READING - With the number of local residents testing positive for COVID-19 climbing to three people, the Board of Health over the weekend ordered the closure of all personal care services beginning this morning.  

In a decision made public on late Saturday afternoon, the Board of Health directed all hair salons, beauty parlors, tanning facilities, personal training providers and other personal service providers to shut their businesses to the general public beginning on Monday.  

The directive, which does not apply to licensed medical providers, will stay in effect until at least April 6.  

"The prohibition is this order includes but is not limited to: hairdressers, barbers and salons, nail salons, massage services, tanning, laser hair removal, body art, body work, piercing, personal training, fitness centers, and all other business and commercial activities involving the touching of another person," the local officials explained in a prepared statement posted to the Town of Reading website.  

"This order shall apply to all such activities whether comprising all or only a portion of a particular business," the local public health authorities added.  

The latest emergency order goes into effect as the total number of "presumed positive" COVID-19 cases climbed to three persons over the weekend.  It also comes as a state-imposed emergency order that closes all daycare and early education centers becomes effective starting today.     

Last Friday, after the Board of Health announced the community's first case of the viral infection, Schools Superintendent John Doherty advised citizens that the parent of at least two school children had come down with the novel coronavirus.  

Doherty further explained those children, who attended RMHS and the Coolidge Middle School, had begun experiencing some symptoms of COVID-19, but had not tested positive for the disease.  

It's unclear whether the two newest positive tests are related to or otherwise had close contact with that first patient, who was last described as self-quarantining at home — indicating the Reading parent is experiencing mild and non-life-threatening symptoms from the viral infection.

COVID-19, the illness caused by the SARS-Cov-2 virus, will cause mild to moderate flu-like symptoms for the majority of people.  In fact, many public officials are now acknowledging that at least some who have contracted the virus experience no obvious symptoms at all.  

However, in roughly 20 percent of cases, the highly contagious disease causes more severe lung infections that require hospital care or advanced medical interventions.  

It is believed the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are most at risk from COVID-19, and in recent days, city and state governments have taken unprecedented steps to protect those most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus strain.

The latest order from the Board of Health is the latest attempt to implement social distancing measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, which has been described by public health officials as highly contagious.  

According to the Board of Health, besides ordering personal service establishments to close, town officials are also urging local retail store owners who sell "non-essential" items to consider shutting up their shops.

Presently, that advice has not risen a mandate, but the three-member government body warned it wants all store owners to enforce the social-distancing practice of keeping customers at least six-feet apart from one another.

[T]he Board of Health is encouraging all retail establishments that do not sell essential commodities such as food, medicine, or cleaning supplies to consider voluntarily closing until April 6, 2020," the town officials advised.  

"The Board of Health is also recommending that all retail establishments that do stay open should only do so if they can assure that customers and employees will be able to maintain social distancing practices consistent with CDC guidelines of six feet of personal separation," the recent announcement continued.    

As of Sunday, according to figures provided by the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH), at least 646 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Massachusetts.  The case count has more than doubled since last Friday, and the state over the past three days also recorded its first five fatalities from the illness.  

At least 71 people have been hospitalized due to the viral infection.    

Middlesex County continues to have the highest total of presumed positive test results in the entire state with 199 cases.  

Nationwide, 35,224 people had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sunday, according to data maintained by John Hopkins University.  At least 471 people in the United States have succumbed to the disease.

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