Vaccine Clinic/Booster Shots For Students, Young Adults on Dec. 28; Covid Surge Testing Jan. 8-9

Photo: Belmont will be providing booster shots and testing in the coming weeks for the youngest residents in town. (credit: Spencerbdavis, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0)

“Booster shots help,” said Adam Dash, chair of the Belmont Select Board at its Monday, Dec. 20 meeting. And along with Covid testing can mitigate the surge of the coronavirus’ Omicron variant.

But as Dash noted, “Getting the booster shot has been difficult” as people clamber for the chance to get their third dose of the vaccine. As for testing, home Covid kits have all but sold out in most stores while state health officials said daily testing sites have handled between 75,000 to 135,00 people for the past week with waits typically running two hours and more. The line at a free testing site in the Cambridgeside Galleria in Cambridge extended up and around the three mezzanine levels.

So here is some welcome news: Belmont will be providing booster shots and testing in the coming weeks for some of the youngest town residents.

The Health Department is holding a pediatric vaccine clinic on Tuesday, Dec. 28 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Beth El Temple Center at 2 Concord Ave. “This clinic is going to be geared primarily towards 16- and 17-year-old who are recently eligible for booster shots,” said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s health director.

  • Individuals 5-11 can sign up to receive their first or second dose of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine
  • Individuals 12+ can sign up to receive their first or second dose of the adult Pfizer vaccine, or Moderna if they are 18+
  • Individuals 16-17 can also sign up to receive a Pfizer booster shot*
  • Individuals 18+ can also sign up to receive either a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot*

Register for a vaccine appointment here: https://www.appointmentquest.com/scheduler/2180061935?schedule=belmontvaccineclinic

For the second time after a holiday, Belmont and Lexington will be holding joint Covid testing clinics for their residents.

The testing in Belmont will be held on Jan. 8 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School; Lexington will hold its on Jan. 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lexington public school administration building gymnasium, 146 Maple St. Residents of either town can

Call the Health Department with any questions at 617-993-2720.

Booster Monday At Beth El: Free Covid-19 Shots From 4 PM to 7 PM

Photo: Getting your card filled with a booster shot

The Belmont Health Department is offering a limited number of Moderna Covid-19 booster shots to eligible residents 18 and up. Massachusetts has expanded the eligibility criteria for booster shots, and the new criteria can be found below.

Belmont’s booster dose clinic will be held on Monday Dec. 13 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Beth El Temple Center, 2 Concord Ave.

Register for a booster dose appointment here:
https://home.color.com/vaccine/register/belmont
If you have difficulty with registration, call 617-993-2720 or email Lsharp@belmont-ma.gov for assistance.

Please present insurance cards, photo ID, and vaccination cards at appointment.

  • If you are 18+, and received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you can get a booster dose once two months have passed since your original dose.
  • If you are 18+, and received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, you can get a booster dose once six months have passed since your second dose.

*Booster shots can be any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of your original dose; at this clinic the Moderna vaccine will be provided.

Register Now! Town Sponsored Covid-19 Vaccinations For Kids, 5-11, Set For Friday, Nov. 12 At Beth El Temple

Photo: Pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed at the clinic on Nov. 12 (credit: Pfizer)

The Belmont Health Department is sponsoring Belmont’s first pediatric vaccination clinic on Friday, Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Beth El Temple Center, 2 Concord Ave. The follow-up second dose clinic will be held on Friday, Dec.
3.

This age group was authorized by the CDC on Tuesday, Nov. 2 to receive the pediatric dosage of Pfizer vaccine, in the two-dose timeline 21 days apart.

Please register for an appointment at the link below:
https://www.appointmentquest.com/scheduler/2180061935?schedule=belmontvaccineclinic

This clinic is specifically for Belmont residents and students who attend school in Belmont. If you register and are not a part of one of those groups, your appointment will be cancelled.

As Communities Reconsider Masks, Belmont Stands Pat On Coverings Indoors, In Schools

Photo: Hopkinton is the first Massachusetts school district to end mask mandates at its high school (Credit: Hopkinson High School website)

As the first town in Massachusetts has ended a mask mandate at its high school on Monday, Nov. 1, Belmont will be standing pat with requiring coverings for students and public indoor activities.

At its meeting on Monday, the Belmont Select Board heard from Health Department Director Wesley Chin who discussed Covid-19 in Belmont. Chin noted 74 total cases in October, compared to 71 in September with 35 the average age of those infected. Under CDC standards, Middlesex County “still sits in high risk for transmission and Belmont is still in substantial risk,” said Chin.

