Kiessling, a member of the board, has not wavered in her contention that mandatory face-covering does little to protect the community. She said at Monday’s board meeting that the key to a safer environment is air movement.
“The cases keep going up, even with an indoor mask mandate and a huge percentage vaccinated,” Kiessling said. “The public health message needs to change.”
The other board members agreed – but only as part of what they have called a “multi-pronged” approach” to managing the coronavirus.
“The most important factor in keeping people from getting infected is moving the air,” Kiessling declared. “That is exactly how all virology research is done; that’s the way operating rooms are set up.” If people are celebrating the holidays with others from outside the household, she said, they “need to figure out how to keep the air in your home moving,” preferably with fresh air.
She shared data from the past two-and-a-half months comparing Bedford and the five surrounding towns on Covid cases. Some of the towns do not require face-covering indoors. “Indoor masks in area towns don’t seem to be making a difference. How much more data do we need that we are not at any greater risk than Burlington or Concord?”
Kiessling said the figures from the state Department of Public Health demonstrate that “whether or not there is a mask mandate, we will continue to see a rise in cases.” She said, “the clustering happens when people go to activities,” enumerating various social events.
Kiessling pointed out that Health Department data show that more than 40 percent of local cases are among vaccinated residents. Asked if state health officials are addressing that situation in its weekly conference calls, town Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter said the recent focus has been on vaccinating children.
“I’m not sure vaccination and masking is the best public health strategy to keep people safe over the holidays,” Kiessling said. The mask mandate, she added, is “bankrupting some of our small businesses and we should have a real reason to continue that. It’s affecting a lot of people’s livelihoods and I don’t think it has been proven to be that effective.”
Air movement is “really sound advice,” said member Bea Brunkhorst, but it is one of several strategies. Others are vaccination, testing, and face-covering. Brunkhorst, an immunologist and cell biologist, also spoke optimistically about the impact of booster shots on the neutralizing antibodies, which combat the virus.
“The data on masking is not clear or definitive,” said member Maureen Richichi. “I agree we need to get air ventilation out there and a clearer message about masks—cloth masks are the most inadequate. I still believe from all my reading that they are an important part of the toolbox when they are worn correctly.”
“As people get fatigued with this they tend to rely on the masks; distancing is still important,” Richichi said. Covid “is not like the flu yet. We need to use all the things to keep transmission low and keep kids in school.”
Member Susan Schwartz endorsed keeping air flowing in homes and keeping windows open in moving vehicles. “Keep things moving,” she said, and she added, “I think masks are doing something as part of our comprehensive recommendations. There is value in masking.”
Also at the meeting, Porter cited an increase in Covid case count for the period Nov. 5-18. The total was 39 (according to the state Department of Public Health), the highest two-week total since Sept. 30. “We’re coming into the holiday season, so I’m a little concerned,” she said.
The cases included 18 breakthroughs and 11 unvaccinated children. Porter said there were seven households reporting at least two cases apiece.
Almost 400 children ages 5-11 have been inoculated at the two Health Department clinics, Porter said; there are about 1,200 residents in that age range. Some will begin receiving their second dose as soon as next week. “Many of the children and parents were excited that the town could offer it,” said Board of Health Chair Anita Raj. The kids saw their friends there—it was cool to watch.”
Katharine Dagle, assistant health director, reported that over the past two weeks, seven businesses reported that employees tested positive for Covid-19. Since these reports are not required, she said, “There is likely to be more positives than that number reflects.” She added that there were two complaints in connection with the mask mandate.
A few weeks ago the committee agreed to rescind the town’s indoor mask mandate if Middlesex County Covid cases fell below 100 per 100,000 residents for four consecutive weeks. Porter told the meeting that the most recent case count is around 169. She added that the Covid dashboard in the town website won’t be updated until next Monday because of the holiday weekend.
Richichi said she is still concerned that, according to Health Department statistics, less than 80 percent of residents older than 70 have been vaccinated. “How can we do outreach to our most vulnerable?” She told Porter, “I know you’re trying; it’s just frustrating.”
Porter told the board of her fruitless search to fill the position of Bedford’s community nurse, which has been vacant for more than a month. She said she is contacting area universities as well as online employment services. “There is stiff competition out there,” she said.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763
Correction, November 28, 2021: Booster shots impact the neutralizing antibodies which combat the virus; not the ‘neutralization of antibodies’ as the article originally stated.