Martone Excels in Her Role As Bellingham’s Public Health NurseSep 25, 2020 06:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey
by KEN HAMWEY, Contributing Writer
Esther Martone was appointed Bellingham’s public health nurse 14 months ago, in August, 2019, six months before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country. Instead of dealing strictly with the community’s routine health issues, the 42-year-old nurse became the go-to person to answer questions on how to cope and deal with Covid-19.
From March through June, Martone could be seen daily on Bellingham’s local cable-TV channel handling a plethora of questions as a member of the town’s Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). Questions were emailed to the town’s website and relayed to the veteran nurse, who works full time at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.
“If I was viewed as the go-to person on the virus, I was honored to be in that position,” Martone said. “I was glad to have the opportunity to lessen people’s fears and worries.”
Martone was patient and direct with her answers, never offering any suggestions or procedures without sound knowledge. “The two most frequently asked questions were what about the transmission of the virus on hard surfaces and are masks really needed?” she recalled. “People wanted to know how long the virus lasted on grocery bags, countertops, mail, and door handles. The masks became an issue because at first they weren’t required; then that all changed.”
Martone, who was appointed by the Board of Health, continues to brief that committee and other town officials on any updates or issues with the virus. As of Sept. 14, she said that Bellingham had 227 positive cases, 212 recoveries and 12 deaths.
Martone called the daily cable telecasts “wonderful” and was pleased that residents got their questions answered “from reliable sources.” Viewers were updated on the numbers—deaths and positive cases. “It was extremely important to get accurate statistics to the viewers,” Martone said. “They knew the virus was here, and they knew people were dying from it. It was important to reinforce that the pandemic was in our town.”
The Boston native said it’s imperative that everyone continue to do what’s necessary to keep the infection rate from spiking. She also says that as the weather gets cooler an increase in positive cases is likely to occur.
“As it gets colder, a spike seems natural because people will be indoors more often, and the air flow may not be good,” Martone noted. “And there’ll be some lax feelings toward the virus. The key is to keep washing your hands, continue to distance, wear a mask and use hand sanitizing lotion.”
Colder weather may also cloud whether residents actually have seasonal flu or covid-19. Martone said that if symptoms occur, call your doctor first. If a doctor sees you, follow his/her directions. “If a Covid-19 test is needed, be sure to get the PCR test,” Martone emphasized. “That’s the one that’s done with a nasal swab and it’s the most accurate. In the early days of the pandemic, there were lab problems with testing; but we’ve learned a lot more. Testing is better, but we still can do better.”
Martone admires the school department’s hybrid approach to re-opening. She believes that being cautious is the best medicine. “If it’s okay to go into a restaurant, then going to school is okay,” she said; “but all precautions must be maintained.”
As for hospitals, Martone noted that the plans they’ve implemented “are good.” She emphasized that their contingency plans, like utilizing isolation rooms, “are in place and effective.”
Covid-19 parties, which seem so misguided and reckless, have been criticized by Governor Baker at his news conference updates. He’s expressed how disappointed he is about the concept and the crowds at these gatherings. Martone said they’re “inexcusable,” but she’s not surprised. “People want to return to normalcy,” she said.
Martone is very pleased with the way Bellingham residents have dealt with the rules and regulations imposed by the Board of Health and the LEPC during the pandemic. “I was pleasantly surprised at how well townspeople adhered to the rules related to the pandemic,” she said. “They took the virus seriously and have done a fine job dealing with the requirements. And I’d like to thank all the members of the LEPC. There was good communication and everyone worked well together; thanks to the chairman, Mark Poirier, for his leadership.”
As pleased as Martone is with the town’s residents in dealing with guidelines, she’s hesitant to endorse getting a vaccine quickly. “I’m not in favor of rushing to find a vaccine,” she said. “My fear is that the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) is not taking all the necessary precautions that they normally would take.”
A resident of Bellingham for nine years, Martone is married, and she and her husband (Peter) have a son (Ian, 16). A graduate of East Boston High, she became an EMT after graduation and a year later enrolled at UMass-Boston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2003. She’s been a registered nurse for 17 years.
Besides keeping town officials updated on the virus, Martone maintains a strong focus on her other duties as the town’s public health nurse. She keeps track of communicable diseases (lyme disease, hepatitis, chicken pox, measles, etc.); runs blood pressure clinics at the senior center, along with other educational programs; and she communicates with residents on medical issues, either by email or via phone (Board of Health Department).Esther Martone may not think of herself as a go-to expert on Covid-19, but she certainly has become a valuable asset in Bellingham at a crucial time in the town’s history.