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EOTSS Annual Report 2022: COVID-19 Response & Recovery

The COVID-19 public health crisis highlighted the critical need for available, reliable, and resilient technology systems and services to support the Commonwealth’s agencies in their efforts to maintain continuity of government operations for their constituencies.

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Prior to the March 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, the Baker-Polito Administration’s earlier investments in IT and cybersecurity modernization, and its renewed focus on improving the citizen digital experience, laid the foundation for a successful technology response to the public health emergency.  

IT capital projects had prioritized migrations to cloud-based solutions ensuring more reliable and available systems. The Modern Workplace Program (MWP) enabled a more flexible and mobile workforce through the deployment of updated hardware, software, and applications.  And, agencies were also increasingly investing in digital solutions over the traditional “paper” and “in-person” processes of the past.  

These prior investments all helped the Commonwealth overcome many of the pandemic’s unique challenges by offering access to more secure, available, reliable, and resilient technology systems and services as part of our response.  

The Pandemic Emergency Response

When 20,000 employees, representing almost half the Executive Branch workforce, transitioned to remote work in mid-March 2020 under the Governor’s state of emergency declaration, EOTSS led a successful technology response in coordination with the Governor’s Office and leadership from the other secretariats and their respective secretariat chief information officers (SCIOs).  

The collective response ensured a rapid and smooth transition to telework to help agencies maintain critical constituent services and support their workforce with the necessary hardware, software, and collaborative tools to get the job done remotely.  

EOTSS also implemented an incident command structure that provided critical situational awareness on the status of IT initiatives and important cybersecurity information as the pandemic response evolved. 

To support these efforts and the state’s significant shift to telework, EOTSS and our secretariat partners:  

  • Stood up a new VPN system to accommodate 20,000 new concurrent users and upgraded critical data communications infrastructure to improve performance under heavy demand. 

  • Expedited the enablement of Microsoft Office 365 G3 licenses for end users to allow for immediate access to remote collaboration tools like Teams, OneDrive, and SharePoint. 

  • Enrolled 42,000+ employees in multi-factor authentication/identity access management services to enhance the Commonwealth’s cyber security framework in a remote environment. 

  • Established the Telework PMO to source, procure, and deploy over 7,200 new laptops and other equipment to remote workers and in support of agency operations. 

  • Deployed a System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) environment to remotely push software updates and security patches to end users. 

  • Implemented an Auto-Pilot program for “light-touch” device deployments to end users working from home and other remote locations. 

  • Developed the Mass Telework Knowledge Base to provide digital instructions, responses to frequently asked questions (FAQs), and tip sheets to help teleworkers get set up. 

In addition to supporting the Commonwealth’s remote workforce, EOTSS also deployed a number of technologies to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 initiatives to deliver government services to the constituents we serve, especially our most vulnerable populations. These initiatives included: 

  • Assisting the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) in monitoring and supporting the Amazon Web Service (AWS) cloud environment to ensure scalability, performance, and the security of the Commonwealth’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) application to meet a massive claimant demand. 

  • Working with DUA and AWS to stand up remote UI call centers in three days; to support 1,500+ remote staff in handing an unprecedented volume of UI claims; to implement automated forms processing; to help prioritize and clear a backlog of hundreds of thousands ofclaimant  callbacks; and to assist in developing and deploying enhanced fraud protection services. 

  • Establishing additional remote call center capabilities beyond DUA that allowed agencies to provide critical constituent and employee services for the Governor’s Office, Human Resources Division (HRD), the Executive Office of Education (EOE), and EOTSS. 

  • Assisted DUA with standing up a new environment for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program within 14 days of initial engagement – which included chatbots providing for over 300 frequently asked questions (FAQ's), integration into a 3rd party contact center for claimants, and creation of robust dashboard reporting and analytics visualization for agency staff and management. 

  • Partnering with the Executive Office of Public Safety & Security (EOPSS) and the Department of Correction (DOC) to create a video conference program that enabled family and attorney visits. 

  • Working with EOPSS and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) to ready and stand up a temporary field morgue

  • Engaging Massachusetts-based company Everbridge to bolster the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 communications strategy with the launch of AlertsMA. Throughout FY21 and FY22, the AlertsMA platform was used to notify people living in or traveling to Massachusetts about important safety situations.  AlertsMA has been a key communication tool in the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It has been used in numerous different ways to notify millions of Massachusetts residents in up to 11 different languages.  This includes: 

    • Statewide COVID-19 instruction and guidance: Throughout the pandemic, the COVID-19 Response Command Center sent 50+ million calls, text, and emails to residents and businesses throughout Massachusetts with important safety information – such as messages about stay-at-home advisories, mask mandates, business and public gathering capacity limits, vaccines, travel guidance, and more. Messages were issued in different languages including Albanian, Arabic, Chinese Simplified, English, French, Haitian-Creole, Khmer, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Vietnamese.

