Wellesley’s number of active reported COVID-19 cases has jumped from 25 over the weekend to 33 as of Tuesday, with a surge across the state expected over the next week or so. Newton was shaken today by reports of 5 COVID-19-related deaths at an assisted living facility called The Falls at Cordingly Dam that sits just across the Wellesley line on Rte. 16.
Be aware that Wellesley has set up a call center to answer residents’ questions about the coronavirus and COVID-19. Town employees are staffing the phones at (781) 239-0256 from 9am-4pm Monday-Friday to answer non-emergency questions about topics such as medical issues, securing food, prescription delivery, financial assistance or just to lend a listening ear.
Gotta hit the dump just right
So, who’s building the app to give residents real-time data on how long it’s going to take to get into the dump? The recycling & disposal facility has put in place new COVID-19-inspired safety measures and has encouraged people to visit during non-peak hours, suggested to be 7-10am weekdays. This photo, shared by Swellesley reader HT, was taken a bit after the peak period on a Tuesday morning…
Feed the Frontline via Anna’s Taqueria
A crowdfunding campaign dubbed Feed The Frontline is designed to give a boost to medical workers as well as Anna’s Taqueria, the restaurant whose food has supplied many a Wellesley event over the years. Organizer Katherine Rooks says, “We’re starting with Boston Medical Center since they’ve recently had to lay off workers, as has Anna’s.
Meals are also being sent to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, St. Elizabeth’s and the South End Community Health Center as a result of strong contributions.
As The Swellesley Report first reported over the weekend, the Wellesley Fire Department has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic first hand.
Wellesley Fire Chief Rick DeLorie has now issued a message to the town, as published here, and followed up with us by phone, as summarized beneath the statement:
I have been with the Wellesley Fire Department for 27 years and served as Chief for 11 years. I have never been more proud of our firefighters and the Town of Wellesley than I am today.
In the midst of this evolving and unprecedented threat to our collective health, I’m reaching out to let every resident to know that we are here for you. We knew we would be on the front lines in the fight with Coronavirus, and every day I see my firefighters facing these extraordinary circumstances with courage and bravery, always guided by their commitment to protect you.
In response to recent media inquiries, I am confirming today that one of our firefighters is currently hospitalized with COVID-19. My thoughts are with this individual and I am praying for a full recovery. The family also welcomes your prayers and asks that everyone please respect their privacy.
In recent weeks, we have had other firefighters become ill from COVID-19. We have also quarantined members of our department as a precaution; all but a few with mild symptoms have returned to work. I will not provide any more information to protect the privacy of our staff.
As a public safety leader in Town, I also want to share how impressed I am by the depth of service shown by so many in Wellesley as we all respond to this crisis. Our Health Department, firefighters, police officers, medics, dispatchers; our facilities staff; the employees of all departments, boards, and commissions; our elected and appointed leaders; and especially the citizens of our Town are doing an extraordinary job. I have witnessed remarkable stories of the unselfish ways in which people are reaching out to their neighbors in need. A moving example is the amazing amount of masks and other PPE which residents in Town have donated to our department, to be distributed to front line health care workers who desperately need them. Other citizens are delivering food, making masks, supporting our restaurants, and offering to help in any way possible.
We are all in this together.
Please know that we will watch over you. We have solid safety practices in the Fire Department to keep our firefighters and the community safe. We have strong mutual aid with neighboring fire departments and we adapt our practices as more information is learned. I want to tell you what I tell my firefighters: These are scary days and we will get through them.
When you feel anxious and stressed, please reach out to someone. We are all here to support each other – human contact, comfort and even a little humor can help. These next two weeks are critical to help stem this outbreak. We join the Governor, all Massachusetts officials and all Town officials in reminding everyone to please stay home, follow the restrictions in place, and work together so we can ensure Wellesley Will Be Well.
