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Health Department continues vaccine clinics, monitors norovirus

by | Feb 13, 2023 | News

The Board of Health at a brief meeting Monday night discussed the Health Department’s recent initiatives.

Public Health Nurse Simone Carter described the Health Department as “quietly busy.” She said that the number of reported respiratory virus cases, including COVID-19, is going down. The Health Department is continuing to hold bivalent vaccine booster clinics, and it will be “part of our mission,” Carter said, to offer them even after their distribution becomes privatized as the pandemic ceases and the endemic phase of COVID-19 is expected to begin next month.

She added that the new immunization schedule includes the COVID-19 series. There also are updated MMR and pneumococcal vaccines available.

Norovirus, also known as stomach flu, is spreading in town and across the country. Carter surmised that it is because people are more socially active than they had been during the pandemic.

While there is no cure, the best prevention method is good hand hygiene, she explained. It usually runs its course in about three days, and its symptoms are helped by fluid intake.

Added Board of Health chair Lisa Whittemore: “Three miserable days.”

“That’s a disease that’s supposed to be reported all the time but not necessarily is,” Carter said. “Just because our numbers aren’t necessarily high in our database doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.”

According to a recent report on WCVB-TV, people who are infected with norovirus can shed billions of virus particles, which is why it is highly contagious. Twelve states report norovirus counts, including Massachusetts.

Vaccines, test kits on order

The Health Department as of the end of January had a balance of $94,016.25. Health Director Shaun McAuliffe explained that $30,000 to $40,000 would be used for flu, shingles and a small amount of pediatric vaccine purchases that will be reimbursable.

Whittemore asked about the need for pediatric vaccines in Hopkinton.

“It exists,” McAuliffe explained. There have been between 10 and 15 children who are recent immigrants or exchange students who needed vaccinations to “get them up to speed” so that they would be able to attend the town’s public schools.

He added that if there is a surplus, the vaccines can be distributed to local health departments and pediatricians’ offices.

Whittemore said she was particularly happy that the department is offering the shingles vaccine.

The department renewed its vaccine certificate recently, McAuliffe said.

In addition, the department successfully distributed more than 130 boxes of COVID-19 test kits, McAuliffe said. There are plans to give them to sports teams for the spring season, as well as to local businesses. He noted that people working in retail have a hard time affording them.

“There were kids that were weeping when I brought a case by,” he said, adding that Hopkinton is one of the top distributors in the state. “It really just warmed my heart. We’re doing some good stuff.”

Restaurants closed for violations

McAuliffe noted that two restaurants had to be closed temporarily within the last month because of health code violations, but they were able to reopen the same day once the issues were addressed. There has been an increase in regulatory actions taken by the department in the past few months, he explained.

The state’s Department of Public Health will be taking over “a childhood lead issue” that the Health Department had been overseeing, McAuliffe noted. He and Health Services Agent Kelechi Obika have been asked by MDPH to become “lead determinators” and will participate in a training once it becomes available from the state, he said.

Hopkinton also will be helping on the federal level, assisting the Food and Drug Administration by conducting local inspections of delis for listeria prevention and butcher shops for grind log compliance.

“They have three inspectors for the entire state,” McAuliffe added. He noted that he will be assisting the FDA in grind log training because of his previous work experience with the Shaw’s and Star supermarket chain.

He also will be giving a presentation to the MDPH to promote the internship program, which intern Sophie Gakis just finished. She completed a literature review of the immune system dysfunction and dysregulation caused by COVID-19. Her work is contributing to research underway at the MDPH, McAuliffe said.

“We’ve had one of the more successful internship programs in the state,” according to McAuliffe, noting that he is “a byproduct of one of the first programs that was run in the early ’90s.”

Water supply inspections continue

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has been in Hopkinton this week to start its annual water supply inspections, McAuliffe said. Two notices of non-compliance have been issued to public water supply operators. Both operators are scheduling repairs and are chlorinating their respective water supplies, according to McAuliffe. Re-inspection will occur at the end of the month.

McAuliffe announced that the department plans to apply for Community Septic Management Loan funding to replenish some of the monies it has lent out. Since its inception, the program has lent over $1.3 million to assist residents with their septic repairs. Concerns over perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, have risen during the past year.

“Technically, if residents test their private wells for PFAS, it’s suggested or recommended that they report their results to the Health Department,” McAuliffe explained.

Whittemore noted that Massachusetts “has some of the more stringent regulations across the United States” on PFAS.

Asbestos removal issue arises

The Health Department and the Land Use Department issued a stop work order to the asbestos abatement contractor working on the 83 East Main Street project, McAuliffe said. The contractor had not applied for the required permitting when removing the asbestos shingles, so the abatement work was not conducted in compliance with the state’s DEP regulations.

“The process didn’t follow all regulatory requirements,” McAuliffe added, prompting the MDEP’s Asbestos Division and the Department of Labor Standards to provide oversight. “They are issuing some enforcement actions against the contractor.”

Added McAuliffe: “At the end of the day, the owner will be in a good spot, and his redevelopment of that lot shouldn’t be jeopardized by the actions of the vendors that he had working for him.”

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