    • Community-specific communications: AlertsMA was also used to send geotargeted messages to certain cities and towns about community spread, vaccine locations, and more.  These messages included alerts to communities identified as being in the “red zone” based on their risk of COVID-19 transition.  It also included targeted messages to vaccine equity communities which include 20 communities hardest hit by COVID-19.    

    • Eviction Support: AlertsMA was used by the Department of Housing and Community Development to send ~40K individual text messages and phone calls to tenants and landlords of tenants having trouble paying rent and other housing costs during the pandemic.   

    • Vaccine waitlist: Through February and March of 2021, AlertsMA was used to communicate with people waiting to receive a COVID vaccine who requested assistance scheduling an appointment.  ~30K people on the vaccine call back list were called and/or texted using AlertsMA to inform them about the next steps in scheduling a vaccine at one of the Mass Vaccination sites. 

    • COVID-19 interest keywords: ~275K people throughout Massachusetts texted a keyword to anonymously opt-in to receive a wide variety of COVID-19 related information in either English and/or Spanish.  Starting in April 2020 and continuing into 2021, this included frequent updates about key topics such as Governor’s press conferences, small business loan opportunities, child-care relief, school closures, tax filing extensions, unemployment benefits, health care volunteer opportunities, beach parking, personal protective equipment, drive through testing, job opportunities, and more.    

    • MA Traveler communications: AlertsMA was also used to communicate with thousands of individuals arriving in Massachusetts from other states/countries about inbound travel requirements, including the required Traveler Health Form. 

  • Assisting MEMA and the COVID-19 Command Center with mapping support services during the pandemic response – MassGIS completed statewide mapping of pharmacies, "Grab and Go" meal locations, and food bank locations in central and western MA. Three new map layers were then created and included in the COVID-19 dashboard used in the MEMA bunker and at the COVID-19 Command Center. 
EOTSS COVID-19 Thanksgiving Tips Flyer

In November 2020, the CDC Foundation submitted a request to utilize the Thanksgiving Tips flyer (shown above) EOTSS created as a resource for other states and cities across the country to rebrand and distribute. EOTSS translated the messaging into 12 different languages. 

All the while, Digital Services – in coordination with the COVID Command Center, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), and the Department of Public Health (DPH) – created extensive digital content as a part of the Commonwealth’s public health communications plan, including public awareness videos and graphics for high profile campaigns around COVID awareness and eligibility, COVID Enforcement and Intervention Team (CEIT) work, at-risk community messaging, vaccines, booster shots, and pediatric vaccines.  

To date, they have produced over 282 Mass.gov pages containing COVID-19 and related content, along with thousands of graphics in up to 20 languages across 100 different pandemic-related subjects. 

Lastly, the Digital Services and Data teams collaborated on statewide efforts to help facilitate COVID-19 testing and the vaccine rollout: 

  • Developing and deploying the COVID-19 and Vaccine Chatbots to assist constituents in navigating the considerable amount of COVID-19, testing, and vaccine-related information on Mass.gov. 
COVID-19 chatbot

The COVID-19 chatbot has been published on 40-50 pages at various times but is currently published on 41 Mass.gov pages. To date, the bot has fielded 300,490 messages and received 2,103,164 total clicks. 23,862 clicks were on pre-populated questions, and a link was clicked in the bot 60,688 total times.  

  • Creating the Find a COVID Test website – aggregating data and maps of locations across the Commonwealth.  To provide Commonwealth residents with a way to find available PCR tests or rapid antigen tests, EOTSS developed a searchable tool that allows individuals to input their zip code, or a desired zip code, to surface locations that provide a variety of testing services based on certain categorical needs, such as: testing for children, drive thru appointments, free tests, tests for non-residents or travelers.  

  • Improving the usability, availability, and stability of the 3rd party vaccine appointment websites through the use of virtual waiting rooms and content delivery networks (CDNs). In the initial stages of the national vaccine rollout, and with limited early supply, the Commonwealth witnessed an incredibly high public demand for appointments. The 3rd party vaccine appointment websites had considerable difficulty withstanding the high traffic events when new appointments were released.  Due to intermittent website crashes and a challenging user experience for members of the public who were successful in booking an appointment, EOTSS deployed a team to assist these 3rd party vendors to make necessary improvements to the booking process.  These improvements included evaluating the technical stack that supported the backend of the scheduling system and implementing public facing virtual waiting rooms to manage the high volume of traffic to each site and provide an appointment seeker with a transparent view of where they were in line.  

