WILMINGTON — Wilmington’s Board of Health Director Shelly Newhouse shared at the Board of Selectman meeting on Monday night that the current COVID-19 numbers were at exactly 200 positives and over 600 residents in quarantine. This was part of the COVID-19 update given by Newhouse and Fire Chief Bill Cavanaugh.
With COVID-19 spreading mostly within households, she explained the numbers reported earlier that day were the result of Thanksgiving gatherings and travel.
“One person picks it up and brings it back, and the contacts go from there,” she said.
She also reiterated the complexity of contact tracing that makes it a cumbersome process. For that reason, she mentioned the department has hired a few part-time nurses who are taking on a few cases of contact tracing per day.
The board was glad to hear about extra staff hired to help manage the volumes of contact tracing. Selectman Greg Bendel wanted to make sure that residents are aware of the new staff in case they get a contact tracing call from someone who isn’t the health director.
Another important item Newhouse shared is that the COVID vaccine has become available to clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers. She expects the vaccine to be released to the general public, in what they’re considering phase three of the release, in the late spring of 2021.
The overall COVID-19 positivity rate she reported for the entire town was 7.6 percent. This number, she said, is higher than any of the surrounding towns. While this otherwise would have made the town roll back in terms of opening phases, she added that Governor Charlie Baker has gone a step back statewide already, to phase three step one.
Cavanaugh reported that the fire, police, and dispatch departments are all back in full strength. He mentioned the CARES Act reimbursement ending in a few weeks for COVID-19 expenses, from which the town has received over $672,000. While FEMA remains in place, he said that its reimbursements can take up to two years.
Newhouse pointed out at this time that food insecurity has been an issue for families who are quarantining due to COVID-19. She asked anyone who’s able to donate meals to reach out to her privately.
“I’d love to see that happening so that I could get some food to families that don’t have the means to do it,” she said. “It’s not that they can’t afford it; they just are in quarantine.”
Previously, she’s gotten donations from Food Services and Elderly Services.
Chairman Jonathan Eaton said that he’d get the word out on social media for volunteers, and Jomarie O’Mahony volunteered to reach out to We’re One Wilmington for additional support for families in need. Police Chief Joe Desmond mentioned here that the Santa Parade brought in the largest ever single day of donations for the Wilmington Food Pantry.
When Kevin Caira asked how the COVID-19 vaccine would be distributed, Newhouse said that it would be more private vaccinations and CVS during phases 1 and 2 and the health department would contribute in phase 3.
Bendel also wondered where the vaccines could be stored. Newhouse explained that some come in dry ice, some can be stored in the nurse’s office, and some can be stored at local businesses who have already volunteered their freezers.
Town Manager Jeff Hull commented about seeking funding from the town’s reserve accounts to help with COVID-19 expenses via the Finance Committee. He also said the town received a $5,000 donation recently from Lowell Five Bank to contribute toward related costs.
The board thanked both Newhouse and Cavanaugh for their individual work and their respective departments’ diligence this year.