Massachusetts residents, like all Americans, were taken aback with how quickly their lives were upended by the coronavirus pandemic. The Bay State suffered from one of the highest transmission and death rates, severely outweighing Massachusetts relative size and population. People were worried about their health but also their livelihoods—the mandatory business closures sent unemployment skyrocketing from 2.9 percent in March to 16.3 percent in May. In Boston, state policymakers were unsure of how to balance health and economic concerns.
The Pioneer Institute wanted to provide the data and recommendations state leaders and the public needed to guide a safe and swift response to the pandemic’s impact on education, healthcare, and the economy. With a 30-year reputation as the go-to source for data-driven policy solutions in Massachusetts, Pioneer was in a good position to do so. The Institute hoped their research would provide fact-based guidance on how to better manage the state’s initial response, as well as its long-term plan to reopen the economy.
As soon as the crisis took hold, Pioneer began sharing COVID-19 resources for Massachusetts families. These resources include remote learning guidance, testing locations, tax deadlines, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan information, and more. These resources helped many Massachusetts residents get the answers they needed during such an uncertain and chaotic time.
The Institute then created an entire initiative, “Informing the COVID-19 Response & Reopening Strategy.” The initiative involved a wide scope of timely products including research and reports on guidelines for implementing digital learning for diverse student populations; strengthening the state Department of Public Health’s Crises Standards of Care; addressing the pandemic’s impact on the pharmaceutical sector; demanding COVID-19-related transparency at long-term care facilities; developing best practices for public transit during a pandemic; and more.
Pioneer created several innovative pandemic-related maps and interactive trackers for the general public to keep tabs on various elements of the crisis. First, the Institute helped state residents and policymakers track the spread of the virus by county, city, town, and even neighborhood. Second, Pioneer created an unemployment tracker that estimates up-to-date unemployment rates by zip code in Massachusetts. Pioneer expanded on this tracker in April, releasing the report, “A Look at the Massachusetts Industries that Are Most Vulnerable Due to COVID-19.” The report identified the geographic areas that may be most severely affected by rising unemployment claims. These trackers and research shifted the conversation about the state’s reopening by providing data on hardest-hit regions and industries.
Pioneer also created two web-based “hotlines” for the public to cite civil liberties and open meeting law abuses, and conducted surveys to gather data and input from business leaders and individuals on top economic policies for highly impacted industries and attitudes toward commuting both during and after the initial crisis. Finally, Pioneer created a new podcast,“Hubwonk” to highlight their various initiatives and solutions.
By responding to the coronavirus so quickly, the Institute positioned itself as the primary resource for many established media outlets trying to understand and explain the spreading disease. More than 500 media outlets referenced the Pioneer Institute’s work during COVID-19, including the Associated Press, The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and Politico. Beyond traditional media, Pioneer promoted their research to state leaders and the general public with a powerful social media campaign.
The Massachusetts Governor and state policymakers relied extensively on Pioneer’s research in their decision making. Based on the Institute’s work pushing for the expansion of telehealth and scope-of-practice regulations for registered nurses, in
addition to conversations with the governor’s administration, the governor issued three executive orders on telehealth in March. These reforms helped healthcare providers better respond to the challenges of the pandemic and helped the people of Massachusetts receive better care.
Pioneer’s call for the government to provide increased transparency regarding the effect of COVID-19 on certain localities led to changes in the state’s reporting on a local and regional basis. Additionally, after Pioneer pushed for more transparency on the virus’ prevalence among nursing homes, the state now provides data on cases and death counts in homes. With this transparency, Massachusetts residents were able to hold legislators accountable for their actions.
Finally, the tracker highlighting unemployment trends throughout the state changed perceptions of which regions should reopen and when. This was especially meaningful to the thousands of small business owners waiting to hear from the government whether or not they can reopen and support their families.
For their efforts to help state policymakers and the public respond to the coronavirus, the Pioneer Institute is a finalist for the SPN’s Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement for the Most Influential Research category.