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With COVID-19 Not Going Away Anytime Soon, Mass. Officials Considering Vax Passport

The map of Massachusetts counties from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention indicates the entire state is now in the"red" zone, or experiencing high levels of community transmission of the coronavirus.
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The map of Massachusetts counties from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention indicates the entire state is now in the"red" zone, or experiencing high levels of community transmission of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all on the upswing again in Massachusetts. The state continues to push vaccinations. In fact, in a recent radio interview, Gov. Charlie Baker seemed to leave the door open to the Commonwealth eventually using some sort of COVID-19 vaccination passport.

Previously, Baker rejected the idea. Matt Murphy from the Statehouse News joins us to discuss the latest on the coronavirus and state government.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Well, if you think about what's happened since the time when the governor was suggesting he wasn't really interested in a vaccine passport like we saw some other states like New York pursuing for big venues like Madison Square Garden, we've really seen the playing field in Massachusetts level, both for residents and businesses. The maximum people, groups, ages are now eligible for the vaccine. Of course, kids still aren't.

All businesses are open without restrictions. So, given that, we're seeing the governor start to consider the idea that, with cases going up, with the realization that, you know, indoor mask recommendations, indoor masking and masking in general in public places isn't necessarily going away -- and some businesses, like theaters, feel more comfortable having their patrons vaccinated -- that a passport could be, or proof of vaccination, some form of it, could be a good way to go for the economy.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: On Friday, the state released jobs data for August. It showed the unemployment rate inched up to five percent. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents lost their unemployment benefits, and yet there are still staffing shortages all over the place. You wrote about this perplexingly uneven recovery last week. What's going on?

Yeah, it's just a real tough situation out there. Obviously, it's going to take some time once businesses reopen, get back on their feet. A number of businesses closed, but you see so many people looking for help. And I think you can't just point to one factor.  People, you know, in government, economists, point to a number of different things going on.

There's no secret that even before the pandemic, there was job training that was necessary because of a mismatch between skills and the jobs in the new science-based economy in parts of Massachusetts. You have people still reluctant to do these face to face in-person jobs. The pandemic is still going on. Families are facing child care decisions, and for some, going back to work just isn't the right decision right now. So you have a lot of things going on.

But obviously, with unemployment benefits dropping off, the state is making a big push to try and invest in workforce training, get people trained up to fill these jobs and do the work of matching them with employers so that the recovery can be as full as it can be.

And finally, as the state prepares to welcome hundreds of Afghan evacuees, some of the challenges are becoming known. Many of them will be categorized as humanitarian parolees, which leaves them ineligible for public benefits in many cases. Now we've seen resettlement agencies call on the Legislature and governor to help fill that gap in assistance. Will they?

Yeah, that, you know, that remains to be seen. You know, you're right, the state is now expecting perhaps up to 900 refugees from Afghanistan. Some think it could be more. A lot of this resettlement work falls on a small number of nonprofits.

And some of them, including the International Institute of New England, have urged the governor and the legislature to use some of the ARPA funding, the state's American Rescue Plan Act stimulus funding, as well as the surplus from fiscal year 2021. There's money there to provide direct assistance to these nonprofits that will be doing this work, as well as perhaps to the Afghan families themselves.

Another issue that could crop up is the time delay that it takes them to get a work permit once they do arrive here and resettle their families. So, this is something to watch moving forward, the Legislature obviously still contemplating how to spend billions in ARPA funding.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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