Belmont Approves Declaration of Emergency

Photo: Belmont’s declaration of emergency.

The town of Belmont has joined the state of Massachusetts and the United States of America in issuing a formal declaration of emergency “to protect the health and welfare of the people of Belmont” during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s not some dramatic new information that we have become aware of,” said Tom Caputo, Select Board chair at its March 27 meeting held via video conference. “I think this is more of an opportunity for the town to acknowledge the situation that we’re in.”

Caputo said the Belmont Emergency Management Agency first raised a declaration earlier in the month as being beneficial in communicating to the community the urgency of the town’s response to the virus.

“It makes a statement that Belmont understands that we are in a pretty severe emergency at this time,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

The EMA also speculated the possibility that in the event funding or other resources were made available by the state or federal government, those communities that issued an emergency “might accrue benefits to the town,” said Caputo.

“I don’t see any downside to it, particularly that it makes us eligible for special funding that might become available,” said member Roy Epstein.

Read the declaration here.

Health Dept: Resident Hospitalized, 14 Positive With COVID-19; Those Infected ‘Much Higher’ Than Reported

Photo: Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Board of Health.

A Belmont resident is hospitalized, one of 14 town citizens which the state’s Department of Public Health has confirmed tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, said Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department.

During a video conference of the Belmont Board of Health on Monday, March 30, Chin said the number of positive cases in Belmont “are much higher than what we have posted on our website.”

“[T]hese numbers only reflect what’s reported to us from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. So we suspect numbers are higher out there because we do receive phone calls from residents that report experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms, and for whatever reason, they either do not go get tested or cannot get a test,” said Chin.

In addition to those testing positive, 29 residents are in quarantine and 24 have completed a 14-day quarantine, according to Chin. Belmont is within the most effected county – Middlesex – in the state, with 1,141 out of 5,752 statewide.

Once the Health Department is told by the state of a positive case in Belmont, they set up a follow up interview with them and do a contact tracing “to see from the start of their symptoms who have made, who may have been potentially exposed to them, and then start the process of making those notifications so that anyone that was potentially exposed to them,” said town nurse David Neylon. Then it is 14 days in isolation in a secure location

Chin said looking at the preliminary data, the ratio of male to female cases here in Massachusetts is roughly 51 percent female and 49 percent male [and] that’s a little bit different than what had been reported in the media coming out of some other countries.

“It’s important to note that a large number of cases are coming from the under 60 age group,” said Chin.

“It doesn’t discriminate who it impacts.”

In the course of the meeting, Chin and his staff, Neylon and Diana Ekman, discussed a number of issues that have been discussed over the past weeks as the pandemic continues spreading.

Neylon said a lot of people have been calling the department “upset about seeing certain groups gather at the parks, whether it’s just to hang out or to play sports” requiring the staff to contact the Belmont Police to disband the assembly.

Social distancing: Chin said one of the catchphrases of the pandemic should better be thought of as “physical distancing” because “we will want people to engage with family and friending socially through phone calls or Facetime video chat because that’s really important as we become more physically isolated from one another.”

Most questions his staff has received on social distancing involve small gatherings – playdates with children, a dinner with friends – which Chin said should be avoided.

Essential businesses: People have quandaries on what is an essential service. Turns out, house cleaning services and housekeepers are not essential while landscaping services are essential.

Ekman said the Health Department is providing a lot of guidance to food establishments on how to guide them through state restrictions such as not having dine-in service. “We had pretty good compliance” on the dining ban, she said.

Other Health Department business: During the current “stay at home” period, the department has temporarily suspended a lot of its in-person inspections, and dealing with them remotely, said Chin. An example he pointed to was a recent call about no heat in an apartment building.

“We were able to work together with the tenant and the landlord to resolve the matter, within 24 hour period. So we definitely appreciate the cooperation of everyone in the community for things like that,” he said.

The same goes for routine restaurant inspections as they are “on pause” with the exception of an emergency that we’re gonna come up,” said Ekman.

David Alper, the former chair of the Board of Health, commended the Health Department’s staff on its “calm demeanor” is a perfect example how “Belmont is handing this with a thoughtful appropriate approach.”

Belmont School’s Remote Learning To Begin This Week, Lasting Until May 4

Photo: A photo of Belmont Superintendent John Phelan via the internet.

Assignments, reading and a “regular” school day.

Those are the highlights of the new way of education as Belmont School District begins this week “Phase 2 Remote Learning” for the nearly 5,000 students enrolled in the town’s public schools.

