Epidemiologist plans to help area communities make sense of changing COVID-19 guidelines

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The Southborough Board of Health welcomed epidemiologist Isabella Caruso at a meeting this week. (Screenshot/via Southborough remote meetings)

REGION – Southborough officially introduced epidemiologist Isabella Caruso at a Board of Health meeting this week, welcoming Caruso and spotlighting upcoming outreach efforts to help explain changes in COVID-19 guidelines.

Caruso, who recently began work with the Greater Borough Partnership of Health, has a master’s degree in public health from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is currently studying to complete her doctorate from UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences. 

In her work with the Partnership of Health, Caruso is supporting four area communities, including Northborough, Southborough, Westborough and Boylston.

Epidemiologist to conduct outreach

Speaking on Tuesday, Caruso made note of new public health guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 28, which shortened the recommended isolation period for those infected with COVID-19 from 10 days to five days. 

“[We’re] trying to make sense of the new guidance, which has been really confusing for residents,” said Caruso. “Making flyers [and] FAQs, that will be helpful. That’s coming this week or next [week].” 

Caruso outlined other planned projects, including the creation of a dashboard to track COVID-19 data in Northborough, Southborough, Westborough and Boylston.

“We’ll be able to see percent positivity and different case counts, so, I think that will be very useful for the residents,” she said. 

The new isolation guidelines do not apply to child care programs at this time, which defer to local boards of health to adjust individual isolation and quarantine policies.

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care recently released child-care specific COVID-19 information, which recommends strategies such as creating programs that create distinct cohorts of children. The department similarly recommends efforts to promote physical distancing and frequent hand hygiene.  

Caruso said she plans to contact daycares in the area to help staff in those facilities sort through questions they may have.

“Their guidance is a little confusing, and they’re working with unvaccinated kids,” she noted. 

Partnership of Health formed as intermunicipal agreement

The Greater Borough Partnership of Health formed out of an intermunicipal agreement between Northborough, Southborough, Westborough and Boylston. 

Communities approved their participation in the program last summer, touting the benefits of collaboration amid the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I think, if anything, COVID has shown us that it’s really hard to stand alone, especially through a pandemic and the push and pull of resources and all the rest,” Northborough Health Director Kristen Black said at a Board of Selectmen’s meeting last July.

The program is funded by the Department of Public Health, through a grant. 

It provides three years of funding for items including contracted nursing services, a shared health inspector, food and housing inspection software and equipment for communities.

Approved when case rates were lower, this support for area towns now comes as COVID-19 case rates continue to remain high following this month’s record breaking surge. It also comes as Southborough and many of its neighbors have instituted mask mandates aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Southborough Board of Health approved its mandate on Jan. 10. That mandate took effect on Jan. 13, the same day that Marlborough green lit its own mask requirement. 

Westborough, Northborough and Grafton all also have mandates, joining Shrewsbury, which has had a mandate in place since October.

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