Health Director Porter Reports Uptick in Bedford Cases; Kiessling and Schwartz to Investigate a Town-Based Covid-19 Testing Plan

December 22, 2021

Two members of the Board of Health will be working on a plan for town-sponsored Covid-19 testing.

Ann Kiessling and Susan Schwartz volunteered after board Chair Anita Raj said top town officials favor finding a testing path.

Raj said at the Board of Health meeting Monday night that she has met with Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman and Town Manager Sarah Stanton on the issue.

Their focus, she said, was not simply acknowledging the need for testing, but how to target the population segments with the greatest need and “how we can address it, really get down to the specifics, and how we envision it might be implemented.”

Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, said she has been speaking with the social workers in her departments about identifying people in need and possible response plans.

Porter also shared the most recent local Covid-19 data. The total of cases during the two-week period that ended Dec. 16 was 93, she said; the span that ended Dec. 9 totaled 88. “This has been disheartening,” said Porter. “This is happening everywhere. It’s not just a Bedford situation.”

Of the 93 cases, Porter said, 31 were “breakthrough,” and vaccination status was unknown in another 45. Five households reported two or more cases, she said. For August through November, there were five known hospitalizations and one death.

“The important number is only five hospitalizations,” Kiessling observed. But Porter answered, “We are still trying to prevent disease.” The long-term effects of the coronavirus are still unknown, she added, and “we are also trying to protect the continuity of operations. If you get Covid, you could be out for 10 days.  Could potentially shut schools or businesses.”

Kiessling wondered why a 10-day quarantine is necessary for people who aren’t sick. Porter said the protocol was handed down by the state Department of Public Health. That guideline predates the availability of vaccine, Kiessling said, but Schwartz replied, “It’s what we have, so I think we have to abide by it.”

Porter also noted that there were 15 active cases in schools during the most recent reporting period. “We need this vacation to come and interrupt that,” she said.

Kiessling said she hopes more high school students will commit to the school’s testing program. “I am not sure it’s being implemented in the way that’s most effective. We should find out,” she said. The board agreed, and also will be inquiring about the vaccination rate at the high school.

Kiessling also continued her advocacy of relaxing the town’s indoor mask mandate for children up to age five. She said she could not find any source that supports this measure, and the state Department of Early Education and Care “puts this back into the control of parents.”

The board also hosted presentations by members Bea Brunkhorst and Kiessling, both scientists.

Brunkhorst, whose doctorate is in biochemistry, has been involved in research and development in cancer immunotherapy for almost 30 years.

She explained the difference between antibodies, which she labeled “first responders,” and T-cells, a type of white blood cell that is part of the immune system. “Ending the pandemic will require long-lived immunity,” she said.

Kiessling, who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry/biophysics, has had a wide-ranging career, including a focus on virology. She displayed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that in every age cohort under 65, the percentage of deaths among those with Covid-19 is six-tenths of one percent or less.

“This virus was never the deadly agent we thought it was,” Kiessling said. She pointed out that fatalities among children and teenagers are “almost non-existent,” and the 60,000 Covid deaths in the 18-49 age cohort can be compared to 100,000 deaths from fentanyl overdoses.

“This is a disease of people 65 and older,” Kiessling asserted; their mortality percentage is 3.8.  “I am not trying to trivialize the disease, but people should realize where it stands.”

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

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