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Mayor McGee: Lynn extensively preparing to prevent spread of COVID-19

By Gayla Cawley | March 18, 2020

LYNN — Mayor Thomas M. McGee stressed the importance of a “united effort” from the city to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

The mayor’s remarks at Tuesday night’s special City Council meeting were aimed at updating residents on how the city was handling the “truly unparalleled situation” that the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak has presented. 

“The city has been extensively preparing for scenarios that can play out with the evolving COVID-19 situation,” said McGee. “Know that the tough decisions we are making are necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 here in Lynn. I want all Lynn residents to know we are united in our efforts.” 

Although the meeting was barred to the public to comply with Gov. Charlie Baker’s order that prohibits gatherings of more than 25 people, the session was televised and streamed live online. 

Social distancing, or spacing people at least six feet apart, which has been booked as the most effective measure to limit the spread of COVID-19, was apparent on Tuesday night, as city councilors, School Committee members, and city department heads were scattered across the Council Chambers. 

The closed session was held a day after the mayor declared a “State of Emergency” within the City of Lynn and the same day that the city’s Board of Health declared a “Public Health Emergency “in order to protect the general health, safety and well-being” of the city’s residents, McGee said.

Along with McGee, updates on various preventive measures were given by school Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler, the city’s Emergency Management Director Lt. Paul Ricchi, Lynn Community Health Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Geoff Pechinsky, and City Council President Darren Cyr. 

Those measures, McGee said, have included closing Lynn Public Schools until at least April 6, closing city buildings to the public aside from the Lynn Police and Fire Departments, shutting down city playgrounds, postponing shows at the Lynn Auditorium through April 29, and canceling, postponing, suspending, or virtually holding all non-essential government meetings. 

On Tuesday, the city started to comply with an order from Baker, which prohibits gatherings of more than 25 people and bans dine-in services at restaurants and bars. Those food establishments can now only offer takeout services. 

The governor’s ban effectively closes the majority of public establishments, including churches, gyms, theaters and workplaces. The city’s Department of Public Health has also ordered the closure of all youth daycare programs, senior adult daycare programs, nail salons, hair salons and barbershops through March 31, McGee said. 

Ricchi said the city’s emergency management team has now moved from the information gathering and monitoring phase to a response phase, which has included setting up an emergency operation center at the Lynn Police Department and a four-pronged effort to reduