STONEHAM - Stoneham over the weekend mourned the loss of a local resident to the COVID-19 pandemic after the Board of Health learned about the 88-year-old's death on Friday.
Late last week, Town Administrator Dennis Sheehan, in notifying the community about the novel coronavirus fatality, offered his condolences to the individual's family. He also assured residents that local officials will continue investigating ways to protect Stoneham's most vulnerable from the virus.
Besides the person's age, no other information was provided about that deceased resident, who tragically became the first from Stoneham to die from the contagion that has now killed hundreds of people across the state.
"It is with great sadness that the Town of Stoneham shares news of the first death resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. While I know our neighboring communities have experienced similar loses over the past few days, it doesn't make it any easier when the virus hits our home," wrote Sheehan in an open letter to the community.
"Our thoughts continue to be with the grieving family as our community strives to make additional efforts to protect our most vulnerable," he added.
News of the community's first COVID-19 fatality comes as officials from the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) confirm hundreds of new statewide cases of the novel coronavirus on a daily basis.
As of Tuesday evening, at least 15,202 people in the state — including 3,187 from Middlesex County — had tested positive for the virus, which can cause life-threatening lung infections.
Though the vast majority of people (roughly 70 percent) who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Massachusetts are under the age of 60, DPH data shows that elderly patients are presently far more likely to die from infections. In fact, of the 96 deaths reported on Tuesday, 81 of involved citizens aged at least 70-years-old.
New DPH data about the spread of the virus in nursing homes also underscores the real dangers posed to elderly populations as community spread of the contagion becomes more widespread. According to the latest statistics from the state, some 958 medical workers and patients within 129 separate long-term care facilities across the state had contracted COVID-19 as of early this week.
During a meeting on Tuesday, Sheehan told the Select Board that Stoneham's first responders have reached out to all nursing centers and long-term care facilities in town to let workers they are not alone. According to town officials, the fire department remains in regular contact with those staffers to be sure they have the resources they need.
"In terms of the aging population in town, our fire department has set up regular phone calls with all the [nursing centers] in town, so there is regular communication with our public safety officials," the town administrator explained.
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 town officials, though the vast majority of people will fully recover from the virus, the community's first recorded death should remind residents that their compliance with emergency public health directives and related social-distancing guidelines carries life or death consequences.
"The Stoneham Board of Health continues to implore residents that this is a serious and unprecedented situation. Please ensure you are taking the proper precautions to protect you and your loved ones during this uncertain time," the Board of Health noted in a prepared statement last Friday.
"[This tragedy should encourage us all] to be a little more mindful about how we're all acting. It's the actions of the individual that put the most at-risk in a vulnerable situation," Sheehan would later remark during Tuesday's Select Board discussion.