Responding to Omicron

Photo from "Our New Start" by the Greater Boston Artist Collective. See more free creative COVID-19 communications resources at www.mapc.org/covid19-art.

Responding to Omicron

Responding to Omicron:
Resources for Cities and Towns

There are proven measures we can take to interrupt spread of COVID-19, save lives, and keep our local economies, schools and communities open. 

There are many steps cities and towns can take, and we at MAPC are prepared to assist you in these efforts.  As always, any of these steps will be more effective if taken together collectively – and we’re always ready to help you with that.  

As Omicron surges, MAPC is encouraging the Commonwealth to take more substantive actions to stem the rising tide of COVID infections, to provide more support for local responders, and to avoid calamitous outcomes in our hospitals. Throughout the winter of 2022, we’ll also update this webpage with resources for cities and towns looking for guidance and examples on public health measures they can take.  

If you need help or guidance, please reach out to Public Health Director Barry Keppard at bkeppard@mapc.org.

Latest News

Emails

MAPC has been sending regular emails on Omicron response efforts to mayors, managers, and other officials. Read them below:

Immediate Steps to Take

New! Promoting Vaccines and Boosters

Require full vaccination and promote boosters for all public sector workers.

Employer vaccine requirements (2-dose Moderna or Pfizer, or 1-dose Johnson & Johnson) will help maintain vital public services and protect workers from hospitalization and potential loss of life. The Baker-Polito Administration has already instituted a vaccination requirement for Executive Branch employees and saw 97% compliance. Several cities and towns, including Boston, Somerville, and New Bedford, have also followed suit with local requirements. Additionally, analysis has shown the boosters provide higher levels of protection, reducing severe outcomes, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Require proof of vaccination for entry to restaurants, gyms, and other indoor public venues.

Boston, Brookline, Salem, and Provincetown are among the growing number of U.S. cities that are requiring proof of vaccination for entry to select indoor public venues. These requirements protect patrons, employees, and their families while allowing businesses to keep their doors open.

For more details, including studies that demonstrate the ability of such requirements to encourage vaccine uptake, please see our blog post here. In addition, the newly released My Vax Record makes it easy to generate and have a digital copy of vaccine status to share. 

Bring vaccines and boosters to older adults and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Expand vaccine and booster access and encourage three doses for all who are eligible. Make doses as accessible as possible for those who are 65 years old and older and those who have chronic diseases (e.g., cardiac, kidney, respiratory). We especially encourage you to focus on getting boosters to those who are already fully vaccinated. (Weekly state vaccine data now includes this info).

Consider mobile vaccine outreach to meet residents and workers where they are. Settings to focus on include early child care settings, congregate care facilities, homeless shelters, social service centers, resident-facing municipal settings, public and subsidized housing, and small businesses where patrons are often unmasked (e.g., restaurants) or staff work in close proximity (e.g., food preparation). 

Share vaccination information with residents.

You can help ensure residents know how to use https://vaxfinder.mass.gov to locate vaccines nearby. You can also activate community ambassadors, Promotores de Salud, and volunteers to assist in making appointments.

For more information on how to communicate the safety and efficacy of vaccines, please visit our creative communications toolkit and the Public Health Communications Collaborative Updated COVID-19 Booster Dose Toolkit. 

Procurement and Distribution

Purchase rapid antigen tests using state procurement

In addition to making 2.1 million rapid antigen tests available free of charge to 102 municipalities, the Operational Services Division is continuing to identify opportunities to purchase tests from distributors or directly from manufacturers.

  • OSD’s website is continually updated with information regarding how municipalities can purchase from the vendors who are selling these tests.  
  • The Resource Guide with pricing and contact info for each vendor is here.

Your purchasing agent can reach out directly to the vendors (without going through CommBuys). Given high demand, it is recommended you do so immediately with multiple vendors to have the best chance of getting an order taken promptly. Most vendors have set minimum purchase thresholds. If your community cannot meet those alone, it could be worth pooling funds to order with other communities. MAPC can help with that!

If you need any help navigating these purchase options or arranging pooled orders, please let us know. You can contact Mark Fine at mfine@mapc.org for assistance.

Purchase high-quality filtering masks for residents

Current research shows that high-quality filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), such as N95s, KN95s, and KF94s, more effectively reduce transmission and exposure than cloth masks. We strongly encourage municipalities to purchase these higher quality masks for distribution, particularly to residents most at-risk. (See below for guidance on groups to target with distribution).

