Health Agent Narrowed Down to Two Finalists

            Tuesday’s Marion Board of Health meeting opened with a welcome dose of relief, as it was learned the driver who suffered a medical emergency and crashed a car into the gate to the Silvershell Beach parking lot is going to be okay.

            The town now has to go right to work in repairing or replacing that gate in time for a hope-so Friday, May 22, opening of the parking lot at the start of Memorial Day weekend.

            Undeterred, the Board of Health voted unanimously to open the Silvershell Beach parking lot with every-other-space restrictions effective Friday, May 22. Chief of Police John Garcia attended the meeting and said the police would make regular checks and be available to address any defiant or unruly behavior.

            On a screening committee with Board of Health member Dot Brown and Finance Manager Judy Mooney, Town Administrator Jay McGrail reported on the progress of the newly created position of part-time health agent. From 10 resumes, the screening committee identified a half dozen candidates and narrowed that list to two, Anna McEntee and David Flaherty, to bring to the Board of Health for discussion in its 3:00 pm meeting Thursday, May 22. 

            McGrail called McEntee and Flaherty “two qualified candidates… I think it’s going to be a hard decision for the board. Given it’s a part-time position, we’re really lucky to be bringing these two candidates forward,” he said.

            Marion Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey’s time has been spent working mostly on COVID-19-related issues including mental health and behavioral issues in the schools related to the pandemic and resultant closure of classrooms.

            Downey said the total number of positive cases in Marion is around 10. The active-count was to be updated on Wednesday, May 20, and posted on the town website (

            She said Marion residents have been choosing serum testing, which is problematic in a lack of interpretation. A positive result constitutes exposure but does not indicate when. Those who test positive in that method wind up in isolation for a minimum of 10 days, resulting in high costs. “We’re discouraging it until better guidelines on interpretation on what the serum tests really mean,” said Downey, who has followed up on 430 cases involving Marion residents, only 10 of those testing positive.

            With the state in a reopening process, the enforcement of rules has become a touchy subject. Downey addressed the importance of focusing on education and working collaboratively, but the enforcement piece lacks punch. “I can’t get done what I have to get done in a regular week. I don’t know who’s going to do that enforcement piece,” she said.

            Board of Health Vice Chairman Dr. Ed Hoffer said that businesses are expected to self-assess their own readiness and compliance, but don’t have to turn in a document anywhere so any revelations of non-compliance will only emerge on a basis of complaints.

            Considering tropical storms already have names, Downey thought it prudent to initiate discussion on a sheltering plan during the COVID-19 crisis. A high number of hurricanes has been forecast. A related problem Downey identified was the many volunteers age 65 and/or who have preexisting conditions, rendering them high risk. She suggested Old Rochester Regional High School as a shelter in the event of a hurricane.

            Downey also introduced the need to discuss the reopening of public schools for the 2020-21 academic year.

            “We’re going to have to have a plan,” she said, noting that the final say will come from the Board of Health. “I’d rather not have people develop an intricate plan only to find out it doesn’t meet what the Board of Health (requires). I would rather work prospectively.”

            Going forward, Downey will be meeting weekly with Tabor Academy, and Board of Health Chairperson John Howard will act as the board’s liaison to the prep school where he has had children, and now grandchildren, attending.

            Howard estimated that 34 percent of students enrolled at Tabor are natives of Asian countries. Since the campus closed in March, students have not been allowed to return and, in some cases, cannot go home. One group, Howard said, is renting a house.

            “I am aware of leadership issues at the academy,” said Howard, who said he expects Tabor to decide over the next seven to 14 days who will be head of school for the 2020-21 academic year. “Then we’ll know who to talk to. I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I know there’s going to be a decision.”

            Head of School John Quirk agreed to take a leave of absence following his arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated on January 31 in Falmouth. The case was continued without a finding. He was replaced on an interim basis by Julie Salit, the associate head of school for Faculty and School Affairs.

            Downey inherited an iPad from the retired district health director Karen Walega, but asked the board about a data plan so she wouldn’t be relying on wifi connections to operate it in a moment of crisis. McGrail said Marion has many phones on an account with Verizon and will address the matter.

            McGrail told the meeting that all departments in the town sustained FY21 budget cuts except the Board of Health.

            Howard made sure to thank everyone he could think of for their work amidst the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s a great team, no question about it,” he said.

            As a follow-up to the webinar she conducted on May 16 with guest presenter George Heufelder on alternative septic systems, Brown said she will develop a web page for residents to address frequently asked questions.

            The Board of Health will meet on Thursday, May 21, at 3:00 pm and hold its first public hearing since the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, June 16.

Marion Board of Health

By Mick Colageo

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