Westborough Selectmen, Board of Health discuss long term COVID-19 response


By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer

Westborough town iconWESTBOROUGH – Westborough Board of Health Director Jennifer Sullivan gave updated
statistics on the COVID-19 pandemic at a joint meeting of the town’s Board of Health and Select Board on Sept. 21.

That same meeting then saw discussion and some disagreement between Board of Health and Select Board members on the town’s future strategy and goals relating to the pandemic.

Cases decrease despite congregate care COVID-19 deaths

There had been 68 COVID-19 caes through September as of Sept. 21, Sullivan said. Of those cases, 46 impacted unvaccinated individuals. Four of those individuals, in turn, were ineligible for the vaccine.

That case rate of roughly 3.2 cases per day, while higher than rates seen at other points in the pandemic, was down compared to data included on town coronavirus reports in August.

The town recorded an average of just under 6.6 COVID-19 cases per day in the week of Aug. 26.

“The shape of that curve seemed like we had gone from the summer where it was actually really low, to an increase and then a plateau, and now potentially it’s dropping,” said Board of Health member Nathan Walsh.

However, Select Board member Patrick Welch pointed out that there had been four COVID-19 deaths in congregate care in Westborough over the last few weeks, marking a significant increase after the number of COVID-related deaths in Westborough had plateaued at 62 for a long period of time.

Board of Health Chair Alan Ehrlich described the deaths as unfortunate and mentioned that the people who had died were at higher risk due to advanced age.

Selectmen, Board of Health members debate long-term pandemic strategy

Ehrlich said that he thinks it is important to focus on the number of people who are hospitalized or who have died from COVID-19 as opposed to focusing on the total number of cases.

There will be breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals that will not likely cause them to become extremely sick, he said.

“I don’t know that focusing strictly on the case count is the best measure of how the disease is impacting the community,” Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich also said that, in order to prevent deaths from COVID-19, he wanted to take measures that are most likely to make a difference, rather than taking what he described as easy actions that might not have a real impact.

Welch responded by saying that, while he echoed many of Ehrlich’s points, he considers one case to be too many in Westborough.

“We need to do our best to eradicate this completely, just as we did with smallpox over the years, get rid of it,” Welch said.

Ehrlich disagreed with the point of one case being too many, saying that it prioritizes one
aspect of health care over all other aspects of everyday life. Ehrlich said that instead of trying to prevent any cases, it should be a priority to mitigate the impacts of the disease.

Board of Health member Melissa Mahr argued that decreasing case numbers was the only way to decrease hospitalizations. Getting more people vaccinated should remain a priority, she said.

“I think the number [of new vaccinations] that we had reported at the last meeting was much higher than the number we’re getting now, so there are definitely people who could still get vaccinated, which will decrease your chance of having hospitalized people and decrease the total [case] number,” Mahr said.

Sullivan said that the total complete vaccination rate was 71 percent, including people ineligible for vaccination. The rate climbed to 79 percent when only considering eligible people.

Sullivan added that, between Aug. 29 and Sep. 11, there were 2,458 tests with a positivity rate of 2.2 percent. There had been a total of two positive cases for unvaccinated individuals since the Board of Health’s last report on Sep. 17, Sullivan said.

There had been zero cases transmitted through the school system or municipal buildings.

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