Health Director: As Hopkinton’s COVID surge continues, stricter mask policy instituted for town offices

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Health Director Shaun McAuliffe said that while the town continues to be one of top vaccinated communities in the commonwealth, there has been an ongoing surge in cases this month.

McAuliffe said there have been 99 cases since Dec. 1, and he expects it to be closer to 110 following more reports of cases Tuesday.

While previously someone would get sick and not spread it in their household, McAuliffe said, now everyone in the home is getting sick.

“The Delta [variant] that we have is spreading well throughout the state,” he said. “But on a positive note, it’s more of a nuisance. We’re seeing people with runny noses, sore throats and some with a loss of smell. Out of all of the cases we’ve had over the last, say, four months, we’ve only had two that have ended up in the [intensive care unit], and both of those individuals were unvaccinated.”

Many of the recent cases are coming from sports-related spreads, McAuliffe added, with a recent super-spreader expected to impact about 100 people.

Looking at holiday travel, McAuliffe recommended that all travelers obtain a PCR test upon their return to the state and before heading back to school or work.

Free tests are being administered at the Ashland commuter rail station, and testing kits are available at a number of locations, including pharmacies.

He also stressed that people should test if a family member shows symptoms.

“If someone in the household is sick, we’re recommending that people test,” he said. “We know it’s a bit of an inconvenience and a disruption in your normal everyday lives, but it’s that testing that is going prevent outbreaks in school and disruptions in school and the daycares.

“Hopkinton recently had a resident that sent a child that had been placed into quarantine into school, and they have placed 10 families into quarantine. So the [Massachusetts Department of Public Health] and I are going to be taking some actions. Because something like this … there must be some consequences. Think of it: 10 families, I think at least three to four members per family, we’re looking at a significant number of people whose lives were disrupted because someone didn’t want to be inconvenienced. And this isn’t who we are as a community. We need to really act collectively if we’re going to get out of this.”

Following consultation with Town Hall, McAuliffe said there will be a new policy in town offices, effective this Wednesday morning.

“Employees and visitors within municipal offices will be required to wear a face covering,” he said. “Employees can remove their face coverings at their desk and when they are moving around their desk area. In public areas away from their desk, the expectation is that everyone will have a face covering.”

Explained McAuliffe: “We’re doing this because in neighboring towns where they haven’t acted yet, they had entire shifts falling ill. They are having had to rely on mutual aid to cover different public safety obligations. … This last two weeks, I think we’ve seen the most cases we’ve seen among our municipal employees.”

Following a recent pediatric clinic, McAuliffe said 91 percent of the town’s 5-11-year-olds have received their first vaccination, and more than 70 percent have received both shots. All other ages’ vaccination rates are in the mid-90 percentages, he said.

McAuliffe continues to work on planning a regional clinic in January for children and those seeking a booster shot.