Health director: Town has 42 active COVID cases, but ‘no evidence of community spread’

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Hopkinton health director Shaun McAuliffe, during an appearance on Monday’s Hopkinton Hangout Hour on HCAM, continued to sound the alarm regarding the post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases in town.

“We’re in a surge,” McAuliffe said, noting there are 42 active cases in town. “Hopkinton, like everybody else around us, is seeing a significant increase in the rate of illness.”

That said, McAuliffe noted that Hopkinton has been more successful than most towns in controlling the spread of the disease.

“We’re one of the few communities that — knock on wood — we have no evidence of community spread,” he said. “We have no evidence of school spread. And we think if we can continue to buckle down and focus on the basics — staying home when you’re sick, wearing a face covering, social distancing — we’re going to be able to get through the holidays without any negative impact to the schools. That’s the goal that [superintendent Carol Cavanaugh] and I have laid out. What is it going to take to get us through the end of the year doing this hybrid model, and what new programs can we bring to help sustain this hybrid model through the end of the school year, until we get vaccinations going.”

McAuliffe said there are 18 active cases at Golden Pond, although the assisted living facility “has done a good job managing the issue.” Part of the problem, McAuliffe explained, is that at an assisted living facility residents tend to be healthier than those at a nursing home, and that often means those with COVID are asymptomatic, showing few if any outward signs that they have the virus.

Overall, McAuliffe said the high number of asymptomatic cases has made it challenging to detect the disease early.

“Right now one of the biggest problems with COVID is we’re seeing a lot of asymptomatic spread,” he said. “I spoke to five or six families on Friday and the only symptom they experienced was a loss of smell. And that was a gradual loss.”

Looking at sports, McAuliffe said he met with Hopkinton Public Schools administration, including principals and high school athletic director Rich Cormier, on Monday morning.

“We had one incident with one program [in the fall], it was a potential contact from another team. We put the team out and had everyone tested, and no one was infected from that contact. So we’ve done well there,” McAuliffe said. “The athletic director, he’s got a good program. The Tri-Valley [athletic directors], they meet regularly. They’ve done a good job of modifying the sports to reduce potential exposure. They’ve introduced attestation. They’ve just done a good job at managing their risk.

“They just had a meeting with all of the coaches and sports captains to discuss, ‘These are the expectations, these are the sacrifices we’re going to have to make in order for you to play.’ And they’re not huge sacrifices. It’s just, you go there and you play, you don’t hang out. If you’re out partying or congregating or doing things that introduce risk to the team, the consequence could be that the team gets put into quarantine and you don’t get to play. So it’s really upon all of the kids to take ownership of this responsibility, knowing if they do a good job they’re going to get a full season.”

Regarding younger children’s sports programs, McAuliffe said if kids stay in town it’s less of an issue.

“The majority of the other sports-related illness we’re seeing in town is related to travel,” he said. “The traveling teams are what’s killing me. I’ve got several out right now. We live in a fairly safe and kind of controlled environment here. And that’s because of the effort that we all put in as a community back in the summer. But you step outside and there’s community spread just about everywhere.”

Vaccinations are expected to start later this month, starting with health care workers, with the general public expected to have availability in the spring. McAuliffe said he already has received some equipment and his department is lining up staffers as they prepare for mass vaccinations — “a huge logistical endeavor” — in a few months.

“I believe we’ll have the manpower, we’ve got a couple of facilities. … We’ve got a good plan together,” he said. “Right now I just want to know when it’s going to be here. We just want to finalize this plan, and we need these details to help get us there.”

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