Letter: City must be more active fighting COVID-19

Editor’s note: Westfield resident Sandra Mackler asked that we print this letter, addressed to the Westfield Board of Health.

I attended the Westfield Board of Health meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 10, that was conducted via Zoom.  The board explained that the meeting was not held in City Hall out of concern for board members and the public, given the recent rise in COVID rates in Westfield. You shared that our current vaccination rate is at 50 percent, lower than the three cities (West Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke) that are considered comparable. You indicated that of the 99 new cases last week, 72 percent were unvaccinated.

I would add that Westfield’s vaccination rate has been consistently below Hampden County and significantly below the state’s vaccination rate of 70 percent.

Had I not attended that meeting, I would have no idea that the number of people contracting the virus was increasing.

There is no question that the vaccine is now readily available in Westfield, and I appreciate everything that has been done to make that happen. What I have yet to see is the city take the lead to actively promote the vaccination.

I understand that you all have other responsibilities that have nothing to do with the vaccination rate. But based on what I’ve seen, or haven’t seen from this group, I have to conclude that for some unknown reason, there have been inadequate resources devoted to increasing Westfield’s vaccination rate.

I’ve noted that you’ve made some recent efforts to provide more information on your web site, and that is much appreciated. But we all know that not many people follow your web site, and as of now (Nov. 14, at 8 p.m.), your website includes information only through Nov. 3.

I’ve read your occasional articles in the local newspaper, but I know, like I’m sure you all do, that young people don’t read newspapers. I have to believe that you all agree that Westfield’s vaccination rate is not acceptable, and that we can do better.

I’ve volunteered at the Westfield soup kitchen for 25 years.  We are now approaching our second winter handing out brown bag meals on the sidewalk. To say that it is not the same is a huge understatement. Our volunteers and the folks who come for dinner no longer spend time together in a warm, safe space (or in AC in the summer). We no longer have the opportunity to share community resources, bring in guest speakers, and just check in on each other. Our sense of community is gone. Some of the folks I’ve known for years have disappeared. Some have died of COVID. Everyone wants to go back to the way it used to be, and none of us see an end in sight. Maybe if we saw a significant rise in our vaccination rate, we could open our doors again.

It’s not enough to provide access to the vaccination. We were told that your plan was to pivot away from contact tracing, and focus your efforts on city-sponsored vaccination sites. The underlying assumption was that more people will show up for city-sponsored vaccinations, as opposed to going to one of the local drugstores that are currently offering the vaccine.

I would respectfully suggest that you have no reason to believe that your plan will be successful.

The Board of Health should be providing timely updates, to include when we should be wearing masks when indoors, and how to wear them properly. We should be hearing that everyone eligible for the vaccine should get the vaccine. We need to get the word out that people are still getting sick, people are still dying, and that young people can die too.

I believe you have more potential influence than you may realize. The message needs to come from you. But this will take time, effort, creativity and financial support. Not every strategy will work, and some will work better than others, but maintaining a web site and placing occasional articles in the paper is clearly not enough.

As a concerned Westfield resident and taxpayer, I think we need someone representing the Board of Health whose sole responsibility is to educate and inform Westfield residents, and reach out to the unvaccinated in our community.

The Board of Health should be more relevant now than in any other time in my memory. You are in a position to make an impact on our community. But you have to make increasing Westfield’s vaccination rate a priority, and then you have to take action to make it happen. Please take a stand and go public with your message, and explore every possible means of outreach to the 50 percent of our community who remain unvaccinated.

I’ve had friends and family who’ve died from this virus.

I don’t want anyone else to get sick when we have a vaccine that works.

I want to serve meals at soup kitchen in a heated space in the winter and in air-conditioned space in the summer.

I want to go to a family reunion again.

We all want things to go back to normal. I believe that you, our Board of Health, can make a difference. Now is the time to act to get more of us vaccinated.

Sandra Mackler

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