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Bellingham Responds to COVID-19

Mar 13, 2020 07:03PM ● By Pamela Johnson
written by Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer
 
The town of Bellingham is following the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s lead in responding to the Coronavirus disease 2019 threat (COVID-19). As of this deadline, no cases have been diagnosed in Bellingham, though there have been confirmed cases in Norfolk County. As of March 13th, Governor Baker has declared a State of Emergency and a ban on gatherings of over 250 people. The situation is evolving rapidly, and though the Governor left the decision to close schools up to individual districts, many districts, including Bellingham, are shutting their doors for two weeks or more to contain the spread of the virus.
           
“We have held several meetings with key staff and first responders as to protocol and personal protective equipment,” Bellingham Health Agent Bruce Wilson said. “Currently the policy is to self-isolate at home for 14 days, but things could change if more cases of the virus happen.”
           
According to CDC guidelines (www.cdc.gov/COVID19), COVID-19 is “a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.” Risk of infection is higher for people who are in close contact with someone known to have the illness, necessitating the cancellation or closure of many events and changes in policy detailed below.

“The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” CDC literature says. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, while severe complications can include pneumonia, multiple-organ failure, and in some cases death.

The CDC recommends avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, as well as using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. They urge people to stay home if they’re sick, cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw it in the trash, and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

There is currently no vaccine, and CDC has issued the following guidelines for people sick with COVID-19: stay home except to get medical care, separate yourself from other people and animals in the home, call ahead before visiting the doctor, wear a facemask around other people, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid sharing household items, clean hands often, clean all “high-tough” surfaces every day, and monitor your symptoms.

“Patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low,” guidelines say. Those decisions are made on a case-to-case basis in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.

Bellingham Public Library instituted the following procedures: all programs in the library meeting spaces are canceled, afterschool programs will continue as long as schools remain open, and toys are being removed from the children’s play area. While library hours and services for books and other circulating materials will continue as normal, this policy is subject to change. They encourage patrons to check out online offerings, including reserving library materials online, downloading e-books and magazines, learning a new language, and taking a course online. Questions about the policy can be directed to the Bellingham Library at (508) 966-1660.

While as of this posting the Bellingham Senior Center is keeping normal hours, they ask that patrons call ahead to find out if the program they’re participating in has been cancelled, since things may change daily. “In an attempt to limit exposure, BINGO will be cancelled next week and other cancellations will be determined based on instructor willingness to host, for now,” reads the Facebook page, adding, “Please don’t let fear win over hope as our country and our world combat this virus – we are here with listening ears if you need us. 508-966-0398.”

The Senior Center is NOW CLOSED, but prior to closing, they issued the following policies and practices:
  • We ask that EVERYONE make use of soap and water, washing hands for 20 seconds, when appropriate, and using hand sanitizer, which is available throughout the building, when necessary.
  • Staff will wipe down all surfaces that individuals touch throughout the day at closing time each day, wiping down including drivers and Lysol spraying the buses.
  • No seniors should use the touch screen for checking in unless they put on a pair of gloves. If you have forgotten your card, and don’t want to put on gloves, please check in at the welcome desk.
  • If you consider yourself to be frail, please avoid any of our large gatherings (60 or more) for the foreseeable future.
  • If you do not feel well or have any of the following symptoms, please stay home and/or call your doctor: runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, difficulty breathing
The decision to close schools has been left up to local districts. Bellingham closed Friday, March 13th, to do a deep clean of the building and finalize plans in case a longer closure is necessary. Superintendent Marano participated in a conference call with the Department of Education for additional guidance, and notice was sent out to families on Friday the 13th that the district intends to close at least through April 7.  Extra-curricular activities, clubs, and sports are also canceled, and Marano’s letter promised that teachers and administrators will be communicating their educational plans shortly.

“Before March 27th, we will work with local and state officials to assess the status and efficacy of this closing,” Marano’s email read. “While there is no presumptive case in Bellingham, there are many instances of imposed and self-quarantines. Because of the paucity of readily available testing for the virus, there is a degree of uncertainty about the number of cases. This decision has been made in consultation with our local Boards of Health, and it is intended to be proactive and not reactive. Many public health experts have said that we are in a period when there should be ‘proportional mitigation,’ i.e., a response to avoid a sustainable community spread. There is a growing body of research that supports aggressive measures to stop any potential spreading.”
 
Their first email, on February 27th, urged parents to keep students home if they’re sick, with a reminder of the CDC guidelines above, noting that school custodians were vigilantly sanitizing desks and door handles, along with the educational setting, as they usually do during cold and flu season. A follow-up email on March 11th let parents know about the State of Emergency declared by Governor Baker, which provides the district with guidance. Their recommendations include the following:
  • Districts are urged to cancel any out-of-state travel that may have been planned. (This includes the popular 8th-grade trip to Washington DC and the senior trip to Disney, as well as 6th-grade overnight at Camp Bournedale.)
  • It is recommended that during large school events, like music/drama events, older community members and those that are at an increased risk of illness avoid those large gatherings.
  • Anyone exhibiting any flu-like or upper-respiratory symptoms are asked to refrain from coming to any large school event; that includes anyone with a fever over 100 degrees.
  • If families choose to keep a child or children home from participating in any music/drama events, they will not be penalized for not attending.
Other local schools are also affected. Ben Franklin Charter, Blackstone Valley Technical High, and Norfolk Agricultural High schools also remain closed until March 30th.

“It is important to remember that this situation is fluid; we must be prepared for the likelihood of changes with little or no notice. We may cancel an event the day of or an hour before. We would prefer not to do this, but we are committed to following an informed decision-making process to avoid implementation measures that will not help our community,” Marano’s March 11 email read. “Together we can try to prevent the spread of this virus in our community.”

 

 

 

 

 

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