BOSTON — The pandemic has caused major changes in employment, transportation, child care and myriad other areas. On Beacon Hill, policymakers are trying to decide how the state should prepare for a post-pandemic world.
On Tuesday, members of the Senate’s newly created Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency huddled for the first time — virtually — to discuss how state government can respond to the profound changes.
Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who chairs the committee, said the panel will initially look at the impact on housing and technology.
The committee heard from several analysts who addressed the hurdles of planning for a post-pandemic world.
Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tuft’s University, said the challenge for policymakers is planning “for a world in flux.”
“The new normal is going to be different from the old normal,” he told the panel. “We don’t yet know the extent or nature of those differences. And that’s a challenge for crafting sound, responsible public policy.”
Horowitz said the pandemic has further exposed a “digital divide” between wealthy and low-income communities that has affected education and employment.
“Without progress on this front, those who lack the requisite mix of broadband access and reliable equipment will be cut off from the expanding opportunities of remote work, distance learning, telehealth and online forms of civic engagement,” he told the committee.
Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, said expanding broadband options isn’t enough.
“We must address the barriers to broadband options — the cost of the broadband service, the cost of the device, plus access to digital literacy training, digital navigation and tech support,” Siefer told the panel.
Dr. Jarvis Chen, a lecturer on social and behavioral sciences at Harvard University, said the pandemic has exacerbated racial disparities in health care.
He said policymakers need to focus on eliminating those as they work to strengthen the state’s health care system in a post-pandemic world.
“COVID has shown us that health equity needs to be a guiding principle because the health of one community affects all communities,” Chen said.
Committee member Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, said she views the committee’s role as one that will “take a hard look at the ways the pandemic has impacted our residents and highlighted inequities in our society so we can build back to a stronger, more resilient commonwealth that better serves all residents.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.