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Town braces as COVID-19 cases rise

With the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts increasing at an unsettling rate, both the state and the town implemented further restrictions over the past week in an attempt to stop the spread. As of March 24, the number of cases in Massachusetts had grown to 1159, a 50% increase from the previous day; 73 of those cases were in Worcester County. Eleven Massachusetts residents had succumbed to the disease, including an Ayer woman in her 50s with a preexisting condition. No one in Harvard had tested positive as of that date.

Gov. Baker ordered all nonessential businesses closed by noon March 24 and lowered the number of people that may gather in one space from 25 to 10, matching federal guidelines. Day care providers were ordered to close their doors until April 7, except for those who will remain open to care for the children of essential personnel, such as health care workers, emergency response personnel, and grocery store employees. The Harvard Board of Health told the Press that its members will not be actively checking for compliance with Baker’s order regarding nonessential businesses. However, they will investigate complaints and follow the state protocol if noncompliance is found.

Locally, the town closed all athletic fields, parks, the Common, the town beach, and the McCurdy track. The overlook on Prospect Hill Road is now also closed. Police Chief Ed Denmark told the Press that the police were receiving complaints about young people gathering in those locations, and they couldn’t do anything about it without the town order. Denmark added that trying to break up those gatherings put his police force at risk. “We are so small that one infected person could shut down the whole department,” he said.

Denmark said that, in general, people are adhering to the request to stay home, and the town has been quiet. As for the health of his workers, “so far, so good,” he said. Ambulance Service Director Jason Cotting said as of yet there have been no calls related to COVID-19.

Department of Public Works Director Tim Kilhart told the Press it’s business as usual, with a few social distancing changes. Public works are considered an essential business, and Kilhart said his crew has no shortage of work. But only one person can be in a vehicle at a time, so when a job requires two workers, two trucks have to go out. As with the Police Department, Kilhart reported that the DPW is fully staffed and no one is ill.

Caucus, elections recheduled

Town buildings remain closed to the public, but information on how to conduct business normally done in person at Town Hall is available on the town website. The Town Caucus has been rescheduled to May 11, the Town Election was moved to June 23, and the special election to fill former Massachusetts Rep. Jen Benson’s seat in the Legislature has been postponed until June 2 (see story, page 1).

At a March 24 Board of Health meeting, member Sharon McCarthy told the board that the state had just released the first of two rounds of funding to help local boards of health. Sanitarian Ira Grossman said the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health (NABH) had already received its share of that funding, $100,000, to deal with COVID-19 cases in the 17 towns it covers, including Harvard. Currently there is only one nurse to do the job of notifying first responders of positive cases in their towns and tracing contacts of people who have tested positive. Grossman said NABH is discussing what to do with the funds, but will likely use them to hire at least one more nurse. McCarthy added that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is reaching out to universities that have schools of public health looking for students to assist boards of health with the contact-tracing effort.

BOH urges opening fields, track

The board also discussed the closing of the track. Member Libby Levison, who had attended an emergency management team meeting earlier in the week, said the Select Board will discuss whether McCurdy Track should be reopened at a public meeting on March 26. It will also consider opening the athletic fields, which were closed along with the schools a few weeks ago. McCarthy said those areas should be reopened to help maintain “residents’ mental health during this stressful time.” The board voted unanimously to support opening the athletic fields and the track during daylight hours, provided users practice social distancing.

As residents continue to isolate, both the Harvard Council on Aging (COA) and Nextdoor Harvard are spearheading efforts to organize volunteers willing to help those who are not willing or able to go out to get necessities. The COA has set up an “Adopt a Senior” program (see story, page 1), and Nextdoor Harvard is using a Help Map feature that allows residents to sign up to help or ask for help.

Emerson Hospital Public Relations Manager Leah Lesser told the Press that the hospital has seen “an outpouring of community support.” Organizations, businesses, and area residents are not only making and donating masks, but also dropping off items such as pastries, pizza, and flowers for staff. “It gives everyone such a lift,” she said. Lesser said that anyone who wants to help the hospital should go to emersonhospital.org and click on “How You Can Help.” The page contains a list of the hospital’s current needs along with tutorials for making masks.

To help Harvard residents stay informed of what’s on, off, or altered in Harvard and nearby towns, the Press has posted a “State of the Town” document on its website. The list is currently being updated daily, and it includes information on news, town government, schools, churches, and businesses such as local restaurants, supermarkets, and pharmacies.

Keeping informed

If you have not done so yet, please register for MyConnect on the town website to receive townwide announcements as either a phone call, email, or text message. To sign up, click the “One-Step Notification Sign Up Now” button on the town website home page. All announcements will also be posted on the town website. Questions regarding town operations during the COVID-19 emergency may be emailed to asktheTA@Harvard.ma.us. The town website also has a COVID-19 page with various updates from the town administrator at https://www.harvard.ma.us/home/news/coronavirus-covid-19.

Up-to-date information on COVID-19 is available at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov and at mass.gov/resource/inform ation-on-the-outbreak-of-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19. Massachusetts residents can also subscribe to up-to-the-minute notifications from state health officials by texting COVIDMA to 888-777. The nonprofit mass211.org provides free, confidential information in several languages, both on its website and for callers who dial 211; callers may experience delays because of the high volume of calls.

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