WOBURN - As Mayor Scott Galvin continues to oversee arrangements to ensure continuity of government services during the COVID-19 emergency, first responders continue to review their plans for handling a potential influx of 911 and medical aid calls.
On Monday afternoon, Galvin assured citizens that Woburn's front-line police and fire forces are ready and able to respond to all medical emergencies across the community, including those related to an expanding novel coronavirus outbreak.
However, city officials are reminding residents, particularly those experiencing mild flu-like symptoms, that 911 lines need to be kept open for calls about actual medical emergencies. City officials are also asking for a heads-up from emergency callers who reside or work in households and business that have been exposed to COVID-19.
"Woburn's first responders, including our fire department and police department, have emergency protocols in place and are trained, equipped, and on standby to provide emergency assistance," the mayor explained yesterday afternoon in an update to residents. "Now, more than ever, it's important to remember that ambulance service is for emergencies only. If you are not feeling well, but it’s not life-threatening, please contact your primary care physician first to discuss being seen."
"When you call in an emergency, if you or anyone in your household or place of business are experiencing flu-like symptoms or under mandatory or self-imposed quarantine due to a confirmed or possible COVID-19 exposure, please notify the 911 dispatcher," Galvin added.
As of Monday morning, Woburn had not recorded any positive novel coronavirus cases.
However, as the size of a statewide outbreak grows, leaders in Woburn and neighboring cities and towns are increasingly convinced that the region will be impacted by the public health emergency. During a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) authorities revealed 197 people in Massachusetts have now tested positive for COVID-19, with approximately 83 of those cases centered in Middlesex Country.
Nationwide, the novel coronavirus has infected 4,661 people in the country and caused 48 deaths, according to a database maintained by John Hopkins' Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Infectious disease specialists, though worried severe outbreaks could overwhelm hospitals and critical healthcare infrastructure, have stressed that roughly 80 percent of people who contract COVID-19 will experience mild flu-like symptoms.
However, that mild case rate still leaves 20 percent of all other patients requiring hospital care and advanced medical interventions. Senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems are considered most-at-risk of developing serious complications from the illness, which can cause a severe form of pneumonia.
Common first symptoms of the disease include a dry cough, low-grade fever, shortness of breath, and body aches. Residents are being advised they can limit their exposure to COVID-19 by practicing meticulous hand-washing hygiene, disinfecting commonly-touched surfaces in their homes and workplaces, and by keeping away from crowds of more than 25 people.
In order to combat the spread of the contagion, an unprecedented closure of meal and beverage service within bars and restaurants goes into effect across the state today. The emergency order, implemented by Mass. Governor Charles Baker, also forbids organized gatherings of more than 25 people, including activities within churches and social clubs.
Below is a list of coronavirus-related impacts around Woburn, which are the result of a combination of emergency directives issued by Mayor Scott Galvin, School Superintendent Dr. Matthew Crowley, and the governor over the past week.
All city schools will be closed until April 7. The closures effect both regular classes and all special events and extracurricular activities like high school athletics.
According to Schools' Superintendent Dr. Matthew Crowley, he is working with other regional administrators to identify ways to introduce new "distance learning" initiatives for pupils stuck at home.
Presently, students are able to take advantage of a number of Internet-based learning programs by logging onto https://sites.google.com/woburnps.com/wpsextendedlearning/home or clicking on "Woburn Extended Learning" links that have been uploaded to the Woburn Public Schools' homepage. As of Wednesday morning, local children were not required to take advantage of the school district's online learning resources.
The superintendent yesterday also announced that in addition to bagged lunches, parents who have enrolled in the district's free-and-reduced meal program can also obtain ready-to-go breakfasts for their children.
Breakfast will begin being offered on Wednesday between the hours of 8 a.m and 10 a.m., while lunches will be ready for pickup between the hours of 11 a.m and 1 p.m. All of the free meals are being distributed from the Altavesta Elementary School at 990 Main Street in North Woburn and at Woburn Memorial High School at 88 Montvale Avenue.
In an open letter to parents on Monday, Crowley urged members of the school community to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 by practicing social-distancing measures like staying away from large gatherings and maintaining at least six-feet of separation from others.
"For those of you who are on social media, yesterday I shared a couple of articles about social distancing on Twitter (@Woburnsupt). In order to stop the spread of COVID-19, we urge you to avoid get-togethers and practice our core values (e.g. 'do the right thing' and 'care for yourself and others').
Beginning this week, the library was closed until at least Friday, March 27 to the public in order to protect staff members from potential coronavirus exposure.
The emergency order issued by the mayor over the weekend also resulted in the suspension of all public events and special programming at the Pleasant Street facility. However, library staff are still reporting to the building for work each day, and residents are encourage to contact librarians to learn about ways to take advantage of a myriad of Internet-based services.
Those resources include the ability to borrow e-books, watch videos and other digital content via streaming subscription services, and access to a variety of historical archives, newspaper content, and academic journals and databases.
"Like City Hall, the library remains staffed and running, with employees required to maintain social distancing practices to protect themselves, their colleagues, and their families," Galvin explained in a daily update to citizens on Monday. "Call the library at 781-933-0148 for information about programs and curbside book pickup, or visit the Library's website at https://woburnpubliclibrary.org/."
With persons over 60 considered particularly susceptible to severe forms of COVID-19, the Senior Center was also shuttered to the public beginning yesterday for a period of at least two-weeks.
All in-house programming has been suspended at the School Street facility in No. Woburn, but residents can still make arrangements for meal deliveries from Meals on Wheels. Woburn Council on Aging staff members are also able to make transportation arrangements for local seniors, who are invited to contact employees with questions by calling 781-897-5960.
"Council on Aging staff will be available via telephone to provide assistance with any questions or concerns you may have. In addition, staff will be available to help with non-perishable food items or transportation to a market," Council on Aging Director Joanne Collins has advised.
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