Vaccination Rates, Covid Testing, & Other Topics Discussed at Monday’s Board of Health Meeting

April 7, 2021

The director of the town’s Health and Human Services Department told the Board of Health Monday that 18 percent of Bedford residents have been fully vaccinated to protect from the Covid-19 virus.

Heidi Porter said the percentage is consistent with state and national trends. On Tuesday, Porter said the most recent report by the state Department of Public Health, as of April 1, noted that 2,831 out of 14,995 residents have been fully vaccinated – that’s 18.9 percent. She added that not all residents are eligible yet.

“We need to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Porter told the board. She was optimistic that as the number increases, more residents will be motivated to get the shots.

Board member Dr. Ann Kiessling mentioned that she has spoken to two physicians who are not planning to be vaccinated. Porter said she has seen similar responses from some military personnel.

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Board Chair Anita Raj suggested outreach to members of town boards and committees to promote vaccination and testing. Porter said outreach has been aimed at staff as well as residents on the department’s listserv.

Porter said efforts to secure state approval for a regional vaccination center in a former store on Route 27 in Acton are stalled. A coalition of nine area towns submitted a formal plan, and “after two weeks we haven’t heard back.”

She pointed out that although the state Department of Public Health last week indicated that some regional sites had been approved, “none of those groups is getting the vaccine.” The potential daily output from the Acton site is estimated at 750 to 900 doses.

“The floodgates are going to open” when emergency use authorization expands to kids, Porter predicted. If vaccines ever become available for local application, Porter said, she would set up a tent near John Glenn Middle School.

Porter told the board she is concerned about a possible post-holiday virus surge. “We are constantly hearing about a fourth wave and if that’s going to materialize here. We have got to continue to push safety and protective measures

Community nurse Mark Waksmonski recounted the case of an older local woman who contracted Covid-19 “with exceptionally mild symptoms” despite being fully vaccinated. But one of her children from another state ended up in the hospital after contact with her. “We have seen vaccinated people get mild cases,” he reported, adding that last weekend there were two local cases of the so-called United Kingdom variant.

Waksmonski said most of the recent Bedford Covid cases were “social oriented”— residents having dinner with friends or disregarding some safety protocols. Board member Bea Brunkhorst noted that most of the recent cases are younger than 50.

There has been no evidence of in-school virus transmission, added Waksmonski.

Asked about the number of homebound residents waiting for vaccination, Porter explained, “We have no way of knowing. There is continuing community outreach to find them. It changes, it fluctuates.”

Board members were curious about the low rates of participation in state-financed Covid pooled testing in the schools. During the week of March 23, less than a quarter of students were signed up and only 12 percent of staff.

Brunkhorst requested comparative data from other towns. Porter said she has heard “anecdotal evidence” showing that some teachers, once they are vaccinated, disregard testing. “We don’t want to scare people but be conscious that this still could happen.”

Katharine Dagle, Assistant Health Director, said she met with representatives of Babe Ruth Baseball and Softball to review “sector-specific protocols for youth sports,” which include masks by everyone involved at all times.

She also conferred with the Recreation Department on protocols for Springs Brook Park. She said masks are required except when in the water, and people on the beach must be at least 12 feet apart. Board member Maureen Richichi said she has seen beaches where the 12-foot separation negates the mask requirement.

Promotion of Saturday morning free community testing features signs along The Great Road. Kiessling said some people are reluctant to be tested because if found positive, their families will have to be quarantined. “I’m not sure how to get around that,” she said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Richichi acknowledged the recent murder in Maine of resident Rhonda Pattelena and thanked everyone who is supporting the victim’s children. Porter said there has been “an outpouring of support for the family.”

Member Susan Schwartz said that “the message to any resident is to please ask for help when it is safe to ask for help. The town has the resources available.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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