Chief Rick DeLorie
Wellesley Fire Department
Dozens of firefighters across the state have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and hundreds more are in quarantine due to possible exposure, according to the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts labor union, which has shared this chart displaying the seriousness of the situation. Andover and Methuen are among other communities whose fire departments have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Following up with the chief
In a follow-up call with Chief DeLorie, during which I asked why firefighters have been so hard hit with the virus, he explained that up until a few weeks ago the fire department’s front doors were still open to visitors, those asking for directions and so forth (“If we sold pizza, we’d put Chuck E. Cheese out of business based on the number of people who come by…”). Add that on top of plenty of calls where firefighters interact with people, and you can see how an airborne virus can make its mark even with an operation that is used to taking cleanliness and safety protocols seriously.
Even though Wellesley’s Fire Department has had a number of its members contract COVID-19 or go into quarantine just in case, WFD has not been short staffed, DeLorie says. Attendance records have been strong and mutual aid via a network of 35 cities and towns is always a call away, he adds.
Whenever a firefighter gets symptoms the first thing the department does is have the person get tested. “My next step, and I don’t know if every fire chief does this, but it’s to pray that the firefighter will be strong and get through it.”
DeLorie shared an interesting bit of relevant history involving local fire departments. Assistant Chief Jeff Peterson had relayed that the entire Wellesley Fire Department went down sick during the 1918 flu pandemic, and Newton covered for it the entire time. If something that dramatic were to happen this year with COVID-19, DeLorie says Wellesley and other community fire departments would do something similar, as they did more recently in banding together during the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. “We have a lot of plans in place for contingencies, and hope we don’t need to execute them.”
The fire department has changed its practices when going on out calls, slowing things down and sending in fewer firefighters when possible. Such as when going to a nursing home to check on an alarm panel’s faulty detector. If a homeowner calls about smoke when cooking, the firefighters will stand 6-8 feet away from the homeowner, get the whole family in masks, and then take care of the problem. Calls for issues such as seniors falling or EMS calls for a variety of reasons are all treated as potential COVID-19 situations.
The firefighters have managed to keep their senses of humor despite the challenges, DeLorie says. “They all look like dentists with their masks,” he says. “I’m afraid they’re all going to want to get paid like them.” It’s been suggested DeLorie should have been wearing a mask for decades, sparing others from having to look at his mug every day at work.
DeLorie emphasized how thankful he is to the public for its donation of masks and other necessities to the point where the department has had gear to share with other town departments and others in need. He’s also felt supported by town officials and departments, including the Health Department and Facilities Management.
While so many people are now home in Wellesley, call volume has slowed in certain areas, such as for car accidents and incidents at businesses. But when the department needs to respond, DeLorie says “we’re on our best game.” Dispatchers have been trained to give accurate info to make calls as safe as possible.
“I can’t wait to get back to normal,” he says.
Wellesley, Mass., police log for the week of March 30-April 4:
On March 30, 2020 at 5:24 p.m. Officer Harris was dispatched to a residence for an unwanted party. The individual that had come to the residence was known to the homeowner, but was not welcome at the home. Officer Harris spoke with the male party who appeared to be intoxicated for approximately 45 minutes and noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, his speech was slurred and he was unsteady on his feet. He was unable to find any place to stay for the evening. He was taken into protective custody, transported to the police station and was later released when he no longer showed signs of intoxication.
On April 4, 2020 at 12:30 a.m. Officer Dennehy was parked at the Mobil Mart station on Washington Street when he observed a motor vehicle enter the parking lot and a male party exited the vehicle and entered the store. The clerk in the store motioned for Officer Dennehy to come into the store and relayed that he suspected the male party was intoxicated. Officer Dennehy noticed that the male party was swaying while he stood at the counter, his eyes were bloodshot and he could detect the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from him. Officer Dennehy asked the man if he was willing to take some reasonable tests of balance and coordination to determine if he was able to safely operate a motor vehicle. He agreed and was unable to successfully take these tests. He was taken into custody, transported to the station, booked, afforded all rights and later released on personal recognizance.
