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Health Department discusses target data for making masks optional in town: ‘Pure metrics, pure science, no politics’

by | Feb 7, 2022 | Featured: News, News

While Hopkinton has continued to see an improvement in the number of COVID cases, the town continues to be listed by the CDC as “high risk for community transmission” and is at least a few days away from getting out of that designation, Health Director Shaun McAuliffe told the Board of Health at its Monday meeting.

McAuliffe said he recently had discussions with town officials about “when we would be ready to recommend that we no longer require face coverings within the municipal buildings” and allow a resumption of in-person meetings.

In the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) weekly report on Feb. 4, the organization indicated that a study “supports that wearing face coverings is an effective means at protecting yourself from contracting COVID infection,” McAuliffe said. “The risk decreases based on the type of mask you’re using.”

“After reviewing that, I took a look at our risk rating from the CDC,” McAuliffe continued. “Hopkinton remains classified as a high risk for community transmission because our case counts exceed 100 per 100,000. We were at 105 per 100,000, so we’re just over the high. I would bet that our case count and our positivity rate, which is currently at 12.35, is going to be significantly less on Thursday [when the updated weekly totals are released]. I think we’re averaging about 5-7 cases per day.”

The town’s 14-day case counts have dropped from around 600 to 400 to approximately 241, McAuliffe said. He added that the predominant variant in town remains the original omicron.

“With all of that, I think we’re in a place where [Public Health Nurse Simone Carter] and I will continue to monitor our metrics,” he said. “If we continue to see a reduction in cases that we’re seeing, once our 14-day positivity drops below 5 percent and our seven-day average is dropping below, say, 10 per 100,000, we could confidentially make a move to end mask requirements inside our municipal buildings.

“The primary focus or the reason behind having the mask requirement is really to protect continuity of operations at this point,” he added. “Our case counts are still higher than they were before the delta and omicron surge. And they’re still higher, almost twice what they were when the school off-ramped. We’re close, we’re just not there yet. I’d hate to see a shift of DPW, police or fire go down because we let down our guard.”

The Department of Public Health releases new metrics every Thursday evening, and it might be another week before Hopkinton’s numbers show the expected dramatic drop.

“We’re going to be there,” Carter said. “I think once we’re there, then we’ve got the vaccination rate of our town [being very high]. So, that’s when we can hand it back to the individual — public health, individual responsibility. Once our case count gets down and meets that point, which it should be, making sure that nothing unforeseen comes, then I think that’s when we can pull back.”

Board of Health Chair Lisa Whittemore suggested sharing with the public the specific data point at which the department would feel comfortable recommending a mask-optional policy.

The town should make the public aware of “what our targets are for off-ramping this, so that everybody knows, and then it’s just easy,” she said. “You can send out an email and say, all right, we’re now at a positivity rate of 5 percent, we’re very comfortable, or we’re at a CDC low, whatever. That, to me, it takes a lot of the mystery out of it, and we have clear targets that are based on science.”

Interjected Carter: “Exactly. No politics. If you’re transparent that way then it’s just pure metrics, pure science, no politics.”

Added Whittemore: “It could be as early as Thursday. But it also means that the inverse is also true, that if we start to creep back up we’re going to move back. And again, it’s just about the data. It’s not about anything but the data.”

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