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.

Belmont Schools To Open Year Under Universal PreK-12 Mask Mandate

Photo: Belmont students will start the new school year wearing masks.

Belmont students and teachers throughout the district will be wearing masks to start the new school year beginning on Thursday, Sept. 9, after the Belmont School Committee at its Monday, Aug. 9 meeting accepted a town-wide universal mask mandate approved by the Board of Health and the Belmont Select Board on Friday, Aug. 6.

The committee will “revisit the mask policy and discuss strategies to increase vaccination rates” with the Health Board sometime at the end of September, according to the policy.

“I believe it’s really important to provide Belmont school families and staff with clarity about the masking plans and requirements for the beginning of the 2021-22 school year,” said School Board Chair Amy Checkoway.

Attended by approximately 200 via Zoom, the meet showed no sign of contentiousness or rancor seen at school committee meetings across the country – notably one held on Tuesday in Franklin, Tenn. – that resulted in anti-masking protests and threats of violence, while a Fox Entertainment personality claimed masking students is done to “terrify” them and anti-mandate decrees being issued by a handful of governors.

During the three hour meeting, Superintendent John Phelan presented the district’s proposed “Back to School Health/Safety Protocol Plan” for the 2021-22 school year created by the district’s Health Team. Its recommendations include:

  • Implement indoor masking for staff and students in accordance to the Aug. 6 town-wide decree.
  • Masks required on buses and at health clinics.
  • No mandate for outdoor activities or while students are at lunch.
  • Maximize distances in classrooms and cafeterias at the elementary and middle schools including providing outdoor space.
  • Encourage vaccinations for staff and students 12+ and host vaccination sites at schools.
  • Testing, quarantining and contract tracing is also recommended; the district is waiting for state guidance.

Phelan told the committee the district would be seeking direction on creating an indoor mask mandate for the entire student population and staff. The Health Team’s guidance would be provided by the state – using the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) – the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Phelan noted “there’s a lot of similar guidance” from the three sources and that included masking for all preschool and elementary school students as they currently can not be vaccinated. The one area Phelan said where the three entities differed is in-school masking for vaccinated student in 7th through 12th grade. While the AAP and CDC recommend masks, the state’s DPH advise masks if the student lives with someone who is not vaccinated or immunocompromised while DESE would allow vaccinated students to remain maskless while indoors.

Masking challenge for High School students

Since half of the grades at the Belmont’s Chenery Middle School fall under the elementary policy and the other half in the 7th to 12 range, Phelan said it was best that all students remained masked as the four grades will come in contact throughout the day. This left the School Committee to determine the masking in the traditional 9-12 high school grades.

Adrienne Allen, the Board of Health’s observer at the School Committee, told the committee that as a physician she was “very hopeful” two months ago that vaccinations would create a situation where mask use could safety be reduced. “But then things rapidly changed before our eyes with [the] Delta [variant],” she said, with the most disconcerting part being vaccinated people can spread the variant which is nearly as contagious as chickenpox.

With the overriding goal of the School Committee and district is to “keep kids in school as much as possible” while mitigating harm as much as possible, said Allen. And masking protects people from a source; for example, “if I had Covid and I’m wearing a mask, you’re protected. But it also protects other people.”

So if you want to keep students in school and protected, the schools should have a universal mask mandate, said Allen.

It soon became clear the Committee’s consensus was to start the school year with grades Pre-K to 12 masked. And each of the members agreed there will likely be a time when the mandate will be modified or ended. Coming to what that point was where the committee split.

For Jamal Saeh, the answer, for at least 7th to 12th grade pupils, was already baked into the town-wide mask mandate. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Saeh pointed to the town policy that says the mandate will end when the level of community transmission for Middlesex county as recorded by the CDC is designated as either low or moderate for two consecutive weeks.

But the other members pointed to the unique nature of the schools where, unlike the town-wide impact on stores, eateries and offices in which people may spend a few minutes to an hour, students and staff in schools are inside and interacting with dozens of fellow students for six hours or more.

Committee member Mike Crowley what masking does is helps the district “avoid disruptions that so rattled the community last year.” And while it’s impossible to know with any certainty what the coming year will bring but masking seems to be a fairly effective strategy.” For Crowley and others, rather than have a “ridged” standard as the town-mandate, the policy should be reviewed on a regular basis.

The committee did agree with Saeh that the first review of the mask mandate should take place in late September and also to advocate for increased vaccinations among students – those in 9th to 12th grades have about a 80 percent fully vaccination rate – with future discussion on a possible requirement that staff be vaccinated.

