By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair and Joe Rouse, health director
Decision makers and elected officials are as anxious as the public to reopen because there is so much pressure to do so. But with overwhelming sadness and frustration, we have to say this pandemic is not over. Numbers of COVID cases and deaths are rising in our community and world wide. We all should be terrified, heeding all public health measures. We should not be planning trips, declaring we’ve had enough and have already done our part. Think of those that have passed due to this pandemic and don’t have a choice anymore. Think of the families that can never have that family vacation ever again. There is no end to this until we all participate. We have a collective responsibility to save the lives of our family, friends, neighbors and strangers. If each person could only realize that their negligence may actually and unknowingly be the cause of someone else’s death, maybe we could finally see the light at the end of this very long tunnel.
US mortality rate for 2020 was 16% higher than 2019. COVID-19 was the 3rd leading cause of death. There are presently 30,277,908 documented US cases and 549,098 deaths. On a positive note, 154 million vaccines have been administered. On the negative side of the vaccine, vaxfinder.mass.gov is coming up daily with no available vaccines. Peter Currier has shared in Friday’s paper the rise in numbers in Westfield.
Contact tracing is an important tool in protecting you, your family and our community. It is not new to this pandemic but has been used to stop the spread of infectious diseases since the influenza pandemic of 1918. The purpose is to explore and confirm contact with a COVID-19 positive person and instruct on current guidelines. The definition of a “close contact” has been constantly evolving with the more we learn about this virus. Public health nurses and officials receive updates on a daily basis making them the best resource for this information as well as the latest guidelines for quarantining. If you need any support or assistance during this time, we have services and referrals to help you. You will be advised to monitor your symptoms. Symptoms usually appear 2-14 days after exposure. If you have the virus, you are communicable 48 hrs before showing symptoms or testing positive.
It is important to know that your name and health information is confidential. We do not share your name with any contacts we notify. Please answer the phone or call back as soon as possible if you receive a call. Contacts and their phone numbers will be requested. We also encourage you to let your contacts know of your positive test. Call us, if we haven’t called you and you know you have been exposed or tested positive. We will be calling again, to monitor how you are doing.
Presently in our city, our health department, in conjunction with the state’s Community Tracing Collaborative, is working hard to keep you healthy and stop the spread with tracing. We are lucky to have a well trained, educated, dedicated and hard working department. Many communities do not have this resource. Contact tracing is not an easy job. People are frustrated, scared and unhappy. The phone number we have may be incorrect. When your local health department is doing the tracing, we have more opportunity to find you. As the state is opening up, the number of contacts becomes greater. Westfield School Nurses helped during the summer with this work that never ends. Presently, Sally Popoli, retired school RN, Crystal Dugay, Contact Tracing Coordinator and Lauren Blakeley, WSU nursing student, have been indispensable helping our RNs Evelyn Bristol and Debra Mulvenna. Many thanks to all of them. They are in daily consultation facilitating tracing within our schools to keep our students, staff and teachers safe. In the beginning, staff were actually hand delivering Quarantine Notices to homes.
It is a little known fact that your doctor, your NP or PA cannot technically order you in or out of quarantine or isolation. They can advise and recommend, but the health department has the legal authority to quarantine you and release you from quarantine. There are many factors that are considered for these decisions. Your employer has the right to impose more restrictive guidelines if they choose. This has been a problem for some as it leads to frustration when receiving different information and guidance from various sources. Listen to your Public Health Department. We are here for you.
Alas, contact tracing is only one tool of many in this pandemic. The time and effort spent by many is essentially useless if we don’t have individual and community cooperation with all aspects of stopping the spread. We understand everyone is tired of isolating, quarantining, wearing masks and everything COVID, but we can’t give up. What you do in this pandemic dictates what we have to do. Please don’t make the hard work of ours and every other Public Health Department futile. WE NEED YOUR HELP! Take care of yourself and someone else.
Dedicated health department members who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic are: Debra Mulvenna RN, Assistant Director Evelyn Bristol RN, Steve Cipriani, Health Inspector Thomas Hibert, Health Inspector Cheryl McMordie, Office Manager Crystal Dugay, Kathi Cotugno, CORE coordinator
Other Board Members: Margaret Doody, Stan Strzempko MD
WE KEEP WORKING TO KEEP YOU SAFE Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Avoid gatherings. Stay home. Save lives.
Look for us in next Saturday’s edition.