  • Deploying the Vaccine Preregistration System for Mass Vaccination Site appointment seekers. Due to exceptionally high public demand for vaccination appointments, limited supply, and the short-term fixes to the 3rd party appointment scheduling sites highlighted above, a decision was made to implement a Vaccine Preregistration system that would allow residents to sign up for a guaranteed opportunity to schedule a vaccination appointment.  To accomplish this goal, EOTSS put together a Preregistration team that consisted of members from their Digital, Data and Technology offices, and partnered with Google Cloud and SpringML to build out the necessary system.

    • Within 24 hours of launch, over 500,000 residents had signed up via the Preregistration system. Registrants were provided confirmation that they had successfully signed up, and upon becoming eligible, whether by CDC or state guidelines, were sent a text or email with a secure booking link, essentially guaranteeing them an appointment from a Mass Vaccination site or Regional Collaborative.  

    • Registrants were messaged weekly to reassure them of their spot on the list for an appointment.  This orderly, transparent, and communicative process was well received, and proved effective in amplifying the Commonwealth’s effort to be a national leader in vaccination rates.  Over the course of this initiative, approximately 2,000,000 residents signed up through the system.

  • Partnering with EOHHS, DPH, and the Massachusetts State Lottery to deploy and operate the VaxMillions Giveaway website (2.5 million registrants). The VaxMillions Giveaway lottery ran from June 15, 2021 to August 26, 2021 to help encourage Massachusetts residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Through the duration of the lottery program, the Commonwealth gave away five $1,000,000 prizes to adult residents and five $300,000 scholarship grants to eligible vaccinated participants.  

Ongoing Recovery & the Future of Work

EOTSS remains committed to the ongoing COVID-19 recovery and response efforts across the Commonwealth. The secretariat continues to work with agency and vendor partners to support the state’s hybrid workforce, seek innovative technology solutions, and ensure the availability of state systems to maintain continuity of government services. 

COVID-19 Recovery 

MA Digital and Data Services continues to collaborate with the COVID Command Center, EOHHS, and DPH to update pandemic digital content and assist with the vaccine and booster rollouts. Most recently, they partnered on creation of the Massachusetts Digital Vaccine Records digital content and the deployment of the My Vax Records online tool and related chatbot that allows residents who received their vaccination in MA to access their own vaccination history and generate a COVID-19 digital vaccine SMART Health Card. The EOTSS team continues to work with other states and interested parties to adopt and implement an interoperable digital framework for vaccine records.

COVID-19 SMART Health Card

647,965 unique vaccination records have been accessed as of March 7, 2022. There are 1,542,477 total users and 6,942,343 unique pageviews. So far there have been 1,058,063 clicks on “Find my vaccine record” on myvaxrecords.mass.gov.  

The Vax Records chatbot has received 37,423 messages and 18,003 clicks on the chatbot icon. There have been 5,445 clicks so far on prepopulated questions.

Future of Work 

Like other industries across the private sector and higher education, state government is evaluating its future workplace and workforce models in light of changes accelerated by the pandemic and new opportunities enabled by technology. Ultimately, the public sector has an unprecedented opportunity to nurture a culture of innovation and resiliency through policies, practices, tools, and resources that prioritize flexibility, mobility, and sustainability.  

The Administration’s Future of Work (FoW) initiative is driving this discussion for Executive Branch agencies, and EOTSS has played an integral role as part of the Executive Steering Committee and as the Technology Workstream team lead. The secretariat is helping agencies adopt and support a hybrid workforce, create virtual environments that help reduce their agency footprints and the need for physical office space, and migrate on-premises infrastructure and systems to the cloud and 3rd-party hosting solutions. EOTSS is also active providing guidance and project management support for technology organizations at the secretariat and agency level to facilitate agency moves and office space consolidations. 

To help agencies operate with consolidated and shared office space, EOTSS developed and deployed the Commonwealth Workplace Reservation System. The system allows for the online reservation of workstation cubicles, offices, and conference rooms within Commonwealth offices and facilities. A parking module is also under development for certain state-owned properties where needed due to agency office lease consolidations. EOTSS is supporting the continued rollout, end user training, and future enhancements of these systems.  

The ongoing pandemic response and FoW Initiative projects are being completed in coordination with EOTSS priority enterprise programs included in the statewide IT roadmap. Examples of priority programs include the closeout of the Modern Workplace transformation with Microsoft; the continued rationalization and prioritization of business application migrations out of state data centers to hybrid-cloud and 3rd-party hosting solutions; the unification of security operations, incident response, and reporting; and the OneNetwork consolidation effort.  

As technology becomes ever-more integrated into the way we conduct business in state government, EOTSS’ role in the FoW initiative (and beyond) is expected to increase in leading innovation and influence as it relates to business and technology solutions. 

Date published: May 10, 2022
Last updated: May 10, 2022

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