BOSTON, Mass.-- Three months after federal disaster declarations for COVID-19, New England States and Tribes are slowly emerging from an unprecedented public health crisis.
In March, COVID-19 arrived with a devastating impact to the residents, businesses and the collective health of New England. Thousands were left suddenly unemployed, hospitals were overwhelmed with critically ill patients, and businesses were forced to close with little notice.
Today, a unified, phased reopening is underway in the region. “Our primary operating stance in response and recovery is all disasters are federally supported, state managed, and locally executed,” said Federal Coordinating Officer and Regional Administrator Captain Russ Webster, who oversees FEMA’s operations in New England. “The strong and essential assistance of our many partners – non-profits, first responders, National Guard, medical personnel and members of the public – have played a critical role in getting us to this point.”
For 100 days and counting, FEMA Region 1 and HHS/ASPR (Health and Human Services/Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response) have jointly led an effort to support New England States and Tribes through coordination of eighteen additional federal agencies, the private sector, Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs), and U.S. military medical personnel. As residents reintegrate into their new normal, FEMA and HHS remain ready for when a second wave occurs.
When disaster struck, many challenges emerged, such as initiating testing and procuring needed equipment; protecting medical personnel and first responders; addressing food supply shortages; and addressing immediate economic hardships.
FEMA and ASPR Region 1 formed partnerships with public and private entities. “More than a slogan, the truth is, we are all in this together,” said Captain Webster. “FEMA worked closely with the Small Business Administration (SBA), the six New England states, the ten Federally-recognized tribes, Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the National Guard, HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 18 other federal agencies to address immediate needs.”
Facing an unprecedented scarcity and unavailability of resources to meet the needs of 50 states, six territories and 574 federally recognized tribes, FEMA formed a Supply Chain Task Force to address limited amounts of critical protective and life-saving equipment. Supplies were flown in from overseas and U.S. manufacturing companies were tapped to rapidly increase supplies and expand domestic production of critical resources. Non-traditional manufacturers were also encouraged to boost capacity of critical medical supplies, and voluntary donations were coordinated.
As of June 24, FEMA and HHS in New England have coordinated the delivery of, or are currently shipping: 2.9 million N95 respirators, 2.8 million surgical masks, 793,304 face shields, and 5.1 million gloves. FEMA and HHS/ASPR Region 1 have facilitated the delivery of 1 million surgical and non-surgical gowns, 2 million swabs and 1.5 million units of transport media.
The FEMA-sourced material will be provided to states and tribes for a limited time to help increase testing capacity in support of their individualized plans. As of June 10, more than 1.3 million tests for the virus have been carried out in New England.
In response to the impacts of COVID-19, all State Governors activated their National Guard. To provide needed financial relief to these states, President Trump issued proclamations authorizing a 100% federal cost share under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, 502(f) for COVID-19-related work. These dedicated Guardsmen are providing staff augmentation, supporting feeding operations and testing sites, and delivering PPE to first responders and hospitals. As of June 23, states within the region have activated 2,186 National Guard troops under Title 32. This will continue until August 21, 2020.
As of June 24, over $150 million has been obligated for Mission Assignments in the region, including the National Guard. Connecticut received $30.9 million; Massachusetts received $62.8 million; Maine, $10 million; New Hampshire $17.1 million; Rhode Island $27.5 million; and Vermont $9.3 million.
Three Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces (UAMTFs) were deployed; one to Connecticut and two to Massachusetts. Each unit had 85 soldiers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and therapists.
In Connecticut, a UAMTF arrived April 7 to support Stamford Hospital. The task force treated more than 120 patients. An additional 49 Navy and five Air Force medical staff arrived April 22 to support the hospital. This mission ended on May 19.
In Massachusetts, the first UAMTF supported the Alternate Care Site set up at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) also known as Boston Hope Hospital. The second arrived April 18 and treated patients at Tewksbury Hospital. The mission at BCEC ended on May 6. The mission at the Tewksbury Hospital ended May 21.
