Board of Health ~ Short Takes, 2 November 2020

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The Board of Health last week reviewed the implementation of new state policies designed to try to control the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19.

“We saw something coming and we are very grateful for the governor’s leadership to initiate this,” said Heidi Porter, director of the town’s Health and Human Services Department.

“Any time you are in public you will be wearing a mask now,” Porter said, “even if you’re walking around your own neighborhood.” Also, gatherings, including privately, are limited to no more than 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.

State and local law enforcement and public health departments are responsible for enforcement, Porter said. She noted that the penalty for violating the limit on gatherings is $500 per person exceeding the limit. So if there are 20 people at a private indoor gathering, that’s a fine of $5,000.

Porter said the town Covid-19 task force will discuss how to execute educational outreach as well as the process for enforcement. “We plan to do outreach with businesses and the community about the change,” she said.

Unlike the recent closure of ice hockey for two weeks, “this is indefinite,” Porter said. “The consideration is we do have Thanksgiving and Christmas and other holidays where folks have traditionally gathered. These will have some impact on those events. It’s a tough message to have to send out but it’s super important in preventing continued spread.”

The director noted that we expect changes to other sectors, like indoor youth and adult sports. A sector-specific order takes precedence.”

The board also labored to understand the sources of Bedford’s continuing cases of the virus. A detailed discussion with Mark Waksmonski, the community nurse in Health and Human Services, at a virtual board meeting yielded several bullet points:

  • Current active cases appear to have been spread by “social contact,” much of it involving young people.
  • Only two cases were asymptomatic. Several of the remainder were members of five separate households.
  • Residents are reluctant to acknowledge positivity because they fear “social backlash.”
  • Most residents infected recover after a few days.

Waksmonski said the case that triggered the high school’s recent pivot from a hybrid model to remote learning involved students who were together after school, though not on school grounds. Porter added, “We had a case that seemed supportive of in-school transmission.”

“We still have to manage some of the vitriolic anger relative to cases that do spread positively,” Waksmonski said. “People are very hesitant to share information for fear of the social response. I had a couple of people crying they fear the social backlash.’

Board Member Dr. Ann Kiessling, who was involved with research into the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) decades ago, said she witnessed “exactly the same problem” during that pandemic.

“The only answer is to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not,” she declared. “The guilt that people feel when they test positive is huge and it’s very possible that the outreach the Board of Health can do best is to make people understand that it’s OK if you test positive. We just need to know who they are.”

Waksmonski said that although his contact efforts have been fairly successful over the past couple of weeks, “their hesitancy is fear of social backlash.” Member Susan Schwartz replied that “this has made us into a shame and guilt society.” This is especially damaging to teenagers, Kiessling said.

Later in the meeting, Kiessling called for a board statement emphasizing the importance of testing people who show no symptoms. “We have to do all of the masks and social distancing and no Thanksgiving and all of that because we don’t know who is contagious. The problem is testing people who have no symptoms, not the people who are sick.” No one advanced her suggestion.

Schwartz pointed out that many people don’t understand the difference between “quarantine” and “isolation.” The latter precludes contact with anyone, even people in the same household. “Once they get it, they’re spreading it to people at home. It would be helpful to really explain how to isolate in your own home,” she said.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at, or 781-983-1763
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