Coronavirus uptick causes town offices to stay alert

Nashoba Valley towns going back to restricting in-person town business

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GROTON – The coronavirus vaccine is officially a go, being shipped throughout the country to protect health-care workers fighting the virus and the vulnerable demographics of local communities.

But the pandemic remains ongoing, and cases are still rising, so town governments are still taking steps to limit further spreading of the virus.

The latest developments come from Groton, which, according to a press release, has closed its Town Hall, library and the senior center effective Dec. 17. Those town facilities will stay closed until Jan. 4, with town employees working remotely and no in-person programs taking place at any of the buildings.

Groton Public Library will still offer curbside pickup while the Council on Aging will still offer Meals on Wheels delivery and transportation for doctor appointments and grocery shopping.

“The Town of Groton and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are taking unprecedented steps in order to reduce the rate of spread by working proactively to reduce transmission and promote public health recommendations,” Town Manager Mark Haddad said in the release. “We urge all citizens to exercise appropriate measures in order to reduce the risk of infection.”

The closure is not unwarranted. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s weekly report published on Dec. 10, Groton was deemed in the moderate risk, or yellow, of coronavirus infection. As of that report, 168 people in Groton had tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Pepperell was also deemed in the yellow level by its Health Department last week, with 163 people in town having tested positive for coronavirus since the pandemic’s start. Town Administrator Andrew MacLean said town offices have been closed to the public since March 17 while still being open for town business. He said the public access closure will stay in effect until June 30 as a means to keep town employees safer.

“As many offices are staffed by just one person, keeping them healthy and able to work is critical,” he added.

Three other Nashoba Valley towns — Townsend, Shirley and Ayer — were deemed to be in the red, meaning the highest level of infection risk.

There are 146 recorded cases in Townsend, 229 in Ayer, and 499 in Shirley. The latter town has had to deal with local residents testing positive, but also high numbers in the town’s two prisons: MCI-Shirley and the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center.

Shirley Town Administrator Michael McGovern said town buildings are still closed to the public, since the town has been in the red since Nov. 12. He said things in Shirley remain “status quo,” with continuous advisories for residents to wear face masks and socially distance.

Ayer Town Manager Robert Pontbriand said it’s “hard to say with any certainty” what caused the town to reach its red level aside from the national uptick in cases and people gathering for Thanksgiving. He and the Select Board have been staying vigilant, participating in a conference call with the state Department of Public Health and other towns that have been deemed in the red to discuss the current situation.

Ayer residents are still asked to wear masks both inside and outside of local buildings, with town offices still closed to the public.

“We’ve been one of the towns whose offices have been closed for most of the pandemic,” Pontbriand said. “We need people to participate in staying cautious. With Christmas coming up, it’s really important that folks try to stay within their social bubbles at home.”

Townsend has taken different efforts to ensure that town business goes on with limited social contact. Town Administrator James Kreidler said the town has installed an intercom system at Town Hall so residents can be connected to different departments within Town Hall from outside the building to conduct business.

“The Board of Health has been taking the lead on this matter, and we’ve been kept informed on things from Rick Metcalf and the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, who’ve been incredible,” Kreidler said.