Health director: Schools should keep masks for now; ‘Halloween is not canceled’ despite uptick in cases

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Shaun McAuliffe
Health Director Shaun McAuliffe speaks at Tuesday night’s Select Board meeting. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

In his COVID-19 update at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, Hopkinton Health Director Shaun McAuliffe noted the town is in the midst of a surge in cases and suggested the schools should continue to enforce mask use until younger children get vaccinated and teachers get booster shots, both of which he hopes will be completed before the winter break.

Hopkinton High School recently was approved by the state to relax its mask requirements for vaccinated individuals due to the school’s high vaccination rate. However, the School Committee chose not to vote on the topic at its last meeting as members expressed a hesitancy to “off ramp” from the mandate.

“Given the increase [in town], given the increase that we have in the schools, pending holidays, anticipated increases in holiday travel, moving from outdoor events to indoors, we really don’t believe this is the right time to off ramp and go mask-free in the schools yet,” McAuliffe said. “We believe that once we get the 5-11-year-olds vaccinated, we get the teachers booster shots and then we provide boosters to the rest of the community, we’ll be in a much better and stronger position as a community and we’ll be able to experience a fairly normal holiday season. Our fear is that if we start breaking it out and relaxing it could be a bit of a rough holiday season. I think last year is something that we don’t want to go through again.”

McAuliffe also said that following a discussion with Town Manager Norman Khumalo, the town will not discourage trick-or-treating this Halloween.

“Norman and I had a good discussion, and Halloween is not canceled,” he said. “We executed really well last year, and there’s no reason to believe that we can’t do it again this year. We’re in a better position, we have stronger vaccination rates, we know more about the virus. So if we just follow through with what we did last year we’ll be in great shape. That being said, these indoor gatherings are a problem. We want people to be aware that they shouldn’t be hosting large indoor Halloween gatherings.”

McAuliffe said the town will be holding another Pfizer vaccination booster clinic for eligible residents as well as a high-dose flu clinic on Oct. 28 and has a plan in place to vaccinate 5-11-year-old residents once the state gives its approval. He said he expected to have everyone in that younger age group vaccinated by the first week of December, and then he hopes to start booster shots for the general population, with the goal of being well-prepared for the holidays.

Looking at the current COVID situation, McAuliffe said that while the community has been doing well, “We are seeing a significant uptick this week in our cases. Where our positivity rate last week was around 1.3, I expect it to be north of 2 this week. Where our weekly case rates from August 1st through mid-October had generally ranged from 15-20, we’ve already had 29 cases since Saturday evening. So it’s a significant uptick, considering the fact that we tend to get the bulk of our cases on the back end of the week — Thursday, Friday Saturday. So I expect to have a weekly case load definitely in the 30s if not a little over 40.

“What we’re seeing is that our cases are coming from unrestricted gatherings, both adult and children,” he added. “And then we’re seeing an increase in work travel and just travel in general. It’s those activities that appear to be driving a lot of our numbers. We’re seeing the greatest growth in case numbers in unvaccinated youth, the 30-49-year-old age group and the 50-69-year-old age group. … We just want to remind people to limit your exposure outside of your households, gather outside when possible, utilize face coverings and practice social distancing. And try to refrain from unnecessary travel if you can. And if we do those we believe we’ll be able to get this uptick back under control.”

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