The change to learning through the internet and email, which will run until May 4, is another way the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has fundamentally altered the norm.

In an email dated March 30 to the community, John Phelan, Belmont district superintendent, provided a timeline for the next month detailing the approach Phelan and the district leadership team, made up of principals, teachers and directors, are taking in creating an off-campus curriculum for K-12 following the guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The “Phase 2” will emphasize “reinforcing skills, curriculum advancement, and new and meaningful learning opportunities [in] remote learning,” wrote Phelan.

The timeline for Phase 2 is:

  • On Tuesday, March 31, Belmont’s six school principals will hold faculty meetings to outline the framework of Phase 2 Remote Learning.
  • Those specific details will be emailed by the principals to families on Tuesday, March 31 following the faculty meetings.
  • Principals will set times for staff to access their school and classrooms to gather needed materials during the remainder of the week.
  • Educators will spend time working to review, plan, and prepare for this work with the goal of contacting students and families starting this week and no later than Monday, April 6.
  • The enrichment and re-teaching work “Phase 1” provided students and families for this week should remain in place unless your students/teacher(s) are prepared to move forward with the Phase 2 plan.

The timeline for Phase 2 will be in effect at least until May 4.

Unlike Phase 1 which was student-led reteaching and enrichment of what was learned during the school year, Phase 2 will be teacher-directed with pupils will be expected to spend at least three hours a day working on the reinforcing skills and new and meaningful remote learning opportunities.

Under Phase 2, students in 5th to 12th grade will:

  • Complete and submit work within a set deadline.
  • Open and address daily morning emails from educators.
  • Read for an hour a day.

Younger students, from K-4, will:

  • Engage in daily activities that their families will receive daily via email.
  • Read for a half-hour a day.

Teachers will be tasked with doing what they have been previously, just doing it through the internet. Those tasks include being an instructor and facilitator, collecting and grading assignments, creating resources for students, and even hold “office hours” to allow for a more personal “human touch.”

For more about Phase 2, head to the Belmont Public School link.

Phelan also apologized for the delay in communicating how the remote learning process was being developed and implemented.

“I take responsibility for the role of communicating the hard work we have engaged in over the last week, in order to provide a more direct form of Remote Learning in Belmont,” he said.

Moving forward, Phelan said the district is meeting the challenge the community is facing.

“The community of Belmont has always been a great supporter of public schools. This support has always been valued and appreciated by the faculty and staff in Belmont. Please know that your teachers, directors, and principals have been working hard and will continue to do so on behalf of their students,” said Phelan.

Belmont Confirmed COVID-19 Cases In Double Digits, But More Likely Unreported

Photo: Wesley Chin, Belmont Health Department director during the Select Board’s video conference.

Belmont is not being spared by the COVID-19 pandemic as the number of residents the state has confirmed “positive” has risen to 10, according to Wesley Chin, Health Department director, speaking before the Select Board via video conference on Thursday, March 26.

But the cases in Belmont are those reported by the state’s Department of Public Health and likely don’t indicated the actual number of individuals who have the virus, according to Chin.

Read the latest update from the Town of Belmont on all things COVID-19.

Belmont’s underreporting is not unusual as many people remain asymptomatic – showing no signs of illness – or have very mild “common cold” symptoms in addition to a shortage of testing kits that pushes down the actual number of positive samples.

And while just two weeks ago all the cases in Belmont were linked to a late-February Biogen sales meeting at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston, now the source is more insidious.

“Out of our [10] positives, I can share that four are related to Biogen. The rest are related to workplace exposures in health care institutions and just community spread,” said Chin.

As of March 27, Belmont has 10 cases with 20 individuals currently undergoing monitoring or are under quarantine. Twenty-four have completed monitoring and are no longer in quarantine.

Town Election Pushed Back To June 23; A Virtual Town Meeting In The Cards

Photo: Wear your shorts, it’s summer time voting in Belmont

In response to the continued COVID-19 pandemic, the Belmont Select Board approved moving the annual Town Election from April 7 to Tuesday, June 23 at its March 26 meeting held via video conference.

In addition to a new day for voters to head for a summertime election, Town Meeting members could be debating the 2021 budget sitting in front of their computers rather than in the Chenery Middle School auditorium as plans are underway to possibly hold a virtual annual Town Meeting in May if the novel coronavirus continues to force social distancing.

