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Coalition: No Further Mass. Reopening Until Those At-Risk, Including People Of Color, Are Protected

Armani White of the Black Boston COVID-19 coalition holds up a sign protesting in front of the State House for the black and Latino people who have died of COVID-19. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Armani White of the Black Boston COVID-19 coalition holds up a sign protesting in front of the State House for the black and Latino people who have died of COVID-19. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Gov. Charlie Baker on Saturday will announce whether to move Massachusetts into the next phase of its reopening from COVID-19 lockdown, but a group of doctors, union leaders and community and public health advocates on Thursday demanded the administration ensure that at-risk populations, including people of color, are adequately protected.

"We will not accept a reopening at the expense of workers, particularly low-wage workers and Black and Latinx communities," said Carlene Pavlos, the executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association.

The association is part of a task force brought together in March to examine issues of equity in the state's response to the spread of coronavirus. The task force has put together a set of criteria that it wants to see met before Baker moves the state further along its path to reopening, including documented declines in transmission in communities of color, greater worker protections and substantially more testing.

The list of demands has been signed onto by more than 100 people and organizations, including the ACLU of Massachusetts and elected leaders like Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell.

"The challenge is we as people have not been deemed essential, just our work," said Atyia Martin, of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition.

The groups specifically want to see a sustained reduction in infections over a two-week period for both the overall state population, but also subgroups like people of color, seniors, the disabled and those working in high-risk occupations.

Worker protections must also be strengthened, they said, and local boards of health must be given financial support through loans, grants or other technical assistance to be able to enforce health safety standards as businesses reopen.

The third demand revolves around testing. Baker has submitted a plan to federal government and received federal funding to dramatically ramp up testing to 45,000 test per day by the end of July, yet fewer than 10,000 test per day are currently being conducted, which is well below existing capacity. The group said the state should be testing 32,000 people a day to remain on track to reach its testing goals, and Helena DaSilva Hughes, of the Immigrant’s Assistance Center in New Bedford said testing for even asymptomatic people must be available "without people having to go through flaming hoops."

The groups' final demand is that the governor put more voices representing essential workers, the Black, Latinx and LGBTQ communities and senior citizens on a board that would help him make future decisions about reopening.

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