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COVID-19 Roundup: Infection claims two Harvard lives; state extends shutdown

Sadly, two Harvard residents died last week from complications of COVID-19. Dr. David Friedman, 73, of Ayer Road, died April 23, and George Grenier, 70, of Still River Road, died April 24. Both men were being treated at Emerson Hospital. These are the first two deaths in Harvard that were reported to be caused by the disease. In the state’s weekly report of COVID-19 cases by town, Harvard went from 13 to 14 in the week ending April 29.

At an April 28 press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker extended the state’s stay-at-home advisory, the emergency order requiring all nonessential businesses to remain closed, and the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, to May 18. Baker said that while hospitalization rates in the state have plateaued, they have not yet started to fall. “This is critically important to the decision making, not just here in Massachusetts, but to the guidance that’s been recommended in virtually every other state in the country and [that] has come out of most of the major public health organizations,” he said. In the week ending April 28, the number of COVID-19 patients at Emerson Hospital grew from 29 to 39, after dropping by seven the previous week.

Statewide that same week, the number of confirmed cases in Massachusetts grew about 41%, from 41,199 to 58,302. Deaths from the virus rose from 1,961 to 3,153, an increase of about 60%. An additional 79,128 tests were performed in the state over that time period; 21.6% of those tests were positive. Since the pandemic began, 22.9% of COVID-19 tests in Massachusetts were confirmed positive.

Locally, the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health (NABH) contact tracing effort is finally about to receive help from the statewide program Gov. Baker announced a month ago, the Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC). At a Board of Health meeting April 28, Sanitarian Ira Grossman said the CTC is “pretty close to being ready to help” with contact tracing for the 17 towns NABH covers, including Harvard. Board member Sharon McCarthy said that currently, the number of contacts a COVID-19 patient typically has is in the single digits. But as businesses begin to open, those numbers will increase, so help from the CTC will be needed. Grossman said contact tracing will continue to be done by a mix of NABH nurses and CTC workers. He added that boards of health can choose which cases they want to take, and those choices are typically made based on local knowledge of the individuals involved.

In Harvard, contact tracing calls will come either from the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health or from the 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.

BOH warns of tracing scams

McCarthy said scam contact tracing calls are being reported statewide, and she cautioned that contact tracers will never ask for Social Security numbers or health insurance information. Residents should report suspected scam contact tracing calls to the Board of Health or the Harvard Police Department. Reports will be forwarded to the attorney general’s office, which is actively tracking and prosecuting these calls.

The health board also discussed the content of information it is preparing to send to the managers of Harvard’s senior housing complexes, Foxglove and Bowers Brook. It will include steps that might need to be taken if a cluster of COVID-19 cases is reported at the complex, as well as information to pass on to residents regarding virus prevention and symptoms that indicate emergency help is needed. McCarthy said she fears for this population, because if a resident there “crosses the line to feeling terrible, they might not be able to call for help.”

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