Saying “it seemed imprudent to proceed with an election for April 7,” Select Board Chair Tom Caputo complimented the state legislature for passing a bill allowing city and towns to postpone local elections until June 30.

Town Clerk Ellen Cushman and Town Moderator Micheal Widmer, who led the effort to establish a new election date, believed that “for the people who work the elections and the voters in general, the longer we can push that off, the better,” said Cushman. They also had to consider a date in which Belmont public schools had shut down for the summer recess as three of the town’s eight polling stations – at the Winn Brook, Burbank and Butler elementary schools – are located in district buildings.

In the end, the pair came up with three dates; June 16, 23 and 25 with the 23rd receiving the highest favorable response from volunteers who work the elections.

Yet a June date would come after the completion of the annual Town Meeting, which begins on May 27. Traditionally, a new Town Meeting is held after a Town Election to allow new representatives to debate and cast ballots.

But as the Select Board’s Adam Dash noted, there is also no requirement in the new town election legislation compelling towns to hold elections before Town Meeting – as is usually the case.

Cushman said that whoever is actually elected to serve as a Town Meeting member and in town-wide office would be the ones who represent at Town Meeting.

“So it’s possible that you might have [a] group who would represent at the annual town meeting … before the election, and then a completely different group would be at a Special Town Meeting that deals with those zoning articles and other items that took place after the election,” said Cushman.

“I certainly don’t want to set a date … in May, and then it turns out we’re still quarantined and then we have to pump it a second time, which would not be ideal,” said Dash.

Board Member Roy Epstein – whose background image suggested he was speaking from along the pre-1940 Maginot line in France – asked Cushman if the town could hold the election via absentee ballot to lessen the anxiety of voters concerning contacting COVID-19 at polling stations.

Belmont Select Board’s Roy Epstein.

“I guess there’s some possibility that even in June, it wouldn’t be wise to have an election with live polling places,” he said.

Cushman noted that the state has recently altered its criteria for casting an absentee ballot to include voters who are avoiding a polling place as a precautionary measure in response to COVID-19. The state has also extended early voting to municipal elections for the remainder of 2020.

Yet there is one catch; under state law, the town must have at least one “live” polling station on election day to allow voting for anyone who didn’t vote early or with an absentee ballot.

“[I]f people do show up, then you might put them in jeopardy because suddenly you’d have a lot of people located in one location. So there are a lot of considerations,” said Cushman.

In addition to settling on a new election day, Cushman said Belmont and other towns are watching another piece of state legislation. They are hoping language will be added to allow towns to run “remote access Town Meetings” if necessitated by the continued presence of COVID-19 in late May.

Cushman said her office has been in discussions with Turning Technologies, the town’s electronic voting vendor, which indicated there needs to be coordination between its software and Zoom, the remote conferencing service, to make it work.

“But for Town Meeting members, the experience would be virtually seamless. Roll call votes would … be instantaneous, and it’s part of our existing license so it wouldn’t cost us anything,” said Cushman

“So I already have people taking training and webinars … so should [if enabling language] happens in the legislature, we will be pretty much ready to start turning on,” said Cushman.

Caputo said he had recently participated in a work meeting with 254 people, “and it actually worked remarkably well.”

And on the plus side of a Town Meeting via Zoom, suggested Dash, “if you go beyond the time limit [the Town Moderator] can just mute them.”

Here’s Your List Of Belmont Eateries Open For Business

Photo: The menu is ready for your order!

If there was ever a time to be a patron of Belmont’s restaurants, cafes, pizzerias, and takeout places, now is that time. With the COVID-19 pandemic halting sit-down eating, the town’s eateries can now only provide takeout service to their customers at a significant financial hit.

Thanks to Bonnie Friedman and who created the Belmont Covid-19 Resource list, Belmont residents now have an updated list of restaurants and eateries that are still open and their hours.

“Please support them, if you can,” said Bonnie.

And an honorary Belmont restaurant

  • Conley’s Pub & Grille,, 617-393-0237, open for take-out, noon to 9, 164 Belmont Street, Watertown

School’s Meal Drive-Thru On Wed., March 25, 7:30 AM To 10:30 AM [VIDEO]

Photo: Dustin O’Brien, director of nutrition.

The Belmont School District will conduct a Meal Drive-Thru for students who are part of the free and reduced meal on Wednesday, March 25 from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at Belmont High School, 221 Concord Ave.

“We want to emphasize this is a drive-thru service and advise families to stay in cars,” said Dustin O’Brien, director of food services.

