The Board of Health met Monday evening to discuss when a hearing can be held on the adoption of the amended state product regulations for tobacco sales and to announce progress made on the Health Department’s strategic plan.
The board voted unanimously to approve moving forward with plans for a public hearing on the amended tobacco product regulations discussed at the previous meeting two weeks earlier. The changes will bring Hopkinton into conformity with the state’s 2022 regulations, which recently were revised.
The problem, Health Department administrator Nidia LaRoche said, is that a date cannot be scheduled now “due to the availability of prime space” in town for an in-person meeting.
Asked board member Rick Jacobs: “Are we talking about six months, six weeks or six days?”
LaRoche estimated that it would take a couple of months to secure a site.
Chair Lisa Whittemore said while the state regulations cannot be modified, a couple of Hopkinton’s provisions can be changed.
Health Director Shaun McAuliffe explained that while Hopkinton currently has a policy prohibiting the sale of rolling papers, blunt wraps were not included. Blunt wraps can be used to include marijuana or similar substances, he noted.
“I don’t think it’s a huge step for us to consider banning blunt wraps,” he said.
Whittemore noted that there is a sunsetting provision passed in 2019 that terminates a store’s tobacco license once the business closes. There are eight stores in Hopkinton that sell tobacco, according to McAuliffe.
McAuliffe added that the state’s fine structure for stores caught selling tobacco products to minors “has started a conversation with existing businesses that do sell tobacco” about whether they want to continue to sell tobacco products.
The fines are stackable, he explained. For example, a store can receive a fine of $1,000 for the first offense, but if someone has purchased three packs of cigarettes, the store is fined $3,000. The fine increases to $5,000 for the third offense, per state mandate.
Hopkinton can determine the length of a license suspension, McAuliffe said. The board previously voted for three days, which mirrors the state’s policy. The town also can decide to increase tobacco prices over the state minimum, but McAuliffe and Whittemore agreed that it would be more prudent to keep the prices at the state minimum to prevent people from going out of town for cheaper products.
Strategic planning process moves forward
McAuliffe announced that the Health Department received a revised proposal from the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston to work with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council on the department’s strategic planning initiative. He said Town Manager Norman Khumalo approved of the plan and asked if it could be covered in the department’s budget.
McAuliffe said that he believed covering the cost would be feasible. He also submitted grant proposals to the state and the MetroWest Health Foundation for assistance because the strategic plan is a requirement for state accreditation. It also is important to secure an entity to help prepare the strategic plan because other communities will be undergoing the same process.
“My argument to them is, if you’re going to require this of us, there should be a funding mechanism,” he explained, noting that he will hopes to get between $20,000 and $30,000 in grant funding.
“I’m sorry that it’s taken so long to get going, but I think they’ll do a really good job,” said Whittemore. “I think it will really help the town, and I think the board will enjoy it as well.”
The board voted unanimously to allow the town to collaborate with the Collins Center on the strategic plan.
Respiratory illnesses decline
Public Health Nurse Simone Carter shared that the number of respiratory illness cases, including influenza and COVID-19, is declining in Hopkinton. The town is “below the surge” for influenza, while COVID-19 rates are going down slowly.
This is a national trend as well, she added, as COVID-19 cases went from 33,000 per day nationwide the two weeks prior to the meeting to 30,000 in the past week.
More vaccines available
Carter said she was able to obtain 12 doses of tetanus and diphtheria vaccines that were going to be discarded by the state. They are available in case Hopkinton residents are in need of booster shots. This vaccine is required to be boosted every 10 years. Six does are available for free until Friday, March 17.
COVID-19 vaccines are still available, she added, as well as many free test kits. Carter said she has distributed test kits to the post office and the Council on Aging. The expiration date has been extended for 15 months past the date on the test kit by the federal government, she explained.
Once completed, the Health Department will have distributed more than $250,000 worth of COVID-19 test kits, she noted. The latest recipient is Hopkinton Youth Soccer.
Next month, the town will begin its training on the administration of NARCAN for suspected drug overdoses, as well as education on preventing and treating substance misuse, Carter said.
Said Carter: “No judgment, no stigma.”
Each kit will include two doses of NARCAN, a mouth shield for administering breaths during CPR, two pairs of gloves and fentanyl testing strips. This will be done on the second Tuesday of the month, excluding July and August. Carter offered to consult with residents who may need kits on an individual basis and said conversations will be kept confidential.
Whittemore praised Carter for her work, calling the NARCAN program “really exciting.”
Misc.: Director shares updates on Boston Marathon, PJB
McAuliffe said he is working with the food vendors participating at the Boston Marathon to ensure all hold mobile food permits with the Health Department.
The Health Department also will be working with the School Department to collect unopened prepackaged foods that are under temperature control and distribute those products to Project Just Because, a local nonprofit that distributes food and household necessities, as well as the YMCA to help combat food insecurity. This, he said, will help reduce the waste of products like yogurt, string cheese and fruit.
McAuliffe also announced that he learned earlier in the day that local supermarkets will begin donating bread to Project Just Because for free.
This week, McAuliffe said he will be meeting with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to go over its department review. He noted that Hopkinton is leading the towns in the MetroWest Public Health Collaborative. Once all towns in the collaborative provide reports, the collaborative can determine where to provide resources, including nurses, food inspectors and hardware. …
Whittemore agreed to provide an analysis of McAuliffe’s performance for the board to review at its next meeting on April 3. Board member Regina Miloslavsky had volunteered to draft the assessment. Because Whittemore has more direct contact with McAuliffe, the board agreed that she should evaluate his work. Because of the Open Meeting Law, members cannot collaborate on it.