October 14, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
Town officials are awaiting the release of the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health's COVID-19 report of new confirmed cases in Hingham tomorrow, fearing that with the escalating number of positive tests, the town might slip from the moderate-risk "yellow" to the high-risk "red" zone.
Last Wednesday -- the day the statistics come out each week -- the MDPH reported 352 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hingham since Jan. 1, with an increase of 14 cases over the previous week.
"Hingham remains in the 'yellow' category for now. However, we are seeing a troubling increase in COVID-19 cases in privately-run team sports -- especially indoor sports such as hockey and basketball," Town Administrator Tom Mayo told the Selectmen last night during their remote meeting. "The Hingham Health Department has had to quarantine entire teams participating in privately-run indoor team sports, along with family members of participants and some spectators who were not practicing social distancing."
According to Executive Health Officer Susan Sarni, the word "private" in this case refers to high-risk, non-Hingham Public Schools sports. "As of this morning [Wednesday], I have quarantined eight teams," she told the Hingham Anchor.
These cases from private indoor team sports are impacting the Hingham Public Schools as well as the broader Hingham community, according to Mayo. "Cases are being analyzed by the state cluster epidemiologist as they are also seeing household transmission at both the state and local level."
A team of epidemiologists is working with the Town of Hingham and other South Shore communities to determine where the transmission of COVID-19 is occurring. "It's not just a Hingham problem, it's a statewide problem," Sarni told the Hingham Anchor today. "I am working with the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health and the Department of Labor Services -- which has jurisdiction over sports complexes in Massachusetts -- to help assist with all the cases."
Selectmen Chair Mary Power noted last night following Mayo's weekly COVID-19 update, "Any more positive cases could bump us into the 'red' zone."
Mayo said Executive Health Officer Susan Sarni, Asst. Town Administrator Michelle Monsegur, Police Chief David Jones, and he "were very worried about that today [Tuesday]. I would suggest we are on the cusp."
Selectman William Ramsey asked what it would take for Hingham to slip into the "red" zone.
"It wouldn't take a big number with the increase of 14 last week," Mayo said. "With not much more than that we will move to 'red.'"
Mayo met with other town officials and Supt. of Schools Paul Austin yesterday "to talk about the potential eventuality [of slipping into the 'red' category]," he said. "The community needs to take this very seriously and follow social distancing, face mask, and other guidance."
Resident Martha Bewick asked if people who are in quarantine could post signs indicating that to be the case as was done many years ago. "Others have asked that question," Mayo said, "but the HIPPA law [privacy with regard to one's health information] prohibits that."
Mayo offered the following guidelines and information for the community:
* Adults and their children participating in higher-risk indoor sports are asked to practice social distancing and to wear a face mask to the extent possible.
* It's important for those who receive a call from a local or state public health official for the purpose of contact tracing or imposing a COVID-19-related quarantine to cooperate and follow their guidance.
"Ignoring an order to quarantine or declining to share information for contact tracing puts everyone in our town and in our schools at risk," Mayo said. "We need parents to stay vigilant and to help us prevent further transmission." (If an individual tests positive, anyone who is within six feet of that person for more than 15 minutes is considered to be a "close contact" and therefore required to quarantine for 14 days.)
Jones, who was on the line, warned residents to "never give out any personal identification if they suspect a scam. You can always take down the telephone number and call back if [after doing some checking] the number turns out to be legitimate."
Beyond that, calls from the MA(ssachusetts) COVID Team will use the prefix 833 and 857 and your telephone will say the call is from “MA COVID Team.” Calls are made daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. If contacted by the Hingham Health Department, the call will be from that local number (which sometimes begins with "804").
* In some cases, privately-run sports teams are notifying participants of a potential exposure. "If this happens, please stay home until you hear from the Hingham Health Department or the MA COVID-19 Team," Mayo said. "They should contact you with quarantine guidance within 24 hours. It is very important that you stay home and do not go to school or work until you hear from them."
* If that call doesn't come within 24 hours, the individuals involved are asked to contact the Hingham Health Department at (781) 741-1466, email HealthDirector@hingham-ma.gov during business hours, or call the Massachusetts COVID-19 Team at (857) 305-2728 or 211 during non-business hours.
"As town officials we are all very concerned about these developments," Mayo said. "We ask residents to work with us to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Hingham."
There are several steps those who are ill or have been identified as a close contact of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 can take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to other members of their household.
MDPH recommends the following measures to separate themselves from others:
1. Stay at home and use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible.
2. Stay at least six feet away from other people in the house.
3. Do not leave your house to go to school, work, or run errands.
4. Do not have any visitors to your house during this time.
5. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
6. Do not share eating or drinking utensils with anyone.
7. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
8. Clean surfaces that you touch every day with a household disinfectant.
9. Monitor your health every day.
10. If you get sick with fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other signs of respiratory illness, call your healthcare provider and tell them if you have been exposed to COVID-19.
11. If you need to see your healthcare provider, do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares to get to your appointment.
12. Make a list of everyone you have been close to (within six feet for at least 15 minutes) since you first got sick. Those people have been exposed to COVID-19 and should be asked to self-quarantine. The Centers for Disease Control offers additional recommendations at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/index.html about what to do if you are sick or if you are caring for someone who is ill.