The Board of Health at its meeting Monday discussed how COVID-19 has become a more normalized part of existence after two years of coping with the pandemic, as well as how Hopkinton might be eligible for national recognition for how it has responded to the pandemic.
Public Health Nurse Simone Carter explained that the number of reported cases of COVID-19, while very low, do not reflect the actual number of cases because people are less likely to report the results of at-home tests.
The vaccination clinics that Carter runs on an almost daily basis offer the bivalent vaccine and continue to be successful, she noted. She expects to operate smaller regular clinics “for the foreseeable future” rather than a large-scale clinic that was more common in the earlier stages of the pandemic because people have received vaccines at different times. There have been targeted vaccination clinics for police, fire and emergency personnel as well as seniors and town employees.
Health Department Director Shaun McAuliffe announced that the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has asked Hopkinton to describe some its best practices for managing the pandemic for consideration for national awards.
“We’re definitely going to talk to them and submit on our vaccination and our pandemic response,” he said, noting that the application is due before Christmas.
Health Services agent Kelechi Obika said he has observed “a progressive decline” in reported COVID-19 cases after analyzing biweekly COVID-19 reports over the past several weeks. This would not pertain to rapid or PCR testing. He attributed that to the success of the vaccination clinics and public awareness. COVID rates have been comparable, if not lower than, neighboring communities, he noted.
“One thing that it would be helpful if people would report so that we could get a more accurate picture of what’s going on,” Board of Health chair Lisa Whittemore said. “And I will also say that the lack of reporting, for me, is more reflective of the fact that this has become much more normalized in our world than it was two years ago.”
Whittemore also noted that the demand for vaccines in town appears to have increased recently.
“We’re one of the few towns, I would argue, that’s been allowed to go back to getting more flu shots,” McAuliffe added.
Child vaccinations generally are covered by the family’s pediatrician, Carter explained. However, Hopkinton is part of a collaborative with eight other towns that will offer vaccines to families in need.
Budget on track
McAuliffe said that there should be enough money in the Health Department budget reserve to cover the strategic plan cost. There also is about $65,000 in grant funding that has yet to be spent.
“The grant money will go to cover a lot of our medical expenses,” he explained. This would include running clinics and providing more comprehensive programming around mental health and welfare.
Regarding the strategic plan, McAuliffe shared that Town Manager Norman Khumalo requested that a separate line item for public comment for the strategic plan be included. McAuliffe previously met with representatives from the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management Publications based at the University of Massachusetts Boston, a group with expertise in helping health and finance departments develop strategic plans. The Collins Center also would help in performing a community health assessment. The board previously decided to move forward with a partnership with the Collins Foundation pending funding approval, with the cost of strategic plan development expected to be around $35,000.
McAuliffe said he received a revised proposal from the Collins Center about the strategic plan development that will be reviewed at the next meeting. The extra meetings and survey work will raise the cost by about $4,000, he said.
What needs to be done, he explained, is to “figure out a final mechanism for pay” to determine whether the town will pay the costs up front and be reimbursed or not.
He also said the department was able to get refrigeration supplies for the food pantry’s new space so that 400 turkeys could be provided to residents in need for the holidays.
Director shares updates
McAuliffe said that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health would like him to become a lead-based paint determinator, which would involve some additional training. He added that he is partnering with the Department of Public Works and the Town Manager’s office to publicize the new regulations regarding mattresses and clothing, which no longer can be thrown away.
He said there have been conversations regarding the towns of Hopkinton, Natick, Northborough, Southborough, Ashland, Millis and Bellingham forming a partnership to develop comprehensive and unified septic regulations, which he said would be similar to tobacco regulations. This would aid septic specialists because of uniformity and would allow towns to provide mutual aid when needed.
McAuliffe explained that he is waiting on the Department of Environmental Protection to come up with new PFAS regulations, since PFAS has been an issue of concern in Hopkinton. The reportable threshold may be dropped to four parts per quadrillion, whereas now it is two parts per trillion.
“The average American carries 10 to 15 parts per billion,” he explained, adding that it comes from the food supply and then moves into the septic system.
“It’s probably the only issue where I’ve seen every branch of the DEP has a representative at the table trying to figure out how they wrap their heads around this,” McAuliffe said. “I think that’s going to be the hottest topic over the winter.”