”If we learned one thing from last year, it’s that people value in person schooling,” said Committee member Andrea Prestwich, and masking not only tamps down Covid spread but also the flu and other respiratory illnesses “and takes some of the load off of our nursing staff.”

Health Board ‘Strongly Recommends’ Masks In Classrooms As CDC Endorses Coverings In Schools

Photo: A continuation of the current mask mandate is being proposed by the Board of Health

After an hour long debate, the Belmont Board of Health voted unanimously on July 26 to “strongly recommend” a universal indoor masking requirement for students and staff at Belmont’s public and private schools to begin at the start of the new school year in September.

The decision came about 24 hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, July 27, endorsed the wearing of masks by teachers, staff members, students and visitors in schools regardless of vaccination status and the rate of community transmission of the virus. 

Monday’s 3-0 vote came after the board nearly approved a mandatory mask requirement but took a step back from the more restrictive sanctions to allow the Belmont School Committee to have its own discussion before accepting or rejecting the board’s decision.

NOTE: Belmont Select Board will discuss a possible town-wide mask mandate at its Monday, August 2 meeting.

But the board’s chair made it clear that it would come back with more definitive mask measures if it believes the school committee will not commit to a clear masking policy.

“[The School Committee] must know what we’re leading up to so a strong recommendation is pretty strong,” said Board Chair Donna David.

The board’s action comes as the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant is causing positive cases and hospitalizations to increase after the rates of infection has been dropping over the past four months. The CDC noted in its revised guidance of this week that those fully vaccinated and become infected with the Delta variant can harbor large amounts of the virus as seen in unvaccinated people, thus becoming spreaders of the disease. Those people should return to wearing masks indoors in certain situations, including when vulnerable people are present.

Wesley Chin, the director of the Belmont Health Department, told the board parents were looking for direction from the town on masks as schools are set to open in six weeks. David told the approximately 30 people attending on Zoom that the board’s decision would follow current “scientific knowledge” rather than being decided by a “popular vote.”

“We’re doing it in the best interest of the public health for everyone,” she said.

Vice Chair Julie Lemay said the recent jump in cases in the past week after a relative quiet summer “this information is evolving and it’s evolving quickly.” She believed that to prioritizing moving kids back in the school and keeping schools open, “using mitigation strategies including mask wearing is going to be important” with the knowledge that the policy will be reevaluated during the school year.

Adrienne Allen pointed to guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that stressed that if school districts’ goal is “to keep all of our children in person in school all year, universal masking for staff and children is the way to do it.” Until questions of vaccine effectiveness and other issues are addressed, “it’s better to stay the course, follow the AAP and have masking until more is known,” said Allen.

In addition the board members, Director of Nursing Services Beth Rumley spoke on the current mitigation measures the school district have established for the summer session including masks, following up on all absentees and testing for anyone who is out sick. “I hear the concerns about masking but when you have a high volume of students and you have masking, it works,” she said. Nor is masking the only mitigation that needs to be concerned about including checking students and staff who have symptoms and creating a plan to return to school. “We’re going to make decisions with everyone’s safety in mind,” said Rumley.

The majority of residents who spoke Monday were in favor of the masking option. For Mariola Magovcevic, a mask requirement is the only way she will send her two children – one who is at high risk in catching infections – to elementary school in September. Speaking on making mask wearing an option, Magovcevic said such an action “does not protect me from children from spreading the virus who are not wearing a mask.”

Playing roulette with other people’s lives

Heather Rubeski said she’s not worried about her children being infected, “I’m worried about what they’re going to bring home” with her husband’s inoculation just 60 percent effective due to existing conditions. “It’s playing roulette with other people’s lives,” she said. Speaking to residents who have told her that their children “have suffered enough” by learning at home and following mask and other mitigation strategies at schools, Rubeski spoke how her niece and nephew lost their father to COVID as a true cost of suffering.

“It is not suffering to wear a mask for the vast majority of people. It’s unfortunate that as a community we can’t come together a little better and to this one basic thing that’s going to protect so many people … and considering all the families and not just the children in school but teacher families and our families,” Rubeski told the board.

There was not unanimity at Monday’s meeting for the recommendations. Speaking as a resident, School Committee Member Jamal Saeh attacked the board saying that while it earlier declared any recommendation or requirement would be made based on the available science, “I didn’t see it in today’s conversation.”

After pointing to selected studies from the New England Journal of Medicine on the effectiveness of vaccines on different COVID variants, “I don’t know exactly other than our community members who are pushing for [mandates], why we’re having this conversation right now,” said Saeh, who then proposed a “proper” conversation via a large public forum to hear from a “large swath of the community.” He also suggested creating a strategy on mask wearing for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals and when, upon reaching some undetermined rate of infection, would the mandates end.

