Masks Stay on after Inoculation

            The Mattapoisett Board of Health met with public health nurses Emily Field and Amanda Stone on January 13 and discussed the latest COVID-19 vaccine distribution information. All of the news was sobering.

            As of January 13, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Mattapoisett stood at 293 with a small percentage of hospitalizations, said Stone. But to the question of the number of deaths, Stone said that depended on “interpretation.” She explained that between three and six cases could be classified as resulting from COVID-19, but that if pre-existing, life-ending diseases were also present, the other illness could also be the cause of death.

            Field said that, while Phase 1 rollout was underway with the vaccine being administered to first responders from Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, and Wareham, the rollout had not been smooth. She said that, according to the state’s guidelines, distribution centers were required to register at least 200 people to receive the vaccination; thus, the multi-town approach was used. Field also said that there was no firm timeline for anyone else included in Phase 1.

            While first responders and what are called “COVID-facing” healthcare workers are part of the first phase, others include long-term care facilities, congregate care facilities, home-based healthcare workers, and non-COVID-facing healthcare workers. Phase 1 is planned to last at least until the beginning of February. However, Stone spoke in cautionary terms. “The Board of Health has been approved to store vaccine, but rollout has been slower than anticipated.”

            Stone, whose retirement is scheduled for the end of January, said that public health departments are waiting to learn when more vaccine will be available for the balance of Phase 1 and that the amount of vaccine had yet to be announced. Field noted that it may become a “social equity” issue and that “we’ll have to consider who will receive vaccine based on the amount received .… The inoculation process has not been solidified.” Field also said that the state Department of Public Health had pushed Phase 1 into March.

            When asked about current case numbers in the community, Field responded that there were 23 active cases. BOH member Ken Dawicki asked when and if the total number of cases would be “reset.” Stone said that data collection was critical to understanding the disease process and that, “We are still in the middle of this.”

            Both nurses spoke to the overwhelming time demands of contact tracing and that it was possible for some people to simply fall through the cracks. They noted that for each confirmed case, there were many more people who may have been infected and that contact tracing relied on people being forthcoming with the names of those with whom they may have come in contact. “It depends on what people are willing to share,” said Stone.

            Field spoke to what happens after vaccination has taken place. She said that it takes three to four weeks for the body to respond to vaccines and that before and after both planned injections, precautions will remain in place for an indefinite period. Stone added it remains unknown when immunity will develop. “[Vaccines] help prevent symptoms, but you can (possibly) still spread the virus; we just don’t know the length of immunity.” She said it was possible to get sick 90 days after receiving the vaccine. Because of the unknowns associated with this virus, continuing adherence to pre-vaccine safety precautions such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing will be necessary, they said.

            When asked if the messaging from public health entities will change, given that precautions will be extended indefinitely, the nurses said it would be necessary to continue to educate the public. “The town will need to make sure guidelines are met,” Stone stated.

            Moderna produces the vaccine that has been administered locally.

            Other matters discussed were the updating of regulations for hotels and motels. Kayla Davis, Board of Health agent, reported having worked with a local motel owner and discussed such matters as deep cleaning, bed bug extermination and monitoring, annual inspections, and whether or not pets and service animals are permittable. Also discussed was smoking, which will not be allowed in motel units but may be allowed at a smoking station away from the units’ entrances. The members will review and address it at a future meeting.

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Board of Health is scheduled for February 10 at 10:00 am.

Mattapoisett Board of Health

By Marilou Newell

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