The COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts and across the nation has been characterized by dramatic racial and economic inequities. Across the board, low-income communities of color have borne a disproportionate burden — from infections to hospitalizations and deaths. In response, MPHA has advocated on multiple fronts for an equitable policy response and to amplify the voices of those most impacted.
Advancing Equity-Based Policies
In the early days of the pandemic, MPHA convened a Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity to advocate for equity in the state’s response to this crisis and rapidly develop policy recommendations. More than 150 organizations endorsed the Task Force’s initial recommendations, and its members successfully pushed for a number of equity-based policies, including the establishment of quarantine hotels for people experiencing homelessness, passage of emergency paid sick time legislation, and the nation’s strongest Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures.
After the reopening began, the Task Force transitioned to focus on:
- ensuring a safe, equitable reopening and recovery,
- advocating for equity in the vaccine rollout, and
- stabilizing housing to avoid mass evictions.
The Equity Task Force wrapped up its formal work in July of 2021, but individual campaigns continue.
Supporting Local Boards of Health
Throughout the pandemic, local boards of health have worked to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 by investigating known and suspected cases, recommending testing, tracing close contacts, implementing quarantine and isolation, administering vaccines, and reporting to state public health officials. Their work is essential and all-too-often invisible.
During the first wave of COVID-19 cases, MPHA helped connect the state’s COVID-19 Command Center with local public health departments and districts. Together with our partners in the Coalition for Local Public Health, we developed a network of seven Crisis Affiliates, which directed state resources to local health departments in 227 municipalities. We also partnered with public health programs at nine colleges and universities to recruit students, faculty, and alumni as volunteer contact tracers. Nearly 2,000 volunteers registered through the Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps, and hundreds of volunteers were matched with Massachusetts communities.
Even as we responded to the unfolding public health crisis, MPHA continued our long-term efforts to transform the inefficient and deeply inequitable structure of our Commonwealth’s local public health system. By assembling a broad coalition of municipal officials, public health experts, legislators and other partners, we successfully advocated for the allocation of $200M in federal ARPA funds and annual state funding to improve the local public health system.
Currently, we are advocating for passage of the Statewide Accelerated Public Health for Every Community Act (SAPHE 2.0). This critical legislation would help create a 21st-century local public health system by ensuring minimum public health standards for every community, encouraging municipalities to share services, creating a uniform data collection and reporting system, and establishing state funding to support local public health.
Advocating for Equity in Vaccination
When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began its vaccination campaign in 2021, MPHA joined forces with civil-rights, racial justice and immigrant justice organizations to form the Vaccine Equity Now! (VEN) Coalition. The coalition worked consistently to hold the Baker administration accountable for decisions related to vaccine access and distribution and to push for prioritizing delivery of vaccines to the hardest hit communities. In addition, VEN advocated for a variety of equity-based policies, including:
- the establishment of equity benchmarks,
- collaboration with local officials and community leaders,
- cultural humility in vaccine outreach programs,
- transparency in the allocation of resources, and
- strong data collection and reporting, which are essential to measure progress towards vaccine equity.
VEN’s coalition work sunseted in the summer of 2022, but individual member organizations continue to support vaccination efforts in their communities.