In response, David pointed out that there is still much to be known about the Delta variant that carries a lot more viral load within people. “There are new things coming [from the CDC] and school is about to start,” she said, noting that determining a percentage of infection or other numbers that show a decrease in cases “is an evolving process.”

“I don’t think there’s an easy answer,” said David, a comment seconded by Allen, who is a physician. “I don’t feel prepared to set a … number [when to lift a mandate]. I would want to consult with others” but would still follow the AAP guidelines “if we care about equity because it’s really an equity issue for all students.”

While there was consensus among the board for masking and other mitigation measures for indoor activities, LeMay wasn’t prepared to make their decision a requirement for the school district to follow. Rather, she felt the Belmont School Committee should be given the opportunity to discuss the board’s “strong recommendation” on all people wearing masks in schools.

While the board effectively “punted” to the school committee further discussion of the issue, the board said it would moved its next scheduled meeting up to early/mid August to review the information coming from the CDC and the state’s Board of Health with an eye towards following the AAP in its recommendation.

“Look, no matter what we decide, people are going to be upset but that’s not our concern. We’re concerned but it’s not going to influence what were going to do,” said David.

Rec Commission OKs Month Long Trial To Bring Off-Leash Dogs Back To Parks

Photo: Off-leash regs revert back to pre-CIVID-19 days.

After pleas from pet owners to allow their pooches to once again run in town parks, the Belmont Recreation Commission in association with the Board of Health approved a return for a one month trial period to the pre-COVID-19 off-leash program for dogs.

With Massachusetts in Stage 3 of its plan to reopen the state from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, more activities have been approved in outdoor spaces including playgrounds and municipal parks.

When parks were initially reopened in a limited way in May, the off-leash program – in which pets are registered by the town’ animal control officer to allow them to be unrestrained in certain parks around Belmont – was restricted daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

With the more expanded use of parks set forth by Baker, owners approached the Recreation Commission to either expand into the evening when dogs could exercise and socialize, or revert back to the original rules.

The Rec Commission – which manages town parks and playgrounds – stated the week previous it would approve the return to the original off-leash rules with the Health Board’s blessing.

While the Health Board was supportive of going back to regular hours, members were cautious if a full reopening would lead to an increase in dogs – both tagged and non-permitted – onto the public space.

“We’re just trying to do our best to make sure that we keep everybody safe,” said Suzanne Trasavage, Belmont’s animal control officer. “The dogs, the dog owners, visitors of the park, children in the park … and we’re trying to figure out what the best way to do that.”

Trasavage said COVID-19 has made it difficult for dog-owners to obtain permits or bring them up-to-date due to access restrictions to town buildings. But she said she knows a large majority of the dogs so if there is a pet without a permit, “I’m giving them extra time to go and obtain them.”

Health Board’s Donna David said she had “a lot of hesitation” returning to the original regulations “because it’s not the animals, it’s the people who continue to defy the rules in place.”

“One person can give a bad name to the whole program, and oftentimes those aren’t the dedicated people that are complying and cleaning up and doing all the right things,” said David.

In the past two month, Trasavage said there were a pair of incidents by dogs in parks where pets bit people and one incident in which a dog ran off with a cone.

Belmont’s Health Department Director Wesley Chin said one of the most effective measures to control the program is to rely on self reports from residents if they see something that’s not going right, they’re gonna let us know.”

Health Board Vice Chair Julie Lemay suggested a one month trial period to evaluate how the programs is performing with regular hours.

Stephen Fiore, the Board’s chair, said there hasn’t been a great number of vocal complaints and opposition by the public, so “if all goes smoothly, then that could be … the way things work.”

Belmont Joins State’s Contact Tracing Effort As Town, School Nurses To Lead Effort

Photo: The Massachusetts Community Tracing Collaborative (mass.gov)

One method Massachusetts is using to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 viral pandemic is by deploying “contact tracers,” medical detectives who track down and warn people who have been exposed to the coronavirus. 

And Belmont has joined that effort as Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, told the Belmont Board of Health on Monday, April 27, the town has “signed up for the state’s contact tracing program.”

Gov. Charlie Baker started the first in the nation program early this month which began making calls on April 11.

Belmont Town Nurse David Neylon “has been busy working recruiting school nurses from Belmont public schools to help with patient follow up and contact tracing efforts,” said Chin.

