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EEE threat prompts some schools to sideline evening events

As soon as Methuen High School athletic director Matthew Curran learned that a horse in the area contracted Eastern equine encephalitis, he immediately jumped into action.

Curran met with city officials Monday night and all were in agreement that no athletic events should be contested in the evening until further notice. According to health officials, the risk of contacting EEE in the evening is greater than during daylight hours.

“We’ve told everyone to be off the fields by 7 p.m. until the end of September and by 6 p.m. throughout October or until the first frost comes,” Curran said. “All the night games we had planned will be shifted to the afternoon. It’s not worth the risk to play at night — we’re going to err on the side of caution.”

While Methuen is the only Merrimack Valley Conference school listed as a critical risk for contracting EEE, nearby Andover High isn’t taking any chances either. Athletic director Bill Martin is following Curran’s lead and moving the start time of his games to the afternoon.

“We’ve moved our football game against Wayne Valley from 6 to 3:45,” Martin said. “We’ll watch how things go for the next couple of weeks and go from there. I feel badly for the kids because they like the night games, but you have to take the safety factor into consideration and that makes this an easy decision.”

Unlike Methuen and Andover, whose risk for EEE range from critical to high, Tewksbury is currently at moderate risk. Athletic director Ron Drouin is monitoring the situation and is ready to make adjustments if the situation calls for it.

“We’ve been in constant contact with the Board of Health and we will abide by what the board of health says,” Drouin said. “We’ll do what’s best for the student athletes in our conference.”

Many other schools outside the directly threatened zones are watching closely and have indicated they will make scheduling changes if needed. Braintree athletic director Mike Denise echoed the sentiment of other athletic directors when he said he was in contact with the town’s Board of Health to see if future action needs to be taken. Brockton athletic director Kevin Karo says the schools will continue to monitor the situation and spray at night.

A map showing the risk levels of the EEE virus. Courtesy of Mass.govNearly a third of the 24 communities currently considered at critical risk by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services are in the southeastern part of the state. A Fairhaven woman, Laurie Sylvia, died over the weekend after contracting the EEE virus.

Fairhaven athletic director Chris Carigg has been in constant contact with the community, detailing the various things the schools are doing to combat the deadly virus, ranging from establishing a dusk-to-dawn curfew to providing bug spray at the field as well as hiring a company to treat all school properties with organic, all-natural mosquito repellent.

“We will play all our football games at 4 p.m. for the time being until we are no longer at a critical risk,” Carigg said. “Our field hockey teams (varsity and junior varsity) play back-to-back, so we have to make sure they are done by 6 p.m.”

Apponequet athletic director Jim Cabucio remembered his school going through the EEE fear seven years ago, so there was a protocol in place. Rather than wait, he made the decision a few weeks back to move all night events to 4 p.m.

Another community taking immediate precautions is Hopkinton. EEE was detected in horses in nearby Mendon and Uxbridge, raising the risk factor to critical. As a result, Hopkinton is going to reschedule athletic events that normally take place between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. until further notice.

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