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State of the Town: Final Edition ... Latest COVID-19 news and developments

Updated Tuesday, June 30, 2020, at 10:00 a.m.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Harvard Press reporters have tracked the decisions of town government, businesses, schools, and other organizations as they have adjusted to state and local efforts to slow the spread of the virus. We have reviewed this information periodically and reported developments in this State of the Town newsletter. 

Although Harvard’s State of Emergency remains in effect and state and local restrictions to halt the spread of COVID-19 continue to evolve, we are suspending publication for the duration of our summer break. This is our final edition. However, we will continue to monitor developments in town and will report significant developments as breaking news here at harvardpress.com. 


Recent developments

Last chance to purchase a Transfer Station sticker for fiscal 2021

Transfer Station stickers for the coming fiscal year went on sale June 1 and must be purchased by Tuesday, June 30, either at the town website or by mail. The cost is $130 for up to two stickers per household. There is no senior discount, but anyone who is 65 on or before June 30 and buys a sticker by then will receive 30 15-gallon bags. The bags will be delivered to their homes in July. 

Most previously closed areas of the Transfer Station are now open. These include residential bulky waste dumpsters and areas for recycling tires, batteries, refrigerators, air conditioners, and televisions. The take-it-or-leave-it area will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Use of the newly-reopened recycle areas, including the bulky waste dumpster,  requires purchase of a punch card. Punch cards are available by mail and must be purchased ahead of time. For a complete list of fees and instructions on how to buy a punch card, check out Harvard Transfer Station Rules And Regulations.

The expiration date of any card that was set to expire in March, April, or May of this year has been extended by three months. 

The 49th annual Harvard Flea Market is canceled

The 49th annual 2020 Harvard Flea Market, a major fall fundraiser for both the League of Women Voters of Harvard and the Harvard Schools Trust, is canceled. LWV President Meg Bagdonas announced the decision in an email Monday afternoon citing the risk of spreading COVID-19 as the principal reason.

The decision to cancel was made jointly by the LWV and the Harvard Schools Trust, Bagdonas wrote. “Based upon the best national, state, and local guidelines available today, increased virus recurrence, and fall virus projections, we believe this is the wisest and safest decision for all concerned.”

The event, typically held Columbus Day weekend, draws hundreds of vendors and attendees from the region. Cancellation is a major financial blow to the flea market’s nonprofit sponsors, wrote Bagdonas, making LWV dues and contributions to the Trust “that much more important so that we may continue our essential work.”

Key measures of COVID-19’s impact on Massachusetts residents continue to improve

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health assesses the state’s progress in containing the spread of COVID-19 by monitoring six indicators. As of Sunday, June 28, three were positive and the rest were tagged “in progress.” A key indicator, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, has dropped 73% since April 15 and averaged 769 on June 27, the lowest number to date.

The disease has claimed the lives of at least four current or recent Harvard residents, whose deaths are the only ones publicly attributed to the virus. But, because the Massachusetts Department of Public Health does not report deaths by town, the actual number of COVID-19-related deaths in Harvard is unknown. The most recent data showed 18 confirmed cases in Harvard since January.

Beware of scammers who pretend to be contact tracers

The Harvard Board of Health has warned that scammers are now pretending to be contact tracers.  Anyone who gets such a call asking for their Social Security number or health insurance information should  report it to the Board of Health or Harvard Police Chief Ed Denmark.  This information will be forwarded to the attorney general’s office, which is actively tracking and prosecuting such calls.

The Harvard Police Department is also warning that fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits have been filed by scammers; most victims learn of the claims when they receive notices in the mail from the office of Labor and Workforce Development, Department of Unemployment Assistance.  According to police, anyone suspecting a fraudulent claim should file an online report of the fraud with the state, inform local police, and check their credit report. Police told the Press last week, however,  that most people have not found credit problems resulting from the unemployment scam

Unemployment assistance is still available to self-employed and gig workers

Massachusetts residents who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits may still apply to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program at www.mass.gov/pua


Helping hands

Loaves & Fishes food pantry in Devens, which serves Ayer, Devens, Dunstable, Groton, Harvard, Littleton, and Shirley, is open for drive-thru pickups only. Hours are 9 a.m. to noon July 1, 8, 10, 15, 18, 22, 24, 29, and 31. 

Clients can visit the drive-thru service twice a month. All new clients must complete a phone intake and should call 978-772-4627, extension 312, to leave a message with  contact information.

Any Harvard resident (senior or not) who is a Loaves & Fishes client can call the Council on Aging at 978-456-4120 and ask for the COA van to deliver their order. Anyone who is ill or has been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 must send someone else to pick up their groceries. 

The pantry is in critical need of monetary donations to keep the shelves stocked. Donations of food or other supplies are not currently being accepted because of the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Monetary donations can be made online at loavesfishespantry.org/donate-now, or by mailing a check to Loaves & Fishes, P.O. Box 1, Ayer, MA 01432. 

COA Director Debbie Thompson says the Adopt-a-Senior program currently has enough volunteers. Seniors who would like to be matched with a volunteer who will check in with them regularly, make trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, or provide other assistance, should contact the COA at 978-456-4120.

Nextdoor Harvard has a Help Map feature, which allows residents to sign up to help neighbors or to get help from a neighbor who has signed up. The Help Map appears on computer browsers on the Nextdoor homepage in a box to the right of the main column. On the Nextdoor mobile app or in a mobile browser, it will be a choice in the “More” selection of the main dropdown window.