Chin agreed with Board member Mark Paolillo who said, despite a plateauing of cases nationwide, with Belmont remaining in the substantial risk level of transmission, “we’re not in the position at this point based on the statistics … to lift any mask mandate.”

But Chin did tell Paolillo he believes the town could return to the mandate after the first of the year.

“I think we’re in a sort of gray zone right now. We’re … cautiously watching and eager to see what the holidays bring us. Once we get past the New Year, we should reassess and see where things are,” said Chin.

Hopkinton lifted its mask mandate at its high school for the next three weeks on a trial basis after the school in the center Massachusetts town exceeded the 80 percent Covid-19 vaccination threshold for students and staff which Massachusetts Gov. Baker’s administration set in September to end requirements.

An Oct. 15 article in the Boston Globe found Belmont and 61 other Massachusetts school districts had reached the levels to end mandates. In fact, the Globe found Belmont far exceeding the state requirement: 90 percent of students between ages 12-15 and 89 percent 16-19 have been vaccinated.

When asked to comment on the findings, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan said the mandate “was voted on by the Belmont Board of Health and School Committee. The School Department respect the decision and are following this policy” with any discussion of ending the ban should go through the Board of Health.

But Phelan did leave the door a bit ajar on reconsidering the mandate.

“All issues are open to discussion and I am sure the decisions will be in the best interest of keeping our students, staff and community safe,” said Phelan.

Belmont, Lexington To Provide Covid Testing After Halloween

Photo: Detail of the poster on post-Halloween testing in Belmont and Lexington

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Belmont is partnering with neighboring Lexington to offer free COVID-19 PCR testing following Halloween at two upcoming testing events on Thursday, Nov. 4 and Nov. 6. Both are open to residents of Belmont and Lexington, regardless of the testing location.

PhysicianOne Urgent Care will be providing the testing.  

Please note: You will need to set up an account on their website through the highlighted link below to register for a COVID-19 test, and to view your test results. 

Guide for setting up an account

Residents must have an appointment to be tested. Proof of residency is required.

Register for a COVID-19 test

The testing dates is

Thursday, Nov. 4 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

173 Bedford Street, Lexington (drive-through testing—remain in your car)• 

Saturday, Nov. 6 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., Belmont (indoor testing)

Nasal swab process 

PhysicianOne Urgent Care uses the Project Beacon online platform for account registration and test scheduling. If you have any issues with registration or scheduling, please contact Project Beacon by email at help@beacontesting.com, or call 617-741-7310, Mon.-Fri. from 8 AM – 4 PM.

Select Board Approves Vaccine Mandate For Belmont Town Workers

Photo: Vaccination is a requirement for town employees

The Belmont Select Board voted unanimously Monday night, Oct. 18 to mandate all town employees to be vaccinated for Covid-19.

But the requirement will likely take at least a month, if not longer, before it goes into effect as the town must complete impact bargaining with the seven labor unions representing the 300 full- and part-time municipal employees. During those talks, it will be determined what administration action will be taken against workers who remain unvaccinated.

“This is a public health emergency,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash before the vote. “I think [the board] need[s] to stand strong and do the right thing.”

“The goal here is for people to get vaccinated and stay employed. They’ve sacrificed quite a lot in their lives to [be in public service] and this is one of those things for the greater good,” Dash said.

The town mandate comes after the Belmont School Committee approved an agreement on Sept. 10 with the Belmont Education Association to require teachers and school staff to be vaccinated.

Spurring the board’s vote was the lastest data on Covid-19 infection rates in Belmont. Data (see at the bottom of the article) compiled by Public Heath Agent Lindsey Sharp showed higher 2021 infection rates than in the same month in 2020. For instance, while there were 11 new cases in August 2020, Belmont recorded 96 in 2021. And since June of this year, Belmont has seen 233 new cases, with nearly half being breakthrough cases occurring to residents who are fully vaccinated.

Sharp said the surge in the past few months are likely related to the highly virulent delta variant of the virus and the reopening of schools and businesses during the summer and fall. “There’s just more people out and about doing activities, traveling,” said Sharp.

In a voluntary survey of employees conducted by the town’s Human Resources Director Shawna Healey, a little more than a third participated of whom all said they have received at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. The town’s Labor Counsel Brian Maser told the board it could require the other employees to provide their vaccination status by exercising its managerial prerogative as part of a vaccination mandate.

But even if the board went that route, “what does that get us?” said the Board’s Mark Paolillo. If, for example, 80 percent of employees are vaccinated, “what do we do with the other 20 percent?”

