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Town health director on COVID spike: ‘My gut is telling me that the numbers are going to blow up’ this week

by | Nov 29, 2020 | News, Z-Lead Image Front Page

On Sunday afternoon the town’s COVID-19 dashboard indicated 26 active cases in Hopkinton, but that number is likely to rise significantly this week, health director Shaun McAuliffe said.

First off, there are 14 cases at Golden Pond Assisted Living that have yet to be entered, McAuliffe said. And with many in town traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, a spike is expected. Schools in town already have switched to all-remote learning for the week in an attempt to better manage the situation. With a number of teachers among those who were traveling, there likely were not going to be enough substitutes available even if in-person classes were held, McAuliffe said.

On the other hand, some of the town’s 26 cases are college students who tested positive at school and returned home. McAuliffe indicated he hopes to have those cases reassigned to the college towns where the students contracted the virus.

The spike at Golden Pond appears to have started when a resident returned from another facility and was determined to be positive, McAuliffe said, noting that normally residents are tested and cleared before they are sent back to the East Main Street facility. McAuliffe said the virus then spread around the floor where the individual resides, and at least one employee contracted it as well.

McAuliffe said a conference call has been set up for tomorrow between Golden Pond representatives, town health officials and state officials. He added that the outbreak could have been worse if not for good communication and improved testing.

“I’m kind of grateful that we got our rapid testing system in place when we did because we’ve been able to get on top of these cases and stop significant transmission,” he said, adding that the individuals at Golden Pond are largely asymptomatic.

The town’s other senior facility, Fairview Estates on West Main Street, “has done a really good job of keeping everything tight,” McAuliffe said. He indicated there is one positive case there now, and that person is in quarantine.

“We’re doing a decent job monitoring both of those facilities,” McAuliffe said. “Then we’re starting to work with the two apartment complexes. We’re seeing more cases there because it’s larger families living in smaller places.”

The remainder of the cases in town appear to have come from outside events, including a wedding and a luncheon, McAuliffe said.

Regarding the Hopkinton schools, McAuliffe said he should have more information early this week regarding how many families traveled out of Massachusetts and to which states, as everyone was instructed to submit a form to the state. He said he already knows it’s a “significant number” of students and teachers, leading to the decision to go to all-remote learning this week.

“It was just good public health policy break for a week and get everything in order,” he said, adding that the same strategy might also be used in January, after winter break, although that remains under discussion.

“We’ll see what happens this week,” he said. “If everyone’s done their job and we don’t see a big spike this week it might not be necessary, but my gut is telling me that the numbers are going to blow up.”

Multiple companies are making progress on producing COVID vaccines, with the first limited supplies expected next month and targeted for hospitals. McAuliffe said he’s been told to tentatively prepare for town-wide vaccinations in about six months.

“We were told we should plan on having our mobile vaccination units ready in the spring — the middle to latter part of the spring,” he said. “We already have a plan in place, but we’re also looking at other models.”

The town has been running flu vaccine clinics, and McAuliffe said those are good practice for when the COVID-19 vaccine comes.

“Right now we have a small staff doing 200 flu shots a day,” he said. “If we brought the staff up to 100, with the plan we have we could vaccinate the entire population of Hopkinton in a five-day period.”


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