Our roundup of the latest Wellesley COVID-19-related news:
School testing shifts to homes
In light of spiking COVID-19 cases and staff absences, the Wellesley Public Schools system has been increasingly challenged to run the labor-intensive pool testing and contact tracing it’s been using up to now to manage the school community’s health. WPS continues to do both, but has been changing things up, according to a memo sent only to what it defines as the school community.
WPS Supt. Dr. David Lussier said during the Board of Health meeting on Jan. 13 (see start of Wellesley Media recording) that the school system has purchased $152K worth of home tests that it plans to distribute to families and staff. Wellesley Director of Public Health Lenny Izzo said the town has also put in an order for tests it seeks to distribute first to those most at-risk, including first responders.
Both hope for some reimbursement through the state or elsewhere, but said it was better to act sooner than later given the tight supply. Their purchases will supplement possible additional tests from the state, which has placed an order for 26 million tests to be distributed across the Commonwealth over several months, with a priority placed on K-12 schools and childcare outfits. The federal government will also start taking orders for four free tests per household on Jan. 19.
“I think we’re really on the cusp of a whole new approach to testing,” Lussier said during the Board meeting, adding that he hopes the state will follow suit with guidance. A better approach might be to “put more tools into the hands of families and staff,” he said.
Lussier hopes the tests ordered by the schools will arrive by the end of the month and that they can be doled out in weekly increments.
The schools documented nearly 200 positive tests this past week, and the town is seeing more than 50 cases a day, ranging from infants to elders. The numbers are tough to get a handle on given unknowns resulting from at-home tests and delayed processing of data. Though Lussier did say student and staff absences have progressively improved.
Beyond testing, the schools hope to run more COVID-19 vaccine booster clinics, and if that works out, families will be notified.
Not surprisingly, the state has extended its in-school mask mandate, which was set to run through mid-January, through the end of February.
Masks for businesses
The Wellesley Health Department is encouraging local businesses to post signs about mask wearing and is distributing surgical masks to businesses, thanks to a grant from the Community Fund for Wellesley. The town, which has issued a strong advisory to wear masks in public indoor settings, is urging people to ditch cloth masks and wear surgical, N95 or KN95 masks for the best protection.
Elizabeth Seton recognized
Among those organizations especially challenged in Wellesley during the pandemic have been nursing and rehab facilities such as The Elizabeth Seton Residence.
The leadership and staff there are celebrating the facility’s inclusion on U.S. News & World Report‘s “Best Nursing Home” list for the 10th year in a row. Elizabeth Seton made the cut in both the short-term rehab and long-term care categories.