With covid cases on the rise again, Rochester officials talk prevention strategies
ROCHESTER — After months where the number of active covid-19 cases in Rochester on any given day hovered at about 10 to 15, the town is now facing a spike, according to the town’s Public Health Nurse Connie Dolan.
During a Dec. 6 Rochester Select Board meeting, Karen Walega, the town’s health director, introduced Dolan for a short presentation about covid in Rochester.
“We have very high numbers of covid cases, and I thought that it was important that we present it to you so that our townspeople will be aware of how covid affecting the town,” Walega explained.
Dolan said she’d consulted the most recent available data from the state just minutes before the meeting. She started with the vaccination news.
“We have about 64% of Rochester residents fully vaccinated,” Dolan said.
Next, Dolan reported that there are currently 70 active cases of covid-19 in town — which she stressed was a significant jump.
“That’s a lot,” she said. “We’ve been sort of averaging maybe between 10 and 15 for the last few months.”
Breaking that number down further, Dolan said that 24 of the cases — or about 34% — were people who were vaccinated. This means 66% — or 46 of the people who tested positive — were unvaccinated. (She did not distinguish those who were fully or partially vaccinated.)
Of the 70 cases, she said 18 were reported in children age 12 or younger. That’s 26% of current active cases.
“This is a trend,” Dolan said. “We’re seeing a lot of childhood cases now.”
Unlike some early covid cases seen in children, Dolan said more children who test positive are symptomatic.
“Nationwide, 20% of covid related hospitalizations are children 9 years (old) and younger,” she said. “So we’re seeing more young children in the hospital with covid.”
She warned that some unvaccinated children who test positive for covid-19 have infected older family members and grandparents.
“We saw, actually, several instances of this in Rochester which was probably related to Thanksgiving,” she said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Rochester has reported 798 documented cases of covid-19.
Dolan emphasized that the town was now seeing some people — often healthcare workers — test positive for covid-19 for the second time.
Strategies for prevention
The boards discussed ways to educate Rochester residents and keep people in town as healthy as possible.
Walega reminded people that the tried and true approaches from the earliest days of the pandemic were still relevant today.
“The tools that we’ve used to get us through ... that’s all helped,” she said. “We’re just encouraging people to wear masks, to get vaccinated and to continue to wash their hands.”
With more holiday gatherings coming, Walega said caution was more important than ever.
Now that vaccines are more widely available, covid is considered a vaccine-preventable disease, Dolan added. Because of that and because some additional treatments are available now, she said it is unlikely the Department of Public Health will implement restrictions such as limits on gatherings or business capacity caps.
Dolan said she and Walega had discussed the best approach for the town. She said a mask mandate for anyone inside town buildings had been discussed, but the other members of the Board of Health did not seem to support that option.
Currently, masks are required in Massachusetts school until a certain vaccination rate threshold has been achieved per the state Department of Education, but that has not been without controversy in Rochester.
Dolan noted that some parents have protested school masked mandates.
“There was a group of unmasked parents who tried to force their way into a School Committee meeting at one of the schools,” she said. “The school nurses and school officials are being faced with some very angry parents in some instances in relation to quarantine requirements and masking.”
Dolan suggested that educational outreach might be the best approach.
“The idea that I had was possibly using the reverse 911 system to make a very calm, rational public service announcement,” she explained. “Just letting people know how many cases there are, what they can do to protect themselves, let them know where some of our vaccine clinics are.”
The Select Board and Board of Health did not decide what action, if any, they would take during the Dec. 6 meeting.