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The Checkup: Letter to Baker says virus a 'wake-up' call for single-payer health care

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With this daily feature, The Eagle runs down breaking local developments in the coronavirus crisis.

THE NUMBERS: As of 4 p.m. Friday, 240 residents of Berkshire County had been confirmed to have the coronavirus, up from 213 on Thursday. The state Department of Public Health said 39 people in Massachusetts died in the previous 24 hours, bringing fatalities to 192. No one from Berkshire County died in the most recent reporting period.

SEEING A MOMENT: For the past three years, members of Western Mass. Medicare for All, including Berkshire County residents, have pushed the cause of reforming the nation's health insurance system.

This week, seeing a moment, the group sent an open letter to Gov. Charlie Baker and members of the Legislature.

"COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the country and the Commonwealth to move toward a single-payer system as quickly as possible," the letter says. "Massachusetts residents, health care providers and public officials are scrambling to limit, test for, and treat the disease."

And they are being hobbled, the group says, by "a highly fragmented, privatized, and inadequate approach to health care financing and planning."

Jon Weissman, a co-convenor of the group, says the pandemic is revealing weaknesses in how the American health care system works. (The group's solution is in its name, of course.)

Weissman told The Checkup that his group has been monitoring how the campaign of Bernie Sanders — he is perhaps the most prominent proponent of single-payer health care, ala Medicare — has been responding to the coronavirus and commenting on gaps in care.

Weissman dismisses the suggestion that speaking up now is opportunistic. Instead, he believes it makes sense to seize on lessons from the pandemic and leverage them into reform. Emergencies enable elected officials to resist lobbyists, overcome hardened positions and open paths to change, as he sees it.

"They take their most heroic moves when we're in a crisis," Weissman said of lawmakers. "They have to have the political will to break with an established political system."

RMV AGAIN EXTENDS DEADLINES: Have a car registration or inspection that times out this month? Or a driver's license, ID card, learner's permit — including commercial? Not to worry. All passenger vehicle registration, and safety and emissions stickers, that expired March 31 or will on April 30 have been extended 60 days, the Registry of Motor Vehicles says. And that's not all.

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Here's a rundown of other RMV news of the day:

- Motorcycle inspections expiring May 31 are now good to June 30;

- All road tests are suspended through April 12;

- Learner's permit exams are now suspended — indefinitely;

Visit Mass.Gov/RMV to make a reservation.

VIEW FROM YOUR BLOCK: A hearty thank-you to Dianne Olsen, of North Adams. She is the first reader of The Checkup to accept our invitation to report in on life in the pandemic era.

"I'm definitely feeling the isolation more keenly. Lots more Facebook and telephone time with family and friends, but it doesn't replace a real family dinner.

"Slowly, groups I belong to are discovering Zoom and other platforms and we're all so happy to see faces again. The WordxWord group, in Pittsfield, has had a 30-day poetry challenge on Facebook, which has been wonderful for connecting us to poets we've been used to seeing monthly.

"I'm in awe of the courage of supermarket workers!" Olsen wrote.

Thanks again, Dianne. The invitation remains open: What thoughts about this public health crisis might you be sharing at the mailbox, the diner or the softball game, if not for contagion fears? Email them to and we'll pass word along in this space.

To contribute news to The CheckUp, please email or call 413-588-8341.


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