Townsend’s recent spike in coronavirus cases worries health board

BOSTON MA. – SEPTEMBER 17: Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker speaks to the media after receiving a flu shot at a CVS in Roslindale on September 17, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

TOWNSEND – Responding to the latest Covid-19 report – 21 reported cases as of Monday, Oct. 26 – Board of Health Chairman Chris Nocella raised concerns about Halloween trick or treating in town and about whether routine town hall business should be deferred on election day, Nov. 3, for safety’s sake.

The board at its meeting Monday night passed a motion on the town hall issue, backing Nocella’s recommendation. But the Halloween question was tabled for further discussion at a follow-up meeting later in the week.

Nocella outlined his reasons for suggesting that town hall activity be limited to the election that day.

Given all-day voter traffic at Memorial Hall on election day, it’s likely that many more people than usual would be in the building at the same time, he said, so, to put health and safety first, employees not involved in the election process should stay home.

“My concern is that with cases going up that fast…I recommend that we close town hall for other employees during the time people are walking in and out to vote,” he said. “This is the biggest spike since the beginning,” he said, and it scares him.

According to Nashoba Board of Health agent Rick Metcalf, Covid-19 cases in town had spiked from 6 to 21 cases over a 17-18 day period. That’s a record for the town, population 9,501 as of the 2000 census.

Asked for specifics, what might have caused the uptick, such as a “super-spreader event,” Metcalf couldn’t say yet but promised an update next day. “I have no further information…now,” he said.

He indicated that word from the governor’s office was key, going forward. With numbers up in other communities, state-wide, the question now is what Governor Charlier Baker has to say, Metcalf said.

Asked about contact tracing, Metcalf described the process. Positive tests are reported to the state and to local agencies, including NAHB, which serves 17 member communities, including Townsend.

For each positive test report that comes in, a health worker reaches out to that person and asks for a list of close contacts, each of whom will then be called and advised to quarantine for 14 days. And to get tested. But not necessarily right away. The test should be done five days after the person had close contact with the someone who tested positive. Five days covers the incubation period, Metcalf said. A test taken too soon could come back negative, but the result might be false. The 2-week quarantine period still applies, either way.

Wrapping up discussion on the election day scenario, the board envisioned that besides the polling place in the main hall, only the town clerk’s office would be open that day – for election purposes. Only Town Clerk Kathy Spofford and her staff and election workers would come in and all other departments in the building would be closed. Administrators and clerks who work in those offices would be instructed to stay home.

The board agreed to send its recommendation to Town Administrator James Kreidler and that he would make the necessary notifications.

As for Halloween, they agreed to hold off and to take the matter up at the next session, an emergency meeting set for Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 4 pm.

For now, the town-wide advisory from the Board of Selectmen – posted on the town website – stands. If the health board wants to do something else, they can decide then how to proceed, member James Le’Cuyer said. By then, the state may have issued an update. “We’ll follow their lead,” he said.