Health director: With town details still unclear, seniors should seek outside vaccination site if possible

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While Hopkinton’s COVID-19 case numbers have shown improvement over the last couple of weeks, the town still is having its share of issues, and officials remain uncertain of when the vaccine will be available for residents, Health Department director Shaun McAuliffe told the Select Board on Tuesday night.

McAuliffe said the town currently has about 41 active cases. The average for weekly cases and the positive rate have been dropping since a post-Christmas spike that briefly landed Hopkinton in the state-designated red (most restrictive) category.

Most notably of late, there have been issues in the schools, due in part to people playing sports outside of town, McAuliffe said. He noted that one individual who was playing for four different teams was in a COVID cluster, and that led to 40-50 people in town being identified as close contacts, along with more individuals in other towns.

“When we’re participating in these activities we’re putting the individual and our families and the schools at risk,” McAuliffe said. “Over the last two weeks we’ve seen some significant disruptions in the school system from people playing in sports.”

Another concern deals with some COVID variants that were detected in other countries and are starting to spread. These variants appear to be more contagious. McAuliffe said the Brazilian and South African variants have not yet been documented in Massachusetts, but the British variant has appeared in Worcester and the Boston area.

“If and when these variants start appearing in this immediate region, if we’re following those basic [health] practices I’m hoping we won’t see a spike,” McAuliffe said. “Stick to the basics, stick to the science we know. If we do, we’ll have better outcomes.”

Regarding vaccines, McAuliffe said there remains a lot of uncertainty, as the state is not able to definitively state when the vaccines will be delivered and how much each town will receive. McAuliffe said he was expecting to receive the Moderna vaccine but recently was told to expect the Pfizer version, which is a little more complicated to store and manage. The state also indicated it expects the town to share doses with neighboring communities as it did last month when first responders were vaccinated. McAuliffe is hoping for more details soon, but he said his prior efforts — including enlisting local politicians’ assistance — have left him frustrated.

“As hard as we’ve pushed I’m just not getting any information on the future,” he said. “All I can tell you is that we got the order in. I’m hoping for the best.”

McAuliffe noted that the town’s senior residences — which order their vaccines separately from the Health Department — have made progress on their own.

“Golden Pond has received their first vaccine, and we were able to facilitate a partnership between a local pharmacy and Fairview [Estates] to get their initial vaccine completed,” McAuliffe said. “So it’s been a lot of work to get us where we’re at.”

McAuliffe noted that the state is preparing to open more mass vaccination sites, such as the ones at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, and he said there should be a more locally based option by mid-February. Local pharmacies and hospitals also should have vaccines in the near future.

McAuliffe suggested any older residents attend one of the mass vaccination sites if they are able, rather than wait for the town to get its own doses.

“For residents that are computer-savvy, I suggest that you focus on advocating for yourself,” he said. “If you have an opportunity to get to one of these mass locations, go. There’s a system in place that prevents us from double-dosing you. But we need people to advocate for themselves.

“Our intent is to take care of the residents that aren’t able to get outside of Hopkinton or who don’t have internet access, are homebound. That’s really going to be our focus right now. And then as opportunity presents itself we’ll be acting on that to bring as much product as we can into the town.”

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