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Town institutes COVID-19 safeguards as cases rise statewide

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts climbed to 92 on March 10, Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency. As of that date, there were no diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Harvard, but the town has issued a list of safeguards to protect the public and its employees. The safeguards include policies regarding who should not enter town buildings and protocols for keeping public areas in town buildings sanitized.

Public counters are being wiped down regularly, and employees are being asked to also wipe down any shared items in their workspaces, wash their hands frequently, and avoid shaking hands with anyone. Any employee who is planning to travel outside the country must notify their department head, and they may be asked to stay home from work for 14 days upon returning.

Both residents and employees who have come into contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19, or who have a cough or fever greater than 100.4 should not enter town buildings. At this time, the town is not considering closing town buildings, but it may do so if an outbreak occurs here. The public will be notified if any town employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, and the building that employee works in will be closed, sanitized, and re-opened. Employees would be required to work from home during that time if possible.

At a March 10 Board of Health meeting, town officials shared their questions and concerns. Harvard Police Chief Ed Denmark said the town should start thinking about a location for an emergency operations center should an outbreak come to Harvard. He added that the town’s decision makers should be on call at all times. Board member Sharon McCarthy said that Administrative Assistant Pat Natoli has a list of volunteers who would be available to get food or medicine to any residents quarantined in their homes.

As for board and committee meetings, Town Administrator Tim Bragan said that the Open Meeting Law requires a majority of members to be present at a meeting, so phone-in meetings would not work unless the state relaxes the law.

School Superintendent Linda Dwight asked about sharing information with the community about individuals diagnosed with COVID-19. Bragan said the public does not have a right to know, but the case would be reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), which would notify Harvard’s Board of Health. Dwight also asked if the board could assist in getting any resident tested if they fit the profile of a person under investigation for COVID-19. The board said it could not.

Dwight asked if the Board of Health could collect travel information if people volunteered it. Town sanitarian Ira Grossman said not even MDPH has the authority to do that. Dwight said the schools are asking families to notify them of any travel abroad, and she later told the Press that “students of concern” are being asked to stay home voluntarily, but if those students also develop symptoms, the school is mandating them to stay home. “Families have agreed to all requests, and we can report that as of March 11, we have no cases of the coronavirus in our schools,” she said.

Locally, the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden announced it will be closing until Friday, March 20, and, each Friday, will reassess the need to remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual counseling and support groups will be available.

The Board of Health will meet again March 12 to discuss policies with town officials, and a public information session will be held at 7 p.m. in Town Hall that same day. The full list of town policies is available on the town website, and up-to-date information on COVID-19 is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) websites.

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