Stop COVID in Elderly Housing

Today, too many people are getting COVID and dying in what should be a safe haven—public and subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled. These tragedies are largely preventable.

We want the legislature to create laws that will guide the Governor and the Department of Public Health to take new steps to reduce the spread of COVID, and better protect citizens. We can prevent COVID from spreading if we assure compliance by enforcing the public health mandates. To address the public health threat we must know where people are infected and dying.

Our legislative partners, including Representative Tom Walsh and Senator Joan Lovely, have determined that the first step is to bring our concerns to the newly formed Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management. That body will be tasked with oversight of the state’s pandemic response and take on an advisory role for the Legislature. It will also weigh broader issues of disaster preparedness, emergency management and communication.

Our goals, if not addressed by the Joint Committee, can be met by amending Chapter 93 of the Acts of 2020 to enable better data reporting and to enforce the public health mandates in public housing and privately owned subsidized housing for elderly and disabled persons. It also covers elderly and disabled persons living in affordable and market rate housing, persons whose rent is subsidized by vouchers. See details and legislative language of our proposals.

1) Collect, combine, and publish aggregated health data

Infectious disease control in public health works by identifying and isolating cases to prevent further infections. The Department of Public Health counts cases of COVID morbidity and mortalitydisease or death. This amendment will provide timely access to site-specific, non-personally identifiable, aggregated data to help inform and guide public health authorities, the housing provider, and tenants. The identity of sick or deceased persons would not be revealed, so there is no privacy issue and HIPAA rules will not apply. The timely publication of aggregated site-specific data will facilitate effective control and prevention actions in elder care facilities.

2) Enforce public health mandates

No one is safe unless everyone in the community acts prudently. Where public health mandates are not followed, tenants in housing are getting COVID and dying. We propose to amend Chapter 93 to assure that the public health system oversees and enforces the emergency mandates, holding the housing provider as well as tenants accountable.

Essentials for Preventing COVID in Housing

The several methods for limiting transmission of COVID in a semi-closed setting such as multi-unit housing can work if, and only if, there is a continuing and enforced agreement that everyone will work together as a community. No one is safe unless everyone is safe. There must be oversight, accountability, and enforcement to assure that all parties, housing providers as well as tenants, follow the methods. These procedures apply to all persons in the public or common areas of the facility, and include:

  1. maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others;

  2. everyone wears an effective, well-fitted mask over mouth and nose;

  3. avoid congregating indoors; avoid meetings and gatherings in small closed spaces with poor ventilation (and avoid sharing elevators);

  4. frequent hand hygiene with soap/water or hand sanitizer; landlord provides hand sanitizer stations and masks;

  5. housing provider does frequent cleaning and sanitizing of all high-touch surfaces (door handles, elevator buttons, banisters, etc.);

  6. housing provider and tenants collaborate on creating a safe, supportive environment; housing provider enforces the rules;

  7. vaccination of everyone in the community, when available, will provide an additional layer of protection; on-site testing and vaccination are the best way to reach this population.