“We’ll load goods into trunk/backseat and they’ll be no person to person contact. Each meal kit will include multiple days of breakfast and lunch items,” he said.

Town Election Delayed, Town Meeting Tentative Start On May 29 – Budgets Only


Town elections are “funny little animals,” said Ellen Cushman, Belmont Town Clerk addressing the Select Board last week.

While the ballot is specific to the municipality, they can’t be delayed, postponed or changed by local action. Altering the date, for instance, can only be done through a “higher power,” either going before a judge for a court ruling or via a special act of the legislature up on Beacon Hill.

Asking to tinker with a town’s election dates is a fairly rare request, but circumstances around the world had forced Belmont’s and other communities hands on the matter.

With the advancing coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of gatherings of more than a handful of people, it became clear holding the election on the traditional first Tuesday in April was all but impossible.

It was for that reason the Select Board voted to approve – better known as “calling” – the annual Town Election for April 7 just so it could then start the process of postponing it.

After the Select Board’s unanimous vote, the town prepared plans on what avenue to pursue to change the election date; through the courts as Wellesley had recently done or via legislation. Turns out that neither was needed as just days after the Board’s vote, state legislators stepped in with a universal fix.

As pressure from municipalities requesting delays and postponements began to swamp Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts House and Senate on Monday, March 23, passed legislation, S.2608, allowing municipalities to postpone 2020 local elections while the Commonwealth is in a state of emergency.

Under the legislation, the Select Board will be able to postpone to a date on or before June 30.

“I’m informed that the House and Senate passed the bill this afternoon and it is anticipated that the Governor [Charlie Baker] will sign it,” Cushman said.

The next question is when will the election take place? Belmont will find out on Thursday, March 26 when the Select Board meets to make the postponement official and sets the new date.

The pandemic has also impacted the 161st annual Town Meeting as the Board along with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin and Town Moderator Mike Widmer decided to move the first day of the annual Town Meeting from late April to May 29, which was already scheduled to be the start of the meeting’s Segment B which focuses on financial articles.

And that meeting will be limited to budgets and fiscal matters, measures vital “to keep the lights on,” according to Garvin.

The non-budgetary articles which were to highlight the April meeting including important topics as imposing a fee for paper bags, restricting gas hookups in new buildings, a lease agreement for the new ice skating rink and zoning changes to facilitate residential development at the McLean property will be delayed to a date yet known.

Garvin said it would be likely those measures will be taken up during a special Town Meeting during the summer.

Belmont Civic Group Donates 30K Face Masks To First Responders, Medical Facilities

Photo: Face masks are in urgent need worldwide. (Credit: Freepik)

Medical face masks are worth their weight in gold during the coronavirus pandemic.

With more than 21,000 cases of the coronavirus in the US as of Saturday with expectations that the number will skyrocket over the next weeks, the need for face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, gloves and face shields is critical of the care of patients and safeguarding the health of doctors and nurses.

But currently, there is an acute shortage of masks and other materials. Medical professionals have sounded the alarm since the virus first arrived in the US in February the supply would soon be wanting as states and local governments are scrambling – and at times fighting against the other – to obtain any number of masks.

So it came as somewhat of a shock when out of the blue, a local civic organization is providing Belmont and nearby medical facilities with boxes of masks for the asking.

On Thursday, March 19, Xinxin Guo, secretary for the Belmont Chinese American Association, contacted town officials to say a member of the association was offering to donate 100,000 face masks to those most in need of this resource.

“[They] kindly offer the help and resources of their group to our community as we all prepare to contend with COVID-19,” said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s director of health who the BCAA approached as they were looking for advice on who to donate the face masks.

Based on the town’s suggestion, the BCAA donated portions of the face masks to Belmont’s First Responders with the majority going to nearby healthcare facilities including Mt. Auburn Hospital and Belmont Manor, a 135-bed skilled nursing facility in Waverley Square. In addition Cambridge Health Alliance hospitals, Mass General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center will also benefit from the supply of masks.

The donation is the most notable act by the BCAA known for its Chinese New Year’s celebration held at the Chenery Middle School.

“The BCAA is open to everyone in the Chinese American community in Belmont. There is no required formal registration or enrollment process. The BCAA is a volunteer-based, non-profit, non-political organization, with a leadership team of 30 or so key volunteers,” said Guo.

According to Guo, the Chenery parent, identified as Ms. He is a partner in a publicly listed Chinese company. One category in the firm’s product line is medical personal protective equipment which includes a line of masks.