Current orders and advisories

Tuesday, June 30, was Harvard’s 106th  day under the state of emergency declared on March 17.

Everyone must wear a face mask or other covering in public—including at  businesses, outdoor locations, and on public transportation— when they are unable to observe social distance guidelines. A  safer-at-home advisory replaces the former stay-at-home recommendation and encourages vulnerable members of the population, especially  older adults, to avoid nonessential travel outside the home. Everyone is encouraged to maintain 6 feet of separation in public, to be vigilant for symptoms of COVID-19, and to stay home if they are sick. Groups of more than 10 individuals are prohibited.

Contact tracing is used to track the contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients. If you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, you will be called by someone from either the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health or from the state’s Contact Tracting Collaborative (CTC). According to the state’s website, phone calls from the CTC will use the prefix 833 or 857, and the name of the caller will be “MA COVID Team.” Calls will be made daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Residents might also receive a text from “MA COVID Team” prior to a phone call.

Federal, state, and town taxes 

  • The federal and Massachusetts 2019 individual income tax filing and payment deadlines have been extended from April 15 to July 15..

Community buildings and gathering places

This section lists, in alphabetical order, the latest information about municipal and private buildings and other places where the public often gathers. For updates on virtual events around town, go to our online Current Events page at https://harvardpress.com/Happenings/Notice-Board-Virtual-Offerings/ArtMID/4548/ArticleID/21161/Current-Virtual-Events-June-26-2020.   

Churches are allowed to reopen under Gov. Baker’s guidelines, but opening plans vary. 

  • St. Theresa’s Catholic Church: Masses resumed May 31; masks available in the front lobby. Recorded Masses (via YouTube), are accessible from the church’s website,  http://www.htpboltonharvard.org/

  • Harvard Unitarian Church: Virtual services will be conducted via Zoom; for details, go to uuharvard.org. 

  • Congregational Church: Services will be via Zoom until at least the end of July, using a new Zoom account. See  https://www.harvarducc.org/online-worship/.   

The Harvard Public Library is open for curbside service. The due date for any book checked out at the start of the epidemic has been extended to July 1.

The library also boasts an extensive digital library for children and adults. Library staff is available by phone and email to answer reference questions and other queries at 978-456-4114, Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The children's department offers virtual storytimes several mornings a week, and a summer reading program for children. Children who enroll in the program can participate in a variety of virtual activities and contribute to the program’s goal of 400,000 minutes of reading time between June 16 and August 13. To sign a child up, go to the library’s Summer Reading site.

Instant eCards are available for residents who don’t have library cards; go to 

https://www.harvardpubliclibrary.org/about/programs/no-card-no-problem-new-temporary-ecards-available.     

Hildreth House and the Council on Aging offices are closed to the public but many programs, including fitness classes, are being offered through Zoom.  Staff remains available by phone and email. The COA van is available for rides to medical appointments. For information, call 978-456-4120 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Town Hall is open to the public by appointment only. Appointments are available between 8:30 a.m and 4:30 p.m. Anyone without an appointment will not be allowed in. To make an appointment, call Town Hall during regular business hours, Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; open until 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month. 

The Transfer Station is open at regularly scheduled hours, but with restrictions. People must keep 6 feet apart from others, drop their trash, recyclables, and punch card items, and leave. The “take it or leave it” section is closed. 

Playing fields, parks, beach, and Conservation Trust trails

Athletic fields are open but their use is subject to a set of sports safety rules announced June 12. McCurdy Track and the Prospect Hill overlook are also open. Mask and social distancing orders will be enforced.

The town beach is open and swimming is allowed, but there are no lifeguards. For details, see our June story (“A slow beach reopening means summer might look different for Harvard this year.”) 

The 28 trails of the Harvard Conservation Trust are open. The town encourages their use, but the Conservation Commission advises people to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others, including in the parking area, at the trailhead, on the trail, and on bridges and boardwalks. For details, go to https://bit.ly/3bP2TND. For trail descriptions and maps, go to https://harvardconservationtrust.org/trails/.

Also open are trails in the Harvard and Devens portions of the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. Restrooms are closed. For a brochure with a trail map go to https://bit.ly/2ycTuRa

Walkers can also head to Devens. For a map of walking, running, and cycling routes at Devens, go to https://bit.ly/2Rd8x4g.


Town committee and board meetings

All public meetings are now virtual, implemented by Zoom conferencing software. Participants can join a posted meeting via Zoom by clicking on the link that appears at the top of the posted meeting agenda. There is no need to download or install software. For the agendas and times of upcoming meetings, go to https://www.harvard.ma.us/calendar-by-event-type/16. Meetings can also be joined by phone; the number to call is on the agenda.

Residents can either join the Zoom meeting or simply watch the proceedings on the Harvard Cable TV Facebook page. Virtual meetings cannot be broadcast live on cable TV, but a recording and a transcript will be posted soon after on the HCTV Facebook page, as is currently done.


Elections and Town Meeting

A new law makes “taking precautions against a COVID-19 infection” a legitimate reason to request an absentee ballot for any 2020 election. To get a ballot go to  https://www.harvard.ma.us/town-clerk. For more information, contact the town clerk's office at mkenney@harvard.ma.us or  978-456-4100. 


Staying 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/information-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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