On March 31, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. Officer Miso spoke with a male reporting party who received a scam phone call where the caller alleged that he had been involved in an incident in Texas where he rented a car and 20 kilos of cocaine was found in it. The caller began asking the reporting party to verify personal information. The reporting party verified that last 4 digits of his social security number but refused to provide any additional information. After hanging up the same male party called again alleging to be the police department. The reporting party hung up and contacted a family member who advised him to notify the police department. There has been no financial loss at this time. He was advised to monitor his bank accounts and credit and to contact the IRS and Social Security Administration to notify them of the fraud attempt.
On April 1, 2020 at 1:25 p.m. Officer Mankavech was dispatched to Reeds Pond for a report of vandalism. He observed there to be blue and red spray paint on a sign, several trees, rocks and a bench. There are no suspects at this time. The Department of Public Works has been notified.
Also, no surprise here, but the police have suspended the 20th Annual Officer Savage Memorial 5K road race. It’s not yet clear whether it will be canceled or rescheduled.
Only a handful of people were tuning in at any 1 time to the Wellesley Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday night (agenda here and video recording embedded below), but those of you work have construction projects underway at your homes or who hire landscapers might want to catch the replay. Possible new restrictions in town could hit you right in the kitchen.
The board members engaged in a lengthy and at times tense discussion (starting at about 1 hour and 40 minutes into the meeting) in which they debated restrictions that the town might put in place on everything from municipal to commercial to residential construction projects as well as on landscaping work. Executive Director Meghan Jop kicked off the discussion, proposing an order that would better distinguish between essential and nonessential projects, such as you need to have a working stove or bathroom, but you don’t necessarily need a new deck or kitchen remodel.
Lise Olney raised the issue of whether work should be allowed on uninhabited spec houses despite the economic interests of those who have invested in such properties and projects. “There are economic interests that are falling by the wayside all over the place because we’re in a health emergency,” she said.
As for extending such an order to include landscaping, Board member Tom Ulfelder argued that there’s a big difference between social distancing challenges while doing landscaping vs. working on interior construction, where it might be harder to stay out of each others’ way.
The discussion was much more nuanced than I’ve summarized here, so I would advise reviewing the video if you want to delve into this in greater detail.
A subset of the group is finalizing language around new rules for construction activities, and landscaping might be revisited. Such restrictions would initially be effective until May 4.
Much of the issue comes down to interpretations of Gov. Charlie Baker’s Emergency Order regarding COVID-19 Essential Services.
An unintended consequence of the order, said BoS member Jack Morgan, is that the term “essential” gets applied with a “broad brush.”
Health care workers in hospitals, medical offices, and care facilities everywhere know the drill. When caring for sick patients, they’re required to don personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid exposure and possible contamination. An important part of basic medical training is that gear such as gowns, eye protection, and masks are to be used only once. Then they are discarded into hazardous waste bins for proper disposal. Under everyday circumstances, to re-use any PPE would be actionable behavior, meaning a health care provider could be fired for failing to follow proper hygiene protocol.
Standards are changing, and not for the better. The advent of new coronavirus has brought with it a pressing shortage of all PPE, especially masks, and specifically N95 masks, the gold standard of PPE. One local nurse I spoke with explained that due to the shortage, medical professionals in her facility were now required to re-use what are designed to be disposable masks. These front-line workers are permitted one mask per patient, per shift. After providing care, the nurses must remove their mask, put it into a plastic bag, and re-wear it when they next provide care for that patient.
A supply chain, rattled
When Wellesley resident and life-long sewer Lynda Cowin Nijensohn heard about the country-wide shortage of masks, she and her kids, 14-year-old Mariana and 12-year-old Jed, both Wellesley Middle School students, decided to find a way to help.
“I’m a good sewer, and I literally have a factory of fabric. I found a pattern online for masks, and my kids and I got going. We started out by sewing over 300, and they all went to Mt. Holyoke Medical Center and a bunch of nursing homes,” she said. “My dad’s a doctor, and I’m aware what I’m making isn’t as good as an N95 mask. But it seemed like there was a need and the masks could be used to help people who may not be working directly with COVID patients, but who still needed safety for everyone.”
