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COVID-19 Roundup: Town joins state’s phased reopening, with tweaks

On May 18, after eight weeks of a statewide stay-at-home advisory, Massachusetts transitioned to a “safer-at-home” advisory, and the first of four phases of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan began. Some sectors were allowed to open May 18, others on May 25, and all will have to abide by a long list of sector-specific mandatory safety practices.

Manufacturing, construction, and places of worship were given the green light on May 18. The following week, hair salons and barbershops, pet grooming, car washes, laboratories, and office spaces (except those in Boston) will join the list. Some outdoor recreational areas will also be allowed to reopen as long as mandatory safety practices are followed.

Town Hall will open its doors to the public on a trial basis May 26. In a letter to employees, Town Administrator Tim Bragan said the building will be open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for the first week and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the second week. Members of the public must wear a face covering when entering the building. No more than six members of the public will be allowed in the building at one time, and only one person at a time will be allowed in the land use office, the town administration area, and the building inspector’s office. Appointments must be made at least one day in advance to speak with someone in those three areas of the building. The public is encouraged to make appointments in the other departments as well, and to continue to use online services and email to conduct business with the town.

The state is allowing parks and open spaces to reopen May 25, and in response the town will open McCurdy Track and the overlook on Prospect Hill Road that day. The state is also allowing athletic fields and courts to open for noncontact sports, with no organized or pickup games allowed. But Bragan told the Select Board at its May 19 meeting that Harvard’s Emergency Response Team decided to keep athletic fields closed for now. The town will allow courts to open for tennis and pickleball, singles-play (two people per court) only.

Beaches: Work in progress

The state is also allowing beaches to open May 25, but the town beach will remain closed until June 1. The plan for June 1 is to open the beach with no lifeguards. The building will remain closed, but a portable bathroom will be available for visitors, sanitized hourly by the staff that will be checking beach stickers. Parks and Recreation Commission member Bob O’Shea told the Press that the current phase requirements for sanitization and social distancing, especially for young children, are too difficult for the town to enforce. He said the town hopes that changes in those rules in future phases will make normal operations at the beach possible this summer. Playgrounds are not on the state’s reopening list for this phase; all town playgrounds will remain closed for now.The town reminds residents that the governor’s orders banning groups larger than 10 and requiring face coverings if social distancing cannot be maintained are still in effect, and those orders will continue to be enforced by the Board of Health through the Harvard Police Department. Also, all trash at outdoor recreational areas in town will be carry-in and carry-out; no receptacles will be provided.

Although places of worship may reopen, the state continues to recommend holding services virtually or outdoors, and it advises older people and those with underlying health conditions not to attend indoor services. Services held in a building must abide by strict social distancing rules, and face coverings are required for attendees over the age of 5. In addition, the total number of attendees and staff may not exceed 40% of the building’s permitted occupancy.

Locally, a representative of St. Theresa’s Church told the Press it will open May 31, which is the date of the Christian holiday Pentecost. Masses will continue to be taped and posted on YouTube for those who do not wish to attend. The Congregational Church’s board of deacons was scheduled to meet May 20 to discuss its reopening plans, and the Unitarian Universalist Church’s Rev. Jill Cowie told the Press the church will be convening a working group to create safe protocols for reopening, but they are in no hurry. “We want to make sure we do this right,” she said, adding that virtual services will continue for now.

To see the complete lists of each sector’s mandatory and recommended practices, including those for outdoor recreation, go to www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-massachusetts#sector-specific-protocols-and-best-practices.

For more information on the safer-at-home advisory, go to www.mass.gov/news/safer-at-home-advisory.

The town website now has a COVID-19 community information page with helpful information for residents as well as resource links; the Board of Health webpage also has COVID-19 health-related information.

By the Numbers: COVID-19 weekly update

Harvard’s cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began— as reported by the state—remains at 16 on May 20. No new deaths were reported to the Press during that time.

Statewide, the increase in numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continued to slow for the third week in a row. In the week between May 12 and May 19, the number of confirmed cases grew by about 8,600, just slightly lower than the 9,000-case increase the previous week. The number of deaths caused by the disease during that time period increased by 797, down from an increase of 929 the prior week. During that same week, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state dropped by 655 after dropping by 415 the week before.

The news locally is finally improving, too. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Emerson Hospital fell to 31 on May 19, far lower than the peak of 52 on May 10. At the Memorial and University campuses of the UMass Medical Center in Worcester, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients fell to 143 on May 19 after reaching a peak of 192 on May 11. The DCU field hospital in Worcester will close later this week; on May 19 it had only nine remaining patients.

One piece of bad news is that the number of inmates at the Federal Medical Center in Devens who are currently positive for COVID-19 jumped from one to 18 in the week between May 12 and May 19. The Bureau of Prisons told the Press that it had begun testing asymptomatic inmates during the week of May 11, but it is unknown if that alone is responsible for the increase in positive cases. The number of staff members who are COVID-19 positive remained at two during that week, and no further deaths occurred. One inmate died of COVID-19 complications on May 4; up until that point, there had been no positive cases of COVID-19 at the prison.

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