Board of Health Continues to Respond to Pandemic

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The Board of Health met on November 30 to review a proposed policy statement on Covid-19 testing that had been postponed from the previous meeting. They also discussed board policies,  deep cleaning, and warming centers in the case of a winter power outage.

Board Chair Sarah Thompson asked member Ann Kiessling to consult with Town Counsel or the State Ethics Commission as to her participation in formulating a testing policy for the Town.  Kiessling is the Director of the Bedford Research Foundation, a nonprofit that offers Covid-19 tests. Kiessling agreed that she would seek that opinion. The board voted to postpone discussion of the testing policy until its next meeting.

Separately, Kiessling circulated a draft proposal for a broader overall Covid-19 policy to members of the board. Sarah Thompson, chair, reviewed elements of the Open Meeting Law which require that such a document be circulated with the agenda, and therefore be available to the public prior to the meeting.  Thompson also reminded board members that the Open Meeting Law prohibits discussion or debate of BOH topics outside of a posted meeting.  With that in mind, Thompson recommended the board table its discussion of the testing policy until December 14.

Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services, reported that testing of municipal employees is underway, and she is looking forward to rolling out the program for community-wide testing. The plan is to use the drive-through method similar to that used for the flu clinic. The primary testing personnel for the Town COVID testing program are Bedford Firefighters and EMTs. As a backup to firefighters and EMTs, town nurses and nurse volunteers are slated to receive training to conduct testing.

Porter noted that there has been no transmission within the schools but from families. Community Nurse Mark Waksmonski reported 29 positive new cases since the last report two weeks ago. They are believed to have been transmitted through travel or other social interactions. None originated through-school exposure but from household members.

Kiessling asked if there is a pediatrician working with the schools or on the Covid-19 task force.  Porter replied, “Yes, there is a consulting pediatrician,” but he is not part of the task force.  She also asked, “Have any of these people required the services of the social worker? “Yes, Wakmonski replied, “two involved food insecurity and another with financial difficulties.”

Kiessling pursued the creation of a wider Board of Health policy statement on managing Covid-19 to guide residents, schools, the library, and other town entities.

Porter explained that Bedford uses the CDC and Massachusetts Board of Health guidance, modifying as needed. She added, “The Board of Health’s mission is to provide guidelines for the community.  The situation is fluid and things change frequently. I just want to make sure everybody understands that the board has been doing its job.”

“With or without a policy we are focusing on what people need,” Porter explained.  “We do that on a staff level.  There are communications already set up that we are using.  Conversations are happening. The BOH does take its job very seriously and does respond.”

Board member Bea Brunkhorst suggested doing some research to see what the needs are. She volunteered to attend a school committee meeting to see what they need.  Porter agreed to contact the schools and arrange for Brunkhorst to be on a school committee agenda.

What’s involved in “deep cleaning” of facilities where positive cases have been reported?  Assistant Health Director Katharine Dagle reported eight businesses had found positive tests and they must close for deep cleaning. There is no standard definition but deep cleaning involves cleaning every surface with an appropriate chemical. Dagle said many facilities have contracts for regular cleaning and do not have to be closed long for deep cleaning, usually less than 24 hours. Fogging can be used.

What about “warming centers” for residents, in the event of power outages?  Porter replied that the town typically uses the Reed Room at Town Hall.  Options are being explored for placing people with symptoms in one of the local hotels.


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3 thoughts on “Board of Health Continues to Respond to Pandemic

  1. Thank you to Ann Kiessling for her professionalism and willingness to serve on the Board of Health. We are very fortunate to have her. I welcome her contributions as well.

  2. Joseph, I second your opinion.

    How fortunate we are have to have a renowned and dedicated health professional such as Dr. Kiessling as a Bedford Resident. Her professional pedigree is outstanding and matched only by her integrity, and lifetime dedication to advance human health. I sorely suspect that the voices seeking to “quieten” Dr Kiessling do not boast similar credentials.

    While we wait for the vaccine rollout, testing is the answer to allow us to manage our lives during the pandemic. I am sure that there are many Bedford parents who would be interested in hearing how a well thought out testing program could get our children and teachers back into the classrooms with confidence about their safety.

    As a Bedford resident, I would welcome an opportunity to review her testing proposal.

    Dr Donna Taneja

  3. Circulating documents to committee members that will be discussed at upcoming meetings is not a violation of the Open Meeting Law. This is done routinely by all Bedford boards and committees. I think it is very sad to see the chair of this board publicly criticize Ann Kiessling for trying to do the right thing, especially after all of her efforts to implement a COVID-19 testing program for all Bedford residents. We are very fortunate to have Ms. Kiessling, a health professional who is a nationally recognized leader in her field, serve on the Board of Health.
    Here is what the open meeting law guide published by the Attorney generals Office says on page 6: “The Open Meeting Law defines deliberation as “an oral or written communication through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body on any public business within its jurisdiction.” Distribution of a meeting agenda, scheduling or procedural information, or reports or documents that may be discussed at a meeting is often helpful to public body members when preparing for upcoming meetings. These types of communications generally will not constitute deliberation, provided that, when these materials are distributed, no member of the public body expresses an opinion on matters within the body’s jurisdiction.” I also do not see a requirement that they be attached to the meeting agenda.

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