Major hospitals have been inundated with offers of homemade masks from sewers ready and willing to help out. So far, volunteers’ efforts have been gently deflected with wording similar to that found on the Atrius Healthcare site: “During a time of supply shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have received kind requests from our patients and the community who are willing to help make homemade masks and provide additional donations. Contributions of critical supplies and equipment are appreciated…we are currently accepting donations of homemade masks to use in the event our supply is depleted.”
But medical care provided by large hospitals represents only one way patient populations receive help. The staff at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, doctors’ offices, and shelters are busy fighting a last stand for their at-risk populations. One month ago, these institutions had all the masks they needed and the expectation that their standing orders would be rolling off the truck per usual. Today, standing orders mean nothing. PPE can’t be bought for love or money.
Have talent, will sew
And that’s where Nijensohn and her team of volunteers come in. These volunteers have lots of love. The money for materials they can find somehow. But most of all, they have determination. Brought together on a Facebook group put together by Nijensohn that has swelled to over 1,300 members, the over 50 sewers currently active have found eager takers for their homemade masks from institutions such as Waterstone Assisted Living in Wellesley; Women’s Lunch Place and the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston; Amego; Vinfen; Boston Rescue Mission, Hebrew Rehab, Spaulding, and many, many others.
Volunteers, start your engines. Can you hear it? That’s the sound of an army of sewers at their revved-up machines, stitching together two layers of 100% cotton fabric, with an elastic attachment. They’re in a race to provide health care workers with not only a measure of safety, but with a message of solidarity. You’re not alone out there. We’re pulling for you. The community cares.
With the recent Centers for Disease Control recommendations stating that people should wear “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission,” it comes as no surprise that health care facilities are not the only places now gratefully accepting home-made masks. Area fire fighters and police want them, too,
“We’ve sent out over 1,500 masks so far. And we just got a request for 260 from Roche Bros.,” Nijensohn said.
Patrons of Lisa James Salon in Wellesley, as well as those who knew salon owner James Mortenson through other parts of his life, are mourning his death at the age of 58.
Mortenson on the company website is quoted as saying he had been a hairstylist since 1982 and planned “to continue styling hair indefinitely.” Let’s hope that is so.
Mortenson’s wife Lisa and the Lisa James Salon staff announced on the business’s Facebook page that:
It is with an extremely heavy heart that we announce our fearless leader, James Mortenson, passed away on Monday, March 30, at 58 years old.
Jim had the most vibrant soul that any of us have ever known.
He would light up any room he entered and left quite an impression on anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him
His passions in life were his wife Lisa and their three daughters, Tori, Bella and Juliette, his family, his salon, and of course, golf! He had the biggest heart any human could ever have, and the loyalty of his staff and clientele are proof of that.
To say Jim will be missed is an understatement, and although we are shocked and devastated that we will have to continue life without him, Lisa and the LJS team plan to keep Jim’s memory and legacy alive in the salon he worked so hard for over the past 31 years.
We will be continuing to provide updates here on our Facebook page, and please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We thank you for your patience, loyalty and support as we deal with this tragic loss.
Funeral services will be private, but a celebration of his life will be held at a date to be determined.
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help the family during this difficult time.
Despite temperatures hovering in the 40s, it looked like a beach day at Morses Pond on Saturday based on the line-up of cars along Turner Road. It looked like the October soccer tournament at Elm Bank Reservation as cars lined up to exit the DCR park on the Wellesley/Dover/Natick line. And it looked like people in downtown Wellesley got the CDC message about wearing cloth face coverings to protect themselves from the new coronavirus (I didn’t want to invade the space of strangers to take photos, but feel free to share your mask mugshots here: [email protected]).
Just another Wellesley weekend during the spring of the new coronavirus, as active COVID-19 cases in town stood at 25.