“I hate to mandate anything but these employees work for the town and we have to consider the safety of our residents,” said Paolillo. Saying there has been “chatter” on Facebook that the board is seeking to control worker’s lives, Paolillo “we’re just trying to protect the public.”

Vice chair Roy Epstein suggested a possible two track approach used at health sites such as the Boston Medical Center in which unvaccinated employees are required to be tested once or twice a week if they choose not to comply with notification requirements or outright refusal. But Paolillo countered that while religious or medical exemptions can be part of the measure, the board needed to take a strong stance on vaccinations.

“I just don’t think halfway [measures] helps anything. It’s either fully mandate or you don’t,” said Paolillo who backed Dash’s amendment.

The most notable of public comment came from resident Joseph Kelly who has questioned the vaccine mandates in Belmont at other venues, saying “there are a lot of things, short term and long term, that we don’t understand yet“ about the Covid vaccine, citing side effects to young recipients and a myriad of other issues. He also noted what he called the “Nuremberg Code” that he said that a person cannot be forced or coerced to be part of this “medical experiment” which, if the employee mandate is passed, would result in a person losing their job.

[Editor’s note: USA Today has produced a fact sheet on the Nuremberg Code and the misinterpretation of its main tenet.]

One area the board expressed concern was what to do with employees who flatly refuse taking the vaccine after an agreement is approved. While not wanting to fire an employee, Maser told the board it can follow the state’s mandate for its executive branch employees. Those who do not comply by a specific date would be placed “on leave” status when they would be required to use their accrued benefits charge, basically their holiday and other time off. When that is expired, those employees are not meeting the condition of employment and faces progressive discipline and ultimately termination.

Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said the practical issue facing the town is negotiating with seven unions who will could have different demands or requirements before signing an agreement with the town. Maser advised the board not to set a date certain that is at least four weeks from the vote for the mandate to take effect. It was agreed that after informing the unions of the vote on Tuesday, the board will meet in executive session next week with Garvin, Healy and Maser to discuss strategy relative to what the town’s proposal to bring to the bargaining table.

Despite Neighboring Community’s Rat Concerns, Pumpkins Are Welcome In Belmont

Photo: Pumpkin … or problem?

Nothing signals fall than the appearance of the winter squash known as the pumpkin.

From mid-September to Thanksgiving, the humble pumpkin is a star; in the kitchen – pies, breads, spices and seeds – and especially for its aesthetic value: what doesn’t evoke the season than a slew of pumpkins on the stoop or a jack-o-lantern by the front door on Halloween? Nothing comes close.

But this year, the pumpkin is getting a cold shoulder in one of Belmont’s neighboring communities and it doesn’t have anything to do with cancel culture.

In Watertown, town officials are advising residents to chuck the real thing and replace it with plastic or ceramic orbs when decorating their stoops and gardens. The reason: rats. Well, rats and other vermin that have been sweeping through the town as if it was 14th century Hamelin.

Many homeowners have complained over the past year of an increase in rodents in a community has been a hot spot of commercial and town construction projects that disrupt them in their underground habitats. Shorter winters have allowed rat couples to have more babies and there’s the problem.

According to Larry Ramdin, Watertown’s public health director, the friendly urging from the town – it is not in anyway a mandate – is an attempt to remove a ready source of food for the local rodent population and that includes the orange squash.

“We have observed rat problems last year around this time. We are being proactive,” Ramdin told the Boston Globe.

“Did you know that putting pumpkins and other edible decorations outside your home can provide food sources for rodents?” Watertown health officials wrote in a Facebook post. “This year, please consider plastic decorations to help prevent rodents on your property and in Watertown.”

Belmont has also had its fair share of ratty issues in the recent past. A few year’s back, Joey’s Park in the Winn Brook neighborhood became a rodent housing complex with numerous underground burrows and the streets around Grove Street Playground have seen a sizable uptick in rats from overburdened trash containers and a problematic house on a nearby street.

But rest assured, the town’s Health Department is happy to tell residents they can keep the real thing this fall.

“At the moment we do not have reason for concern about Halloween pumpkins or any related outdoor activities,” said Wesley Chin, the Health Department’s director.

Fines Out, Signs In As Select Board OKs Measured Adds To Town’s Mask Mandate

Photo: It was a full Zoom house as the Select and Health boards approved additions to the town’s mask mandate.

With opposition growing by members to a Health Board proposal to penalize store owners whose patrons repeatedly violate the town’s indoor mask mandate, the Belmont Select Board voted Monday, Sept. 20 to set aside a suggested $300 fine and replaced it with a watered-down compromise simply requiring businesses and large residential buildings to post signs informing the public of the town’s indoor mask mandate and ordering all employees to wear masks.