The tracers role is to talk to those infected and discover who they have been in contract with. The tracers track down those individuals and help them isolate in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.

The need for tracers is critical as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said, in an NPR interview, that “very aggressive” contact tracing would be necessary before the country could start to return to any sort of pre-pandemic normalcy.

Neylon said the nurses are being trained on the state’s Department of Public Health’s patient confidentiality regulations. “None of the information is shared any more than it needs to be and it’s on an as-needed basis so that’s certainly something we take very seriously,” said Neylon.

Town Requires Facemasks In Belmont Businesses; Fines Could Come After Review

Photo: Masks are now required shopping in Belmont

The Belmont Board of Health and Select Board separately approved an emergency order on Monday, April 27, requiring customers to wear facemasks or coverings when entering “essential” businesses in town. The regulation also mandates employees to be masked.

The regulation goes into effect immediately and will continue until the Board of Health deems it unnecessary or the state ends the essential business designation.

The order targets businesses and services, not outdoor activities in public spaces such as running, biking, walking or walking the dog.

The order requires signs be posted storefronts informing the public of the regulations. Stores should limit the number of customers in the establishment in an effort to “enhance social distancing” while also offering the option of home delivery or online purchases and payment.

Business will also need to step up employee illness surveillance by asking if the worker has been ill as well as take their temperature before their shift.

While the new regulation does not have penalties for violating the emergency order, they could be added by the boards in the near future if they feel it is warranted.

The regulation comes as many communities – including Brookline, Salem, Beverly – are requiring residents to wear masks when entering a store or in public spaces. Somerville, for example, will issue a $300 ticket to those violating its regulations in any public indoor or outdoor space.

According to Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health Department director, the order is to provide an extra level of safety for employees of supermarkets, take out eateries and stores such as CVS Pharmacy who deal with the public during the pandemic. This week an employee of the Star Market on Trapelo Road died of the coronavirus.

A Star Market manager told Chin and Assistant Director Diana Ekman last week that passing an order requiring masks even without a fine against violators, their employees “would feel more empowered to walk up to a customer and ask them to ‘please put on face covering before entering the store’.”

“I don’t see a reason to wait to help supermarket workers,” said Julie Lemay of the Board of Health.

While the Board of Health does have the authority to enforce the new order, Chin said his small and very busy department doesn’t have the ability to issue tickets or fines to scofflaws.

Despite that challenge, Select Board’s Adam Dash and newly-appointed Board of Health Chair Stephen Fiore believe the new regs should have designated fines for those who break the order. They are hoping to amend the emergency decree within the next two weeks.

Hopeful Signs On COVID-19 At Belmont Manor, But Still A ‘Trying’ Month As Death Rise To 53

Photo: Belmont Manor where infections and deaths have slowed down

While saying April has been a ‘trying’ month, Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, said the most significant COVID-19 hot spot in town has begun to stabilize.

Chin told the Health Board on Monday, April 27 the number of deaths related to COVID-19 has risen to 53 with 51 being residents of “a long term care facility” in town. Belmont Manor is the largest nursing home and rehabilitation center in the community and has been tied to the deaths in local and national news reports.

Since early March, Belmont has 159 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the vast majority being residents and staff of Belmont Manor.

“It’s been really hard,” said Chin, noting the facility has “a lot of elderly with pre-existing health conditions, and they’re what you would generally think of as being the most vulnerable right now to the COVID-19.”

But recently it appears the epidemic that spread through the 130-bed eldercare facility has lessened.

“It seems like that situation is starting to get a little bit better. Fingers crossed. The rate of fatalities appears to be slowing down quite significantly so that’s really positive,” said Chin.

Chin said his department has regular check-ins with the facility’s staff and administrator while receiving daily updates with the Belmont Emergency Management Agency and the Belmont Fire Department.

At Monday’s Select Board meeting, Chair Roy Epstein said in a statement despite actions taken by the town to assist Belmont Manor, “COVID-19 is an unprecedented deadly and evolving threat to the town as a whole. Our first responders and town departments will work tirelessly against this danger.”

While no one knows when the COVID-19 emergency will be over, “your town government and grassroot organizations like the Belmont Food Pantry and Belmont Helps stand ready,” said Epstein.

COVID-19 Cases Pass 100 As Belmont Manor Hit Hard During ‘Surge’

Photo: Belmont Manor

The number of residents with confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 keeps rising in Belmont, passing into triple digits with the town’s nursing homes continuing to get hit hard.

As of Monday, April 13, the state’s Department of Public Health has confirmed that 113 residents have confirmed cases of the virus, according to Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, speaking before the Belmont Select Board on April 13. So far, 13 deaths have been connected to the virus.

