Health director: Town in midst of COVID surge, with positivity rate over state average, youngsters hit hardest

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Hopkinton health director Shaun McAuliffe, during his update to the Select Board on Tuesday, delivered some good news and bad news, noting a high number of residents have been vaccinated for COVID-19 but cautioning that the town is in the midst of a surge that has its positivity rate above the state average.

“The Health Department has completed its 75-plus clinic with the Pfizer vaccine, its senior housing clinic with the Moderna vaccine, and we’re currently vaccinating homebound seniors with a very limited supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” McAuliffe said. “When completed, our department will have vaccinated over 1,360 people, a significant number of those residents of Hopkinton.”

McAuliffe credited the Fire Department, Senior Center staff, Police Department and resident volunteers in the Medical Reserve Corps for their assistance with the clinics.

The town is working on a municipally operated mass vaccination clinic with the towns of Ashland, Boylston, Holliston, Northborough, Southborough and Westborough to be held at a hotel in Westborough, McAuliffe said, indicating the clinic has been “green-lighted” by the state and is awaiting the allocation of vaccines, which he expects in the next couple of weeks. He said 25 percent of the vaccines would be reserved for residents of the local communities.

“That will put our local communities at a significant advantage,” he said.

As is, “Our efforts have contributed to our community’s above-average vaccination rate,” McAuliffe said. He stated that as of last Thursday, more than 95 percent of residents 75 and older have been fully vaccinated, “which is tremendous,” and 84 percent of residents between the ages of 65-74 have received their first dose, with almost half of those fully vaccinated. Some 35 percent of 50-64-year-olds have received a first dose, and about 28 percent of 30-49-year-olds have received a first dose, he said.

Meanwhile, issues with younger residents have driven the recent surge. Of those recently diagnosed with COVID, more than half are 20 and younger, he said.

“There are over 170 children under the age of 19 in quarantine,” McAuliffe said. “At this rate, by the end of the week I believe we’ll have approximately 5 percent of our children 0-19 in quarantine. We’ve got at least 78 more people in today.”

While youngsters are “being affected disproportionately,” McAuliffe was quick to note there is “no evidence of school-associated outbreak.” Grades K-5 returned to full-time in-person learning this week, and middle school and high school students are set to get back to full-time in-person instruction in two weeks.

Rather, McAuliffe said, the surge can be attributed to “unsupervised activity outside of the home, extracurricular activities outside of school, small gatherings, parties and exposure from a parent or family member.”

McAuliffe said he is asking the state to look at local cases to determine if any are the B117 variant, which appears to be more contagious and more lethal, according to research from the United Kingdom.

“We believe the British B117 variant is at least partially to blame for the outbreak, but the outbreak is dependent on exposure,” McAuliffe said. “So we really need to limit our exposure if we’re going to get out of this mess.”

Added McAuliffe: “Our positivity rate is over 3 percent. We’re higher than the state [average]. That’s not what Hopkinton is about. I believe with just a little extra effort we can move the positive rate down below 1. And once it’s below 1, then we can start talking about opening up some of the recreational areas and some of the other things.”

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