The Mattapoisett Board of Health held a public meeting on May 9 to determine which applicant would be selected for the role of public health nurse. The meeting was held with board members on-site in a conference room, and remote access was provided via conference call.
The board began with the announcement that the final decision of who would fill the position was not arrived at with ease. “We would have no problem with any of these candidates,” said Board Member Russell Bailey. “They are all well-qualified.”
The current crisis weighed heavily on the board’s decision. The challenges surrounding COVID-19 made it clear to the members that their choice on the matter was more pressing and salient than under normal circumstances. With those considerations noted, the discussion on the matter was closed when the board put forth a motion that applicant Emily Field be hired for the position. The motion was approved by the board with unanimous consent from the members.
Field, a native of Marion, holds a Master’s degree in nursing from Boston College and attended Monash University to study community health. With over 20 years of experience in nursing and related roles, the board felt that Field would be the best fit for the position going forward.
Field will take on the position as soon as possible. She will begin the role under the guidance of current Mattapoisett Public Health Nurse Amanda Stone. Field will shadow Stone until she is able to grasp a full understanding of the position and until Stone makes her transition out of the role.
There is no question that Field inherits the position under trying circumstances. With the state set to reopen, public health officials will certainly face a unique set of challenges.
The board transitioned to a discussion regarding COVID-19 and the impact of the first phase of reopening across the state. Stone noted that Mattapoisett currently has a total of 29 confirmed cases of the virus. That number is up from a total of 21 cases reported on May 9. The increase is slight, and Stone noted that, of the cases confirmed at this time, most are recovered and no longer active.
With the reopening on the way, Stone expressed that there may be an increase in cases as people expand their social circle. “Even with measures like social distancing and masks, they will still be coming into contact with more people and increase the potential risks for infection,” Stone warned the board.
Stone cautioned that an increase in people relocating for the summer could also result in a spike of cases. The recommendation is still that anyone arriving from out-of-state quarantine for 14 days. Despite the initial stage of reopening suggesting a relaxing of guidelines, Stone advised a strict adherence to the social distancing and mask regulations that are already in place.
In terms of combatting potential spikes in infection, Stone also mentioned the importance of community tracing. “Community tracing is going to be very helpful,” said Stone. “There are particular cases that are high risk and require more significant care. It is hugely time-consuming checking to make sure that people in quarantine have the services they need to remain safely in isolation.”
In addition to contact tracing, Stone also provided updates on the protocols for COVID-19 testing. “Everyone who has come in contact with someone with the virus is now recommended to go and get tested,” said Stone. Even if you come into contact and display no symptoms, Stone still recommended that a test take place.
Stone continued by clarifying confusions surrounding the antibody testing for coronavirus. “Even with antibodies, the recommendation is that they also get tested for coronavirus,” Stone told the board members. “There have been many false positives, and having antibodies does not mean that you are no longer infectious.”
The board explained that the primary goal in this challenge is to promote awareness of the impact of coronavirus so that everyone understands the importance of social distancing and continuing to wear masks. For businesses reopening, the board hopes to act as a channel to address concerns and demonstrate why the community should continue to follow guidelines.
“The better we do during Phase 1, the faster we will be able to move towards Phase 2. We need to communicate that this is where we are at, and this is where we are trying to move toward,” said Stone.
Health Agent Kayla Davis applauded the community’s efforts and participation in adhering to guidelines. “I have gotten more praise than complaints, and the complaints are (coming from) people who want to make sure that people are following the guidelines correctly,” said Davis.
With the matter settled, the board moved on to discuss the town’s capacity to receive funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The CARES Act grants assistance to impacted communities through state funding that is provided by the federal government.
Board members communicated an ongoing process with administrators to issue requests for reimbursement for costs associated with COVID-19. There were suggestions that, given the current circumstances, it would be advantageous if the funding could be used to support the new public health nurse. There is no exact figure for the amount of funding to be received through the CARES Act, but it is expected to be significant.
The board ended with a clear declaration that its members are available to answer any questions or concerns put forth by community members.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Board of Health was not scheduled at press time.
Mattapoisett Board of Health
By Matthew Donato