Reusable Bags Temporarily Banned; Aid Set for Low-Income Renters

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BOSTON — The administration invoked a number of measures on Wednesday to continue efforts to contain the novel coronavirus that has killed nearly a thousand Americans. 
 
Gov. Charlie Baker announced that schools and non-essential day cares would remain closed through at least May 4, with plans being made for remote learning supports. 
 

Public Health Order for Retailers

Requires groceries and pharmacies to provide disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers for shoppers' hands, carts and purchases.
 
• Prohibits reusable bags from groceries and lifting any local bans on plastic bags. Retailers cannot charge for bags. 
 
• Stores must provide at least one hour a day for adults over 60 years of age shop.
 
• Employees and customers must remain at least 6 feet apart at all times with social distancing lines from the checkout and close self-serve stations.
 
• Store employees must stay home if ill or who fall into high risk populations.
 

Housing Stability for Vulnerable Populations

• The Department of Housing and Community Development is temporarily suspending terminations of federal and state rental vouchers under its purview.
 
• MassHousing is transferring $5 million to DHCD for a COVID-19 Rental Assistance for Families in Transition fund to assist families facing rent insecurity.
 
• The Division of Banks has issued new guidance to Massachusetts financial institutions and lenders urging them to provide relief for borrowers and will advocate for a 60-day stay on behalf of all homeowners facing imminent foreclosure on their homes.
 
• DHCD is issuing guidance for owners of state aided low-income housing, including Local Housing Authorities and private owners, to suspend both pending non-essential evictions and the filing of any new non-essential evictions.
 
• Affordable housing operators are urged to suspend non-essential evictions for loss of income or employment circumstances resulting in a tenant's inability to make rent. 
 
• Operators recommended to establish reasonable payment plans, notify Section 8 or public housing residents about interim income recertification to adjust rent payments, and to consider offering relief funding for residents ineligible for income reassessment.
 
"Everyone has a part to play in this. And so far, there's no doubt that people in Massachusetts are meeting this challenge head on," Baker said. "There's a lot left to do. We are all in this together, and we hope you all appreciate how grateful we are to the people of Massachusetts decision and desire to do all they can to make sure they keep themselves, their families, their neighbors, and their communities and the commonwealth safe." 

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Governor Raises Possibility of Testing, Field Hospital in Western Mass

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Conversations are under way on the possibility of setting up a testing facility in Western Massachusetts for public safety personnel and for an expansion of bed capacity.
 
Standing outside the new drive-through testing site at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker stressed the need for more testing and tracing capacity for the novel coronavirus.
 
"Testing capacity in the commonwealth is a major part of our multipronged approach, pushing back against the spread of the virus," he said. "Testing ... helps us determine, not only who's infected but where particularly around the commonwealth, we may have hot spots that we need to focus on."
 
The governor on Friday announced a collaboration with Partners in Health to expand contract tracing throughout the state to pinpoint hot spots, advise those who may have been infected and support people in isolation. 
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