachusetts and how people can contribute to organizations who are battling the virus at the local level.
For the first question from Jacob, Kennedy said that students especially, those paying loans would have been part of the bill he proposed and that people should be able focus on their health. “They tell you can’t go to school and can’t work but you have to pay student loans.” He said they must address this issue in the next bill and allow students to get access to additional funds. The next question, from Derrick, was on elections in Massachusetts and in particular focused on the primary challenge between the incumbent, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) & Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) for the Senate seat this September. In a humble move, Kennedy urged and was part of a letter sent to Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Francis Gavin, to lower the threshold for the signature requirement during this time of a pandemic. At that point in time Kennedy had reached the signature requirement while his opponent Ed Markey did not. (*As of April 30th, Sen. Markey has reached this goal) Previously, Markey and other house challengers did not reach their signature requirement for their election races. Kennedy also urged that the best way to keep the strength of our democracy before the September elections, was to have the state mail people ballots, let them fill it out and send it back without having the health risk to go to a polling station. This vote by mail process or start early elections and suggest to the legislator to assure people can get on the ballot and vote on the ballots this fall. Finally, with the last question from Chris asked about what could be done to donate to organizations especially with the rise of COVID in Chelsea. Kennedy pointed out certain organizations that people can donate to who are fighting the cause locally on the ground, and that if you are an immigrant in the process of green card or citizenship that you should too have access to COVID testing. The organizations specifically working on the ground in Chelsea are Chelsea Collaborative, One Fund Chelsea United Way & others.
Overall the meeting took about 40 minutes and Kennedy thanked the 120+ people for tuning in and reminded people that they were doing town halls during the morning, afternoon and evening every week with a schedule listed on his website www.mobilize.us/kennedyforma. The meeting was very well done but obviously could have used more time, but that is where the separate times are located. It was very nice to see a Representative and his team take some of their time each week to have a direct discussion with their constituents about the COVID crisis. Even in the midst of competing in an election cycle, Kennedy remained humble and respectful to his opponent and has focused his efforts mainly on finding equipment and staying in touch with citizens on his numerous social media pages. In order to find more information about this and other town hall meetings, visit the website listed above and his social media pages to find and tune in to his virtual town hall meetings.