Other Mission Assignments include Veterans Affairs medical staffing support to group homes, long-term and alternate care facilities, and state Soldiers’ Homes in multiple states; serology testing; and patient decompression.
For the first time in Region 1, four Tribal Nations – Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Narragansett Indian Tribe and Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point - are receiving FEMA support as direct recipients. Successful engagement with all 10 Tribal Nations in New England is supported by three Tribal Liaison Officers.
Weekly Tribal Coordination calls have been key to the success of FEMA and ASPR support to the unique needs of the tribes in New England. Multiple needs assessments were completed through coordination with the Tribal Liaison Officers, the Regional Response Coordination Center (RRCC) operations, logistics, and Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs). Additionally, many Tribal needs have been addressed thanks to gracious donations from across the United States. An example of this coordinated effort is evident in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where the state public health laboratory tests all specimens received from a Tribe at no cost, leaving the Tribe responsible only for the cost of testing material and shipping.
Additionally, a multi-agency planning group - FEMA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ASPR Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Indian Health Service (IHS), and United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) - has created a New England Tribal Testing and Contact Tracing Strategy. The draft, now under review by all ten tribes, includes courses of action for increased testing capacity and implementation or improvement of a Tribal contact tracing program. The proposed plans include suggested activities, technical assistance and funding resources available.
Food and Shelter
FEMA’s top priorities include shielding those who are most susceptible to COVID-19, decreasing community transmission, protecting those infected, preserving the healthcare system, and sustaining supplies.
In support of this priority, FEMA Region 1 has authorized non-congregate sheltering for six states and two tribal nations. Non-congregate sheltering will be considered for health and medical-related needs, such as isolation and quarantine resulting from COVID-19.
Non-congregate sheltering may be provided in contracted hotel rooms, college dorms and temporary facilities. As of June 24, an estimated 13,161 adults and 451 minors were quarantined for a period in non-congregate shelters across New England.
The economic impact by families has been felt across the region, leading to increased demand on food pantries. FEMA Region 1 and its federal and non-governmental partners have established a Feeding Task Force to provide a coordinated response to meet this growing need. As of June 10, FEMA has delivered more than 1.6 million meals, and the Public Assistance program may reimburse eligible costs in accordance with state feeding plans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is running multiple feeding efforts to supplement traditional feeding programs including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and school lunch benefits, in addition to implementing a Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
Through the participation and partnership of FEMA and the VALs, resource gaps are being filled with donated goods; together, FEMA, Mass Care (non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross) and USDA provide information and resources to support elder and youth feeding programs in tribal communities. Over 40,000 meals have been delivered to three Tribal Nations, with FEMA Logistics staff assisting with one Commodity Point of Distribution (CPOD).
Long Term Recovery
FEMA has established Long-Term Recovery Task Forces to support impacted states, tribes and local jurisdictions focusing on how best to restore, redevelop and revitalize communities. Focusing on greatest needs, the task forces are addressing economic recovery, the housing industry, and health and social services.
The Economic Recovery Task Force has been working to get the economy back on its feet. The team will complete assessments for each state’s economic needs, including prioritizing those needs, detecting supply chain gaps, and identifying opportunities for workforce development and strategic options for economic recovery and future resilience. The group aims to focus federal interagency coordination, share information, communication and collaboration in the areas of greatest need.
Looking ahead, the Region 1 Data Analytics Section is developing ways to address a possible second wave of COVID-19 that may affect the region. The team looks at how changes in community conditions and mitigation efforts could result in an increase or decrease in COVID-19 cases.
The team has three ways to support these efforts:
• A tracking system to monitor trends across the country.
• A system to track resources to project labor, PPE, mortuary and other requirements for various second-wave pandemic response situations.
• A system to let the local public health and healthcare system know there is a strong likelihood of a resurgence in cases; or that the system would be challenged to deal with a resurgence in cases.
FEMA’s mission is helping people before, during, and after disasters.
Region 1News Desk: 617-956-7547