As more and more people continue to be vaccinated and we begin to move into a post-pandemic world, many are left wondering: what will this new normal look like?  

State Senator Adam Hinds is the chair of Re-imagining Massachusetts, Post-Pandemic Resiliency, a committee charged with imagining what life in the Commonwealth will look like post-pandemic.  

The committee will be holding listening tours throughout the region to hear how the pandemic has affected the state’s residents and what support is needed as we move towards the new normal. Zydalis Bauer spoke with Senator Hinds to learn more.  

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: As more and more people continue to be vaccinated and we begin to move into a post-pandemic world, many are left wondering what will this new normal look like?

State Senator Adam Hinds is chairing a committee titled Reimagining Massachusetts: Post Pandemic Resiliency. The committee will be holding listening tours throughout the region to hear how the pandemic has affected the state’s residents and what support is needed. And I spoke with Senator Hinds to learn more.

Sen. Adam Hinds (D – Pittsfield): This is a committee that’s essentially saying, “what have we learned from the COVID pandemic and its disproportionate impact in terms of health outcomes, in terms of economic outcomes, who was impacted first and longest?” And really understanding that there’s something drastically wrong in our society and our Commonwealth when you see such disparities either by income, by race, and by community.

And so the first hand, it’s tackling that and saying “we need to do better. We need to create more resilience in the structure of our Commonwealth.”

And then on the other hand, it’s looking at the reality that a lot is changing because of COVID, or maybe accelerated because of COVID. And I’m thinking about increased reliance on telemedicine, remote work, that we maybe have sectors in our economy changing.

And so that has a whole range of implications in terms of what we need to do for workforce training, for digital access, and the like. And so it’s really being deliberate to look at where the Commonwealth needs to make investments so that we can build back stronger.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, you recently just held your first listening session in the southeast part of that state. What were some things that you learned from that session? And were there any revelations that surprised you?

Sen. Adam Hinds: The digital divide was a big one that came out. We learned that twenty one percent of Massachusetts residents do not have a hard wired internet connection into their their house or apartment, and maybe rely on phones or don’t have internet access at all. And ninety seven percent of those folks are in our downtowns, in urban areas. And so what does that say about what we need to do when we’re doing more and more remote learning? And so that that was a big one that came out.

We’re also increasingly focusing on child care, and the central role of child care in ensuring we have an equitable recovery, that folks can participate in a sector where they might be working from home, and also understanding what the care economy, the role it plays. Our child care providers are often some of our low wage earners. And and that’s not a sustainable model for a shift in our workforce that we’re anticipating.

Zydalis Bauer: I want to go back to the statistic that you mentioned about the digital divide, because it’s fascinating that that the high percentage is coming from the downtown areas.

And living on the western part of the state where we have more rural areas, that’s where we see that connectivity issues. Can you speak on the impact of the digital divide for the western part of the state?

Sen. Adam Hinds: You nailed it. That was a real eye opener for me, because I’ve constantly talked about this digital divide in terms of rural, mostly in access and getting all of our towns high speed internet. And that is a concern and it’s still an ongoing process. But what I didn’t realize is that even in our downtowns, we have a very serious problem.

Right when the pandemic hit, the superintendent of Pittsfield schools did a survey of parents and they found that just under two thousand students did not have access to Internet at home. That’s a real eye opener. That will clearly be one of the proposals coming out of this committee is how do we ensure an affordable access to internet.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, aside from the digital divide, what other issues is western Massachusetts facing as we come out of the pandemic that differs from the concerns that the eastern part of the state is seeing?

Sen. Adam Hinds: We may not know until maybe the end of this calendar year or even into next year how many employers are actually going into a remote posture. Or maybe it’s a hybrid where you have to go in two times a week. And we expect that that has a real shift in western Massachusetts, in terms of, well, maybe you can live out here, maybe people can move to western Mass.

It elevates the importance of West-East rail, that’s for sure. Because if you can just hop on that train and go to Boston or Worcester or a nearby economic center for that work, then you can live anywhere. And you might as well live in a place where it’s affordable, and you have a high quality of life.

We expect a lot of employers will experiment for some time. Do they see that it works to have a hybrid work place, or more and more people working remotely depending on the industry they’re in, of course.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, many of the inequities that exist within the state have been around far before the beginning of the pandemic. How does the committee plan to address the issues that are raised during these listening sessions?

Sen. Adam Hinds: You know, interestingly, we realize that data is as critical as anything. Understanding the health data is a big part of getting towards health equity, and so we’ll be we’ll be pushing for the Department of Public Health in those areas.

And then I anticipate that by the time we have a few of these listening sessions,  and we’ll really front load them this spring in the summer, that by the summertime we’ll have a package of essentially probably a law that will say we need to invest more in digital and here’s how we’re going to lower costs. We need to do more for our child care providers and and achieving universal or affordable and accessible child care.

And really down the line, we’re seeing changes in how our community colleges, the role that they play in workforce training. And it’s a really, there isn’t a sector in our economy that isn’t being touched right now. And so we’re going to roll up our sleeves and identify strategies to prepare ourselves for post-COVID.

Zydalis Bauer: Now be on this committee, what are some other ways that we can, in fact, ensure that our Commonwealth is indeed resilient post-pandemic?

Sen. Adam Hinds: We’re going into the budget and we have a major federal federal assistance. And honestly, that’s a real opportunity. I would say that these are generational investments that we’re looking at, in terms of the size. And it’s coming at a moment when we’re realizing that the foundations of our Commonwealth, from an equity perspective, are shaky at best.

And so, this is the moment to really dig into what does that mean for where we’re spending that estimated $4.5 billion in direct state funding?  And there are other pots of money, too. For both health equity and for education and the like. And so this is a moment.

And that’s an exciting piece here, is that now you can’t ignore what we’ve been through. You can’t ignore the implications that it has caused. And therefore, let’s come up with some serious strategies either through this committee, through our budgets, and the laws that we’re tackling during the rest of the session.