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Pandemic jobless benefits about to end for tens of thousands

August 29, 2021 GMT

New England business leaders are awaiting the impact of pandemic-era unemployment benefits running out around Labor Day.

The cutoff will affect more than 300,000 people in Massachusetts alone , the Boston Globe reported, as employers grappling with staffing shortages hope more people will enter the job market.

Some low-paid workers will be facing a difficult decision over whether to return.

“Reopening the bottom part of this economy is hell,” said John Drew, chief executive of Action for Boston Community Development, an antipoverty agency that itself cannot find enough child care workers to staff all of its Head Start classrooms.

For workers who’ve used the time and benefits to pursue a new career, Drew said, the mindset seems to be: “Maybe I can do better than going back to that lousy job I had.”

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In other pandemic-related news around New England:

NO REMOTE LEARNING

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker told WBZ-TV on Sunday that he doesn’t see schools going back to remote learning, especially when the state will likely soon surpass 5 million fully vaccinated residents.

Schools and educators have better information about how to stay healthy and operate safely during the pandemic. And everyone agrees that kids suffered when it came to learning, developing and socializing, he said.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where we won’t continue to expect kids to be in school. They need to be in school,” he said.

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BULLIED RESTAURANT WORKERS

A New Hampshire restaurateur who’s fed up with unruly patrons during the pandemic is standing up for his employees — and his efforts are winning online praise.

Steve Newick, owner of Newick’s Lobster House in Dover, said he has seen customers get aggressive over mask mandates, party limits, seafood prices and wait times due to short staffing.

So he posted a sign at the restaurant now spells out expectations of patrons — including that they should act “like a calm adult” if they experience a problem with their order.

He told the Foster Daily Democrat that he’s getting mostly positive feedback for sticking up for his staff.

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VACCINATION DISCLOSURE

Privacy advocates are concerned about Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s recent executive order to allow local health directors to have access to residents’ vaccinations — but for now, they won’t be challenging it.

David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said his organization will be monitoring how the order is implemented to ensure it isn’t used in a coercive manner.

“We have to make sure this is not precedent, whether for this governor or future governors,” he told the New Haven Register. “This is an order that should be used judiciously by public health officials.”

John Cogan, an assistant professor of law at the University of Connecticut who was involved in drafting the federal health privacy provisions, told the newspaper Lamont’s order signed this month doesn’t conflict with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly referred to as HIPAA.

While doctors and health insurance companies are prohibited by law from sharing a patient’s personal medical information without the person’s consent, HIPAA doesn’t prevent the state Department of Public Health from sharing that data.

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DAY CARE AND MASKS

Masks should be required indoors at Vermont day cares, except for when a child is under 2 years old or has a medical or behavioral exemption, according to new guidance from the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

Masks are not required outdoors, and may be temporarily removed indoors “when needed for instructional or operation purposes,” according to the guidelines released this month, the Burlington Free Press reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that physical distance should be maintained as much as possible while children are eating and drinking, particularly indoors. Children and staff with any COVID-19 symptoms are advised to stay home.

As of Aug. 19, nearly 4.6 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, over 18,000 children have been hospitalized and 402 children died, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.

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HEALTH WORKER CONFIDENTIALITY

A MaineGeneral spokesperson says hospital workers don’t have to disclose their vaccine status to patients.

The issue came up when a patient repeatedly asked nurses and other staff whether they’d been vaccinated against COVID-19 in an effort to keep unvaccinated workers from treating her.

Helen Hoad of Windsor told the Kennebec Journal that at least two workers declined to answer her question and that a supervisor said nurses wouldn’t treat her if she didn’t stop asking.

A hospital spokesperson said workers have the same confidentiality rights as patients.

“Employees may choose to answer that question, but they are not required to do so,” Joy McKenna said.

The matter will soon be moot. The governor is requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated by Oct. 1.