In Massachusetts, there has been a total of 122,049 positive cases and 844 deaths as of April 13.

Approximately half of the positive COVID-19 cases and all the deaths in town have been residents of Belmont Manor, the 135-bed nursing home and rehabilitation center on Agassiz Avenue. Across the US, facilities such as Belmont Manor that treat or house older adults are now considered “an accelerator” of COVID-19, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said earlier this month.  

Chin told the board the numbers of positive cases in town will continue to rise for foreseeable future.

“We are in the surge period,” Chin said, “so expect this number to continue to creep up pretty significantly over the next week to 10 days” which requires the continuation of social distance standards.

“It’s really important that people continue to keep vigilant and wear masks when out in public,” said Chin. And while the federal and state governments only recommends their use, “it really is something that is essential that people do especially in supermarkets, grocery stores, anywhere social distancing is difficult to do,” he said.

Select Board members said they collectively have seen people congregate around town, at the Cambridge Reservoir, around the perimeter of the Grove Street Park and walking on conservation land without regard to social distancing practices.

“People need to be serious about this,” said Adam Dash. “I think wearing a mask and keeping away from other people is a fair thing to ask at this point in time, especially when we heard [Chin] say we are in the thick of this thing.”

The number of confirmed cases in Belmont in March and April:

March 111
March 133
March 2710
March 3114
April 756
April 1195
April 13113

Playgrounds Now Off Limits As Belmont, State Shuts Down Public Gatherings

Photo: PQ Parks Playground is now

Playgrounds – but not parks – throughout Belmont are the latest areas to be officially closed by the Belmont Health Department in an effort to slow the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

In the latest public health update issued Monday, March 16, Health Department Director Wesley Chin focused on actions taken by the state and his office over the weekend and today.

On Sunday, March 15, Gov. Charlie Baker announced additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The Governor’s Order includes the following restrictions throughout the Commonwealth that will go into effect on March 17.

  • All public and private schools will be closed through April 6.
  • All restaurants and bars will be prohibited from the on-premise consumption of food.  However, restaurants may remain open for now to provide food through take-out or delivery service.  These restrictions extend through April 17 but may be extended based on the spread of COVID-19.
  • Gatherings of 25 or more people are also banned. This includes all community, civic, public, leisure, and faith-based events. It also applies to gyms, private clubs, and theatres.

Chin announced that Belmont is taking additional precautions and instituting the following actions that will be effective on March 16

  • All Town of Belmont public playgrounds (specifically playground equipment) are closed.  At this time, open spaces such as fields remain open. However, the Belmont Board of Health and its staff ask all residents to engage in the social distancing practices detailed below.
  • Field use permits are suspended to discourage social gatherings. We are strongly discouraging activities that promote the gathering of people.
  • Public meetings and hearings will be limited to those that are considered necessary for the purposes of maintaining essential Town of Belmont government functions and that are mandated under federal, state, or local law/regulation.
  • Town Hall Offices are closed to the public. At this time access to these facilities will be limited to staff only.  Residents in need of assistance are encouraged to contact respective Town departments by phone and/or email www.belmont-ma.gov.
  • Important updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Town will be posted at www.belmont-ma.gov .

The Belmont Board of Health and its staff ask all residents to immediately and seriously engage in the practice of social distancing. Social distancing means staying out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining a distance of 6 feet (minimum) or at least an arm’s length away from others when possible.

This means:

  • NO small gatherings (even though the state has capped gatherings at 25 people).
  • NO playdates (for individuals of any age).
  • NO sharing of childcare responsibilities with other families, unless you have been deemed an essential worker (i.e. Police, Fire, EMS, medical professional).
    • Essential workers should make every attempt to stagger their schedules with partners to allow for coverage of childcare.

Chin is advising residents to:

  • Stay home.
  • Minimize the number of trips you take to the store for food and medicine.
  • Avoid close contact with people who do not live with you.
  • Show compassion for your neighbors.
    • Make a plan with your elderly neighbors to check in with them on a daily basis via phone or email to help monitor their health and to see if you can help them obtain any food, prescriptions, or other basic needs.

Help save lives:

  • It is important that we all take social isolation seriously to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The transmission of this virus grows exponentially and will soon overtake our healthcare system. We must all work together for the common good of society. This is our chance to come together as a community to stem the spread of this virus. If we are all successful at social distancing, we will slow the spread of COVID-19, and this will give our healthcare providers and hospitals a chance to prepare to be able to treat people who may need scarce medical resources to survive the pandemic.