China is the largest supplier of masks in the world, manufacturing half, approximately seven billion annually. In an article in the New York Times dated March 13, Chinese companies cranked up the production of masks by 12-times since the coronavirus was identified, with nearly all used internally.

But within the past two weeks, as new COVID-19 cases in China have fallen to manageable numbers, there has been a surge in the US. As manufacturing capacity keeps picking up in Asia, there is now an abundant supply “and they do want to ship them out to help other countries who is currently undergo the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Guo.

“When the COVID-19 breakout in Boston got reported in the news in early March, [Ms. He] shared her concern of the shortage of masks in the US in an online group of CMS parents, and eventually got introduced to the BCAA,” he said. “We then started working out the logistics of shipping the masks from China to the US.

Approximately 30,000 face masks were donated on March 7 with BCAA responsible for arranging the masks shipment from China. To ensure quick delivery, the items were made in two shipments, the first batch of 10,000 and second batch of 20,000.

In addition to the masks, BCAA is working on supplying medical N95 respirators for surronding hospitals.

“Many people have contributed their time and efforts to make this happen – the first shipment was delivered [Thursday]. It was indeed very fortunate for us to have these masks at this critical time,” said Guo.

BREAKING: Belmont Resident With Coronavirus Flies To Bejing, Now Under Investigation By China

Photo: Beijing Capital International Airport (WikiCommons photo)

In a case that has many scratching their heads, a Belmont resident is under investigation by the Chinese government for flying with her family last week back to her homeland without informing the airline, Chinese officials that she had recently tested positive for the highly contagious coronavirus by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Jie Li, who lived with her husband and their son on Sharpe Road since 2015, landed in Bejing from Los Angeles on March 13, according to the Xinhua News Agency, the official media outlet of the Chinese government.

During the flight, Li, who is reportedly a Chinese citizen, began showing flu-like symptoms associated with the virus and was escorted to the rear of the plane for the remainder of the flight. Once on the ground, Li and her husband tested positive for the virus.

Since her arrival in China, Li has become a cause célèbre in the local news as she has been pilloried for allegedly “impeding the prevention of infectious disease” after her case was made public early in the week, according to an article in the Boston Globe.

Tensions between the US and China has been intensifying during the spread of the Coronavirus into a global pandemic with President Trump and many of his supports – a noted conservative attorney has filed a $20 trillion suit against the Chinese government – calling the novel virus the “Chinese” flu while the Bejing government notes there are no new cases in China as opposed to hundreds daily in the USA

Li was one of three Belmont residents who have tested positive by the state for the COVID-19.

Until this month, Li, who earned a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Iowa and taught a decade ago at Virginia Tech University with her husband, was working as the associate director for biostatistician at Biogen for a little more than a year.

While an investigation determined that Li did not attend the Biogen-sponsored sales meeting at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf in late February which has become ground zero for the coronavirus in Massachusetts, she had been in contact with fellow employees who were there.

In a comment to the Boston Globe, the biotech firm said it was unaware Li would be traveling to her homeland. Li has been fired this week from her position.

Li also did not tell the Belmont Health Department of her travel plans after the town was notified by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that she had tested positive for COVID-19 just days before, according to a press release from Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, dated March 19.

In fact, Li had been quite unaccommodating with the town from the time earlier this month when Belmont Fire Department EMS crews responded to a call for a person experiencing flu-like symptoms.

After Li asked to be taken to a Boston-area hospital for testing, the EMS crew contacted Medical Control which advised them that Li could and should self-transport to the area hospital. When told of the decision. Li informed the EMS crew to leave and she would drive herself for care, according to the press release.

According to Chin, two days after the incident, the Health Department was notified by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that Li tested positive for COVID-19. With that information in hand, Chin tried to contact Li and her family via phone and text messaging, as well as, by going out to the home and knocking on the door. In each attempt, Chin did not receive a response.

Chin continued his attempts to make contact including reaching out to the healthcare provider that conducted the testing. But the testing agency was also unable to reach Li.

Then last week, as Chin still tried to notify Li, a resident informed him press reports from China spoke of a traveler from the USA who had entered the country wit the virus. The resident believed that person was Li. Chin then called the MDPH of the new information on Li who contacted MassPort – the agency that runs Logan International Airport – who began a contact investigation of all personnel that may have come in contact with Li.

It is not known when or if Li and her family will return to the United States. Currently, there is a ban on travel from China.