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.”

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