In addition, Belmont will delay implementing a vaccine mandate for town employees as it waits for possible action by the federal government on a proposed nationwide vaccine requirement for organizations with more than 100 workers.

The fine and employee mandate proposal was passed by the Health Board on Sept. 13 in response to the surge in positive cases of Covid-19 in town and across the country due in large part to the especially virulent Delta variant.

Donna David, the Health Board chair, said the recommendation “just gave teeth to what we were doing” in encouraging mask wearing. While admitting that enforcement could be “a little tricky’, the recommendation was no different to what the Health Department does when receiving complaints and food inspections.

“Like other health-related things in businesses, we’ve found the best to put the onus on the person who is responsible for the establishment,” said David, similar to enforcing the cigarette policy where the owner rather than the employee is ultimately the person who is held accountable.

Adam Dash, the Select Board chair, said the fine would “put a little ‘oomph’ behind what is already on the books.

While each of the board members supported some version of the fine, some where concerned the

Mark Paolillo worried that many businesses have “younger folks working behind the counter” who will be required to tell people to put on masks and they “say I’m not wearing a mask … [and] you set up a confrontation” because the owner doesn’t want to incur the fine. “That’s problematic,” said Paolillo who would rather see the individual violating the mandate fined.

Paolillo suggested the town should first discover if every business that is open to the public has been notified to have a sign at their location and if, in fact, they have one.

Epstein’s objection was the proposal was unworkable as Health Department employees would need to observe an incident with “an egregious violator” not wearing a face covering in the store.

”I just seems unworkable to me,” said Epstein.

Local businesses are also concerned with the introduction of financial penalties on the establishment because a patron is willing to violate the town’s mandate.

“There’s a help issue in small businesses … were struggling to get product in our stores and we’re struggling to retain customers. And for you to fine a customer or small business to me is ludicrous,” said Deran Muckjian, owner of the Toy Shop of Belmont in Belmont Center. He reiterated Paolillo’s worry that “a 16 year old Belmont High sophomore by himself in the store” will confront a 45 year old adult who says “No, I’m not going to wear [a mask.]”

“What do you do, how do you deal with that,” said Muckjian, who called the recommendations “a bunch of crap.”

By the end of the hour long discussion, the board coalesced behind Paolillo’s suggestion to require businesses have signs visible to customers and for managers of larger residential housing complexes to have signs in common areas that residents could congregate. The Health Board joined the Select Board in approving the new language to the mask mandate.

“I can live with that going forward. If we have issues, which I don’t expect … then we will come back to you,” said David.

While the employee vaccination mandate has taken a back seat to the federal government’s proposal, the town will be polling employees on their vaccination status. “If [the poll] shows we’re 99 percent or something, then maybe this is less of a driving concern,” said Dash.

Select Board Defers Vote On Vaccine Mandate, Fines For Unmasked Patrons

Photo: Debate over creating fines for violation of Belmont’s mask mandate has been delayed ‘til Sept. 20.

The Belmont Select Board decided at its scheduled meeting Monday, Sept. 13, to delay action on a pair of recommendations from the town’s Health Board mandating vaccinations for town employees and imposing fines on businesses and managers of public spaces which don’t enforce the town’s indoor mask requirement.

“We do not disagree with the recommendations necessarily. We’d like to get a little more data,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash.

“We’re not disagreeing with the recommendations necessarily. We’d like to get a little more data,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash.

The first recommendation would require all town employees to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. The second would impose a fine of $300 on businesses or large residential housing complexes which doesn’t enforce the town’s mask mandate.

Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health Department director, said the pair of unanimous 3-0 votes were approved with the understanding the Select Board, working with the town’s Human Resources Department, would consult with the Town Counsel on implementing the employee mandate which would require negotiating with 11 of the town’s 12 unions. The Belmont Education Association last week approved a mandate for its members.

But before the Board could debate the mandate, the members tabled the recommendation after hearing from Town Administrator Patrice Garvin. She said both George Hall, the town’s general counsel, and the local Labor Council were asking the Board to wait on any vaccine requirement “because they’re still running some things down, especially with President Biden’s mandate.”

While saying he “conceptionally supports” the measure, Board member Mark Paolillo wanted to know if it was even in the town’s “purview to do something like this and how employees would react.”

Chin turned to the fines saying the addition of financial penalties to violations of the town’s face mask mandate were considered after his department received a number of complaints from concerned residents that “people just not wearing masks in indoor places that the public can access.”

