WOBURN - Woburn has now lost two of its daughters to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the weekend, Mayor Scott Galvin notified the community that two local residents, both of whom last week became the city's first citizens to be hospitalized due to the novel coronavirus, passed away on Friday night and early Saturday morning.
The local residents, both females, were 89-years-old and 92-years-old. According to Galvin, he contacted each of their grieving families on Saturday to express the city's sympathies, and municipal officials are asking the public to respect surviving relatives' privacy as they mourn the loss of the two grandmothers.
"Both were beloved mothers and grandmothers and will be deeply mixed by their families," said Galvin. “I have been in contact with the relatives of both residents, and I offer my deepest condolences. I ask that everyone respects the privacy of the families during this time."
"These are the first deaths in our community caused by this awful illness, and we are saddened that it has taken someone from two separate families less than one day apart," added the mayor, who appraised the general public of the city's loss through a prepared statement on Saturday.
City's COVID-19 response
News of the community's first COVID-19-related fatalities comes as officials from the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) continue to confirm hundreds of new statewide cases of the novel coronavirus, which is known to cause serious and sometimes fatal lung infections.
On Friday afternoon — the last time the Board of Health updated the community's COVID-19 testing figures — three new adult cases of the viral infection had been identified. Based upon the most recently available data, 12 local residents are now recuperating at home under the watchful eye of local health officials, while three other citizens who previously tested positive for the contagion are now symptom free.
Including the two recent deaths and those released from their isolation, there have now been 17 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Woburn.
Galvin and the Board of Health have repeatedly urged residents to remain calm and to practice social-distancing and other preventative behaviors — such as meticulous hand-washing hygiene — in order to protect their loved ones and neighbors from the outbreak.
On Saturday, the mayor — recognizing the great level of stress being created by the public health crisis — also implored local citizens to encourage and lean-on one another.
"I encourage you to call, FaceTime or online chat with your family, friends and neighbors. Check in on each other. Though it will take some time, Woburn will get through this, and we will do it together," he advised residents.
Infectious disease specialists say most who contract the novel coronavirus will experience mild flu-like symptoms that include a fever, dry-cough, shortness of breath, and head and body aches. It is also believed that a significant number of people will experience no symptoms at all — though those carriers can still spread the contagion to others.
Though an estimated 80 percent of COVID-19 patients will experience either no ill-effects or mild symptoms, roughly 20 percent of those who get the virus will likely end up hospitalized. Those considered most at-risk are the elderly and immune-compromised populations.
According to the mayor, though the vast majority will likely fully recover from the virus, the city's first-two fatalities underscores the elevated risk to Woburn's most vulnerable populations. Given those life-and-death consequences, he again urged citizens to continue practicing key social-distancing measures in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"I…want to urge our community to do their part to stop the spread of this illness by closely following public health guidelines. Please stay at home as much as possible. If you must leave your home, please ensure that it is only for an essential purpose," he said.
"I encourage all residents to aggressively practice proper personal hygiene and social distancing. I also ask parents to ensure their children and teenagers understand the critical importance of these precautionary measures," the mayor added.
State wants local case numbers withheld
On Friday afternoon, during a press conference in Boston, Governor Charles Baker advised media organizations that cities and towns are now being directed to end the practice of updating the public about new COVID-19 cases in their communities.
Instead, according to Baker, DPH officials want municipalities to reference total case numbers by county. Middlesex Country, the geographic zone that encompasses Woburn and 53 other cities and towns within a 847 square-mile land area, currently has at least 981 confirmed novel coronavirus cases, according to the latest information provided by the state on Sunday.
It's unclear whether Woburn will follow that DPH request.
When the new state guidelines were released, Woburn had just launched a COVID-19 resource page that includes links to a local case tracker.
Though not necessarily responding directly to the new DPH guidelines, Galvin on Saturday assured the community that Woburn will always base its COVID-19 policy decisions upon the health and safety interests of the citizenry.
"I want to reassure all of our residents that the City of Woburn will continue to monitor the situation and follow guidance from state and federal officials. Any decisions that are made in response to this crisis will always be made with our residents’ health and best interests as the top priority," said the mayor on Saturday.
Based upon the most recent data, a total of 48 people have now died across the state due to COVID-19-related complications, while nearly 400 Massachusetts residents remained hospitalized as of Sunday afternoon due to the viral infection.
Overall, some 4,955 people have now tested positive for COVID-19 in the state. Middlesex County has long sat at the epicenter of the outbreak, but over the weekend, Suffolk County — which includes Boston — briefly became the geographic area with the highest numbers of coronavirus cases.
By Sunday, Middlesex Country had regained the unfortunate distinction of having more COVID-19 cases that any other part of the state with 981 confirmed cases. A total of 940 residents of Suffolk County have tested positive for the infection.
Nationwide, the United States now has more confirmed COVID-19 cases that anywhere in the world. With the national death toll climbing to 2,414 people, the US had at least 137,294 novel coronavirus cases as of Sunday, according to data maintained by John Hopkins University.