By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair and Joe Rouse, health director
WESTFIELD – One hundred thirteen million vaccines have been administered out of 147 million distributed in the US. There are 29,490,832 cases of COVID-19 and 536,734 deaths (May they rest in peace). These numbers illustrate, once again, the need for hope and great caution.
This week it was announced that we have a case of the Brazilian variant in Massachusetts causing some fear because preliminary studies have found this strain to be twice as contagious. It also has the ability to reinfect individuals who already had the virus. Studies suggest the vaccine is effective against P.1. variant. This was is a 30 year-old woman who was ill and tested positive for COVID-19 in February. Her sample was just recently tested for variants. No need to panic that it has just arrived in our state but be very concerned that these variants are far more widespread that we currently know.
We need to worry that restrictions are loosening, along with the increase testing and announcements of expected variants. Peter Currier had a piece in today’s paper where he briefly covered the eligibility update but we wanted to expand on that and include some of the other changes: Governor Baker announced this week that we will be advancing to Phase 4 step 1 of the reopening plan on Monday, March 22. Before getting into the new guidelines, it should be noted that progressing to Phase 4 is a significant milestone.
Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been waiting for the day when this announcement would be made. We were all told that Phase 4 would mean that a viable treatment and/or a vaccine would be available. Last Spring, achieving Phase 4 status seemed like a dream that was light years away. Here we are. So, a big thanks to all the residents who listened to the guidance, adhered to the control measures and respected the seriousness of this horrible pandemic. But our fight has not yet ended.
We need to continue to be diligent about all of the same precautions that we have observed for the past year. Masks, social distancing and all the health and safety guidelines need to continue even entering into this “New Normal.” The last thing we want is to regress back to Phase 3. Below is a summary of the changes going into effect starting Monday:
1). Vaccination eligibility timeline:
- March 22nd – Residents 60+ and certain workers (Restaurant, Grocery and Convenience Store, Transportation and Sanitation, Funeral directors and Court system workers).
- April 5th – Residents 55+ and residents with one certain medical condition.
- April 19 – General public 16+.
2). The existing Travel Order will be replaced with a Travel Advisory effective March 22nd. The advisory does not apply to anyone in the following categories:
- Anyone returning to MA after an absence of fewer than 24 hours.
- Travelers who have a negative COVID-19 test result administered up to 72 hours prior to arrival in MA.
- Critical infrastructure workers entering MA.
- Travelers who have been fully vaccinated 14 days or more ago and who do not have symptoms.
3). Gathering limits effective March 22nd:
- Event venues and public settings will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors.
- Outdoor gatherings at private residences will remain at 25 people, with indoor house gatherings remaining at 10 people.
- Dance floors will be permitted at weddings and other EVENTS only and overnight summer camps will be allowed.
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.