Similar to rapid tests, you can use OSD statewide contracts for these masks. The user guide for statewide contract HSP41 is here.  Look at the vendors that supply products under Category 8 (Safety Product Supplies). Get in touch with vendor contacts and ask for quote on approved/tested KN95s. 

If you need any help navigating these purchase options, please let us know. You can contact Mark Fine at mfine@mapc.org for assistance.

Target mask and test distribution to your most vulnerable residents.

As municipalities acquire masks, tests, and other protective items, it is important to target distribution to residents at highest risk of severe disease and those with greater potential for exposure to the virus. Groups to prioritize for resources include those in early child care settings, congregate care facilities, homeless shelters, social service centers, resident-facing municipal settings, public housing, and small businesses where patrons are often unmasked (e.g., restaurants) or staff work in close proximity (e.g., food preparation).

Retaining a good number of rapid tests to provide to individuals who are in real need and have limited access otherwise (e.g., symptomatic individuals, front-line workers) is recommended.

Provide clarity to residents and employers around confirmatory tests and negative test requirements

Municipal leaders and local health officials can reduce demand for testing during periods of limited availability or access.

Here are the messages municipalities should be communicating to residents and businesses:

  • If you have a positive rapid/antigen test, you do not need to seek a PCR test to confirm, especially if you are showing symptoms. If someone tests positive from a rapid test, they should begin to follow isolation guidance and be reminded of leave available to them.
  • Per CDC guidance, "Employers should not require a sick employee to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to return to work." Instead, employers should follow Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines below.
  • Current Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidance is for those who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate for at least five days. After five days, people can leave isolation as long as they have no COVID-19 symptoms or their symptoms are improving. Once someone leaves isolation, they should wear a high-quality filtering mask (N95, KN95, or KF94) around others for an additional five days. A negative test or healthcare provider's note should not be required to return to work.
  • For more guidance on testing, see the Department of Public Health's most recent advisory.

First Steps for Municipalities

Establish an indoor mask mandate

Masks are highly effective at controlling the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Where possible, local officials should encourage the use of N95s, KN95s, and other high-quality masks to ensure the best protection.

MAPC is urging Massachusetts to build upon the current indoor mask advisory and institute a statewide indoor mask mandate, but we also urge cities and towns across the region to institute their own local mandates in the absence of a statewide policy.

For an interactive map of local indoor masking requirements and peer reviewed articles documenting the efficacy of these policies, please see MAPC’s webpage here.  

Provide clear, regular guidance to encourage all residents to take protective measures

Local officials have an important role to play to ensure all residents know how to protect themselves from the virus and reduce the likelihood of exposure and transmission in the event of a positive case. Below are some examples of messages  local leaders and public health officials can relay to help limit the spread of the virus.

Consider imposing limitations on certain large gatherings through January, or until case counts consistently decline

Short-term limitations on the sizes of certain gatherings can help mitigate the spread of the virus. Potential limitations on sizes of indoor gatherings and alternative gathering options municipalities can consider include:  

  • Host all municipal and public meetings remotely  
  • Limit local gatherings to 25 people (with exceptions for already scheduled weddings, religious events, and other reasonable cases)  
  • For indoor school and youth-involved events, limit attendance to one parent  /guardian
  • Limit large outdoor crowds and encourage people to wear a mask in these settings

These actions would be most effective if pursued on a statewide or regional basis, and we encourage you to speak with your neighbors if you are looking to implement these temporary limitations. 

Omicron in Massachusets

COVID cases in Massachusetts are surging due in large part of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths are also steadily increasing statewide.

Thankfully, recent studies indicate that those infected by the Omicron variant may, in general, experience less serious effects than those caused by Delta, especially for if they are fully vaccinated and boosted.  

Although the emerging data suggests a less severe version, the high transmissibility of the variant – and projected number of new cases – could overwhelm systems and people who have already been asked to do so much. Early indications are that local health staff are seeing caseloads that surpass those seen in the winter of 2020/21, and a more infectious version of the virus has the potential to reach those in our communities who have compromised immune systems, who are older, and who have underlying chronic diseases. Additionally, our health systems are already at capacity and could lose additional staff, if only temporarily, to the virus.  That's why it's so important to take these public health measures as soon as possible.