Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, told the Board of Health Monday that “we hope to have up to 6,000 kits. The plan will be to roll out to low-income folks, seniors, child-care facilities, and school-age kids.”
She said a distribution process – “probably drive-through” – will be announced as soon as plans are final.
During a simultaneous virtual meeting with the Select Board, Town Manager Sarah Stanton said distribution of the kits will begin “a day or two after delivery,” in stages. Information will be shared on social media, she said. Town and school employees will also receive priority for the kits.
In answer to a question from board member Emily Mitchell, Stanton said town employees and volunteers will help with distribution. She noted that Middlesex Community College leaders have offered help when needed, and “if we need additional resources we can go back to the community.”
Stanton and Porter credited Assistant Health Director Katherine Dagle with securing the kits by ordering them early from several vendors on the state’s procurement list. The town manager said she was joined by Dagle and Fire Chief David Grunes on Christmas Eve “trying to track down tests. Folks have really rolled up their sleeves, but Katherine was absolutely tenacious.”
Health board member Susan Schwartz commented that the rapid-testing emphasis was one of the recommendations that resulted from her focus on testing with her colleague Ann Kiessling, which they volunteered to do at the last board meeting. Member Maureen Richichi said that before the kits are handed out, “we need to come up with some simple guidance that tells people how to best use the home test.”
“All of these new hoops and hurdles that get put in front of the public health staff — Bedford should be feeling pretty good that we have these tests hopefully coming pretty soon,” Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman said at her meeting. “If anything, this pandemic has told us to expect the unexpected.”
Porter told her board that during the most recent two-week period, there were 294 Covid-19 cases in the town. However, she added, that number does not include the self-tests. Monthly local case totals, she reported, were December 433, November 122, October 48. “Our numbers are constantly fluctuating as we process them,” she said. “Every which way you turn, there’s just so much. This is astronomical.”
The director added that two patients afflicted with Covid-19 died at the VA Hospital near the end of December, the only local deaths from the virus in the last quarter of the year.
Porter told the board that the pharmacy department at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital is serving as a depository for the doses of Pfizer vaccine that Bedford has secured for clinics. The vaccine arrives in 1,000-vial orders “and they keep it under deep freeze for us and distribute it 200 at a time.” She said the volunteer CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and the nurses are keys to executing vaccine clinics.
Richichi asked whether the schools or municipal offices have responded to the health board’s recommendation for mandating vaccination among staff. I’m disappointed that it has taken them this long,” she said. Board Chair Anita Raj replied, “We were made to understand that there were complications with collective bargaining agreements.”
Select Board Chair Fleischman referenced the vaccination recommendation when she asked Stanton about municipal staffing and continuity.
The manager answered, “It has been a tough couple of weeks but we work to ensure continuity of operations. Department heads and staff continue to be very resilient about the ever-changing guidelines.” Department heads are enforcing the mask mandate and “fighting that urge to come to work when you’re sick.” Stanton mentioned a vaccine requirement only in the context of how it would involve employee unions.
Member Susan Schwartz asked at the Board of Health meeting if there is a “common language” that can help residents navigate fast-changing protocols. Dagle said the department’s website “is the best place for people to go to get that information.” She also said the category of “quarantine and isolation” under the state site mass.gov is also helpful.
Porter noted, “We have a partnership with the Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps, a group of public health students who are assisting with outreach and education messaging materials and “may also be able to provide some in-person support.” The program is offered by the Massachusetts Health Officers Association, she said.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763