Sen. Collins, Rep. Holmes lead call for COVID-19 testing in low-income communities

A group of nearly 60 Massachusetts Legislators this week urged Gov. Charlie Baker to activate the Massachusetts National Guard for mobile COVID-19 testing in public housing, low-income communities, and senior housing facilities.

State Senators Nick Collins and Jamie Eldridge and Representative Russell Holmes​ organized the group with support from the ​Black and Latino Legislative Caucus​, and the ​Massachusetts Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (MAHRO)​, a collection of public housing agencies from across the state.

“We know that low-income communities suffer from disproportionate rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and other underlying illnesses that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Senator Nick Collins​. “This is simply a question of prioritizing those vulnerable communities, placing equity at the center of our response to this crisis, and addressing these disparities head-on.”

Lawmakers seek to prioritize at-risk individuals, citing disproportionate levels of underlying health conditions in low-income communities that can complicate the risks associated with COVID-19 and contribute to higher fatality rates.

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues in calling for this equitable response,” said ​Rep. Holmes​, “Communities of color, low-income communities, and seniors deserve the same access to testing as anyone else, and this action would help level that playing field.”

The group is advocating for COVID-19 mobile testing as a way to break down barriers to access for communities that have historically been disadvantaged.

"Recognizing the urgency of COVID-19 hotspots being in working class communities, especially with large communities of color, many of whom live in affordable housing, including public housing, the letter that I co-authored with ​Sen. Collins​ and ​Rep. Holmes​, signed by 23 State Senators and 36 State Representatives urges Governor Baker and COVID-19 Command leader Secretary Mary Lou Sudders, that the next phase of mobile testing for COVID-19 should be in senior, low-income and public housing developments across Massachusetts,” said ​Sen. Eldridge.

​“I'm also urging that these efforts, often led by the Massachusetts National Guard, be coordinated with Governor Baker's innovative contact tracing, to ask that community outreach efforts include asking people about their healthcare coverage, and signing residents up for health insurance coverage."

Donna Brown, executive director of MAHRO said that prioritizing testing in at-risk communities, many who are essential workers, is key to mitigating the spread of the virus.

"Two-thirds of the residents in public housing are seniors and people with disabilities who are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Many residents of public housing work in low-paid jobs providing essential services, such as nursing assistants, grocery store and restaurant employees, in contact with the public and at risk.” said Brown.

“Prioritizing testing of these populations is key to preventing and controlling COVID-19 outbreaks in public housing communities across the commonwealth."

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