Health director: After ‘worst two weeks’ of pandemic, Hopkinton ‘trending back downward’

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Health Department director Shaun McAuliffe, during his update to the Select Board on Tuesday night, said the town has had a rough couple of weeks dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic but appears to be “trending back downward.”

“We’re coming off what I hope to be one of the worst two weeks of the pandemic in Hopkinton,” he said, noting there have been 172 cases in the last month, and last week the town’s positivity rate was a record-high 5.95 percent.

“All of this is really attributed to the fact that we weren’t doing enough to reduce our exposure,” he added. “Through our trace-back activities we’ve traced this surge in cases back to family gatherings, some limited office-type parties, travel by air, car and train, and, to a lesser extent, a bit of work and some sporting activities.”

McAuliffe noted that 635 residents documented that they had traveled since Thanksgiving week, while undoubtedly there have been many more who have left the state without filling out the state’s forms. Understanding that “travel is bad,” he said, “We can’t be surprised,” by the surge.

“That said, recovering and pulling ourselves back … is easily within our grasp,” he added.

For example, McAuliffe encouraged residents to support local eateries, but to do it in a smart way.

“We can go to our restaurants, we can support our local businesses,” he said. “We just need to do takeout.”

McAuliffe said he spoke to probably more than 100 residents over the weekend during the course of contact tracing, and people were receptive to his message.

“There is a need to just tighten up, to reduce our exposure,” he said. “I have a commitment there [from people he spoke with], and I am just asking the residents of Hopkinton to make a similar commitment to reducing their exposure so we can get back down and reduce our positivity rate and then reduce the risk to all of the other residents in Hopkinton of contracting the illness.”

McAuliffe credited the department’s college assistant, Julia MacDonald, for her “incredible” effort contact tracing. He also praised the nurses who have been helping the department.

Looking ahead, vaccinations have started, although McAuliffe said there is some confusion regarding the future process.

“We’re moving into the vaccination stage,” he said. “Golden Pond has received their first dose. Our first responders have been vaccinated. And we’re working with the state to figure out what is the timeline on their delivery of vaccine to us so we can embark on Phase 2 vaccination. Right now I don’t have a schedule on when they are going to deliver vaccines to us. I wish I did.”

McAuliffe said he expects Phase 2 will be open to all residents 65 and over along with other higher-risk individuals, but it’s not clear when it will start or how people will confirm their eligibility. He said he was informed that the state plans to open five mass vaccination sites, similar to the one that recently opened at Gillette Stadium, along with 10-20 large pharmacy-operated sites and 18 hospital locations. Town health departments then would supplement those larger facilities.

“[Public health nurse Kasey Mauro] and I are ready,” he said. “We have a plan. We could mobilize eight staff tomorrow to jump in and work with us. And we would have another at least eight from the Fire Department to assist. But again, all of these plans are dependent on us getting vaccine in hand. All I’m asking is that we all be patient.”

McAuliffe discouraged residents from reaching out to his department looking to get on the list, as there is no list being kept, and calling “won’t get you a better spot.”

“Just contacting us, there’s really nothing that I can do, there’s nothing I can offer,” he said. “All I can ask is that people be patient.”

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