We continued to reach out to businesses, town officials and others to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on related to COVID-19 and beyond. If you’d like to share your experiences or ideas—residents, businesses, town officials & students, we’re talking to you—please shoot us a message: [email protected] After all, we’re trying not to roam around too much, heeding the stay-at-home advisory.
Essentials businesses beyond restaurants—Jarvis Appliance & Holly Cleaners
While we’re rooting along with everyone else that Wellesley restaurants can survive the health crisis on take-out and delivery, we’re also curious about how non-restaurants that have been deemed as providing essential services have been faring. We’ve been reaching out to them regularly, and while some are skittish to say much, others have returned our calls or emails.
We connected with Jarvis Appliance on Rte. 9 in Wellesley, the location from which it has been operating since 1966, to get a sense of how things are going.
Sales Manager Richie Craig says Jarvis is open for business with scaled down hours and staff, but ready to handle customer inquiries by phone, live chat and in person.
“We are asking that anyone coming into the building please make an appointment if possible, although not needed,” he says. “Our showroom is being disinfected multiple times a day and also after any customer visit.” Naturally, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should steer clear, and don’t allow Jarvis service technicians, installers or delivery people into your home.
Wondering what’s in demand? “We are getting lots of calls from people looking to purchase freezers,” Craig says. “Unfortunately we are being told by our distributor that freezers will be out of stock until end of May. We are recommending getting a traditional refrigerator & freezer instead, as this will give you some freezer space and extra refrigerator space and will likely be a more used product when this pandemic is over.”
Looking ahead to nicer weather, Jarvis has all Weber grills on sale, plus free delivery and assembly on any grill over $600. “This gives you an alternative cooking method and gets you out of the house,” Craig notes.
“Being open during this time, we have gotten great feedback from customers thanking us for helping them a little bit during these trying times,” he says.
Separately, we reached out to a handful of dry cleaners in Wellesley, feeling they’ve been one of the less discussed essential service providers. Our guess would be that fewer people have a need for cleaning services in light of many of them not having to dress up as much for work while telecommuting.
Holly Cleaners General Manager Cassie Savalier notes that the Wellesley store is operating under reduced hours: Monday through Saturday from 7am -3pm. “We are taking all precautions necessary to protect our employees and our clients. We are also happy to help any customer temporarily sign up for delivery services if that helps ease the stress of this unprecedented situation,” she says.
Foot traffic is down at retail locations, but “delivery is still going strong. We are seeing a lot of storage items due to the changing seasons, and a lot of bedding,” Savalier says. “Those two departments are up and making up some of the difference for other departments that are slightly lacking right now for obvious reasons.” Holly’s business varies from location to location, with shops still operating as well in Needham and Newton in addition to Wellesley.
Easter Bunny visits
While the Wellesley Recreation Department has scrapped its annual egg hunt, it has negotiated with the Easter Bunny to make some extra special visits.
Registration for this residents-only program starts on April 6 and must be done online. A maximum of 20 homes will be visited on April 11. A $20 donation is requested, and funds will be used to support camp and scholarship programs.
April vacay could vanish
Wellesley already looks like families have cleared out for fabulous April school vacation getaways, but of course that’s not the case.
And in fact, there might not even be an April school break for Wellesley Public Schools. Supt. David Lussier said in his latest memo to the community that: “Based on our current academic calendar, the week of April 20th is designated as the WPS April Vacation. Because of our desire to maintain a continuity of student learning during this time as well as the current stay-at-home advisory, the Administration will be recommending to the School Committee next week that we cancel April Vacation this year. If this is approved, the school year for students would end on Tuesday, June 16th.”
Framingham’s arts center in dire need of funds
Beyond Wellesley, Framingham’s ātac (formerly known as the Amazing Things Art Center) “is facing an immediate and permanent closure if we are unable to cover the loss of revenue from canceled shows and rentals.” We’ve written in the past about Wellesley residents who have performed at the venue, and we’re sure many of you have attended shows there.
A crowdfunding campaign was launched in mid-March with the goal of raising $90K.