Under the proposed amendment, if an incident is reported to the health department and the violation is observed, the Health Department would first provide a written warning to the business owner or manager. Subsequent violations would result in the issuance of a $300 fine for failure to comply with the mandate “to put pressure and motivate businesses to enforce massive mandates … inside of their locations,” said Chin.

Dash said establishing a financial sanction is not new. The town’s emergency order number two from March 2020 which created the mandate has similar language about the $300 fine but under that order the penalty was on the individual, not the store owner or manager.

“So the rationale is to change in focus: let’s put the pressure on the businesses to remind people that they have to wear masks,” said Dash who recalled his wife telling him when she visited a large store in town where “almost nobody was wearing a mask.”

“We’ve seen exactly what you’re talking about that some of these businesses were blowing it off entirely, said Dash.

When she asked who was enforcing the mask mandate and an employee said the workers were told not to do anything about it, as managers would enforce it. “‘Where’s the manager? He’s in the back,’” Dash was told. “So they’ve signs up on the door but no one was doing anything and no one was wearing masks,” he said.

In the case of residential buildings, Chin said complaints are coming from residents in larger apartment buildings where they were concerned about unmasked residents in common areas such as lobbies, fitness clubs, lounges, and hallways. “Apparently we’re not enforcing the rule,” the resident told Chin.

While understanding the need for fines to enforce compliance of the emergency health code, Paolillo also recognized the difficulty of having “a high school kid behind the register” attempt to manage and enforce the code.

The board also highlighted the difficulty of actually catching those violating the mask mandate in the act as the Heath Department is already burdened with multiple tasks to observe a meaningful number of violations and the police are busy with public safety.

“While virtually every Belmont business does have signs but [do they have] the staffing to confront potential violators is a real open question,” said Board member Roy Epstein, who noted to the board that with the general trend of positive Covid-19 cases falling, a mandate could be unnecessary in the near future.

With questions remaining unanswered, Dash proposed a joint meeting with the Board of Health on Sept. 20 to allow for a “give and take” on the issues.

“Then we might have some information on a vaccine mandate from the town counsel and labor councils at that point, maybe we can have a more comprehensive discussion,” said Dash.

Schools Mask Mandate Will Stay Until The New Year: Board Of Health Chief

Photo: A sign you’ll see in schools by the holiday break

Parents and students hoping for a quick end to the mask mandate in Belmont schools – specifically for high school students – saw their wishes dashed as the head of the Belmont Board of Health believes masks will be a part of the school day up to the holiday break in the last weeks of December.

The declaration by Chair Donna David came during the Board of Health’s Aug. 16 meeting during which the board clarify aspects of the town-wide indoor mask mandate that passed on Aug. 6 as well as make clear that the schools and town will have different standards of when to end mask requirements.

Based on public feedback after the previous week’s Belmont School Committee’s, there was a desire to clarify the confusion of when the town-wide mask mandate would end in the Belmont schools, said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health Department director. Under a sunset clause in the town-wide directive, the face covering requirements will be lifted when Middlesex county records two consecutive weeks of lower infection rates.

In the board’s new plan, the schools’ mask mandate is now a separate from the town’s document. “Pretty simple and straightforward,” said David.

The new regulation states: “Face coverings are required for all individuals aged two years and above except where an individual is unable to wear a face covering dude to a medical condition disability.”

Under the new regulation, the board will incorporate guidance and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the state’s Department of Health to decide when the mask mandate will be dropped.

While the board will be monitoring the data and taking daily advice from the town’s health department, David said until the Covid-19 vaccine is available to children under 12 – both Pfizer and Moderna say they anticipate sharing results and seeking authorization for their vaccine in ages 5 to 11 as early as September or October – and the number of overall cases are declining, she doesn’t see a reason to remove the mandate and “this could easily be in effect through December.”

”This brings a little stability to what we’re doing and what our line of thinking is,” said David. Until the under 12 vaccine is available, “‘we’re kind of in a holding pattern because, in the schools particular, we’re doing this to protect those who cannot be vaccinated.”

The board also voted to bring greater clarity to the town’s mandate after receiving public comments on the document the Select Board approved last week.

The four clarifications are:

  • Indoor performers at public spaces such as the Beech Street Center, restaurants or schools are required to wear face coverings,
  • Private residences are excluded from the mandate,
  • Residents and employees in multi-unit homes and apartments are required to wear face coverings when inside common hallways and spaces, and
  • Members and employees in private membership clubs are required to wear face coverings while indoors.

“It’s not drastically different, just more detailed,” said Adam Dash, chair of the Select Board which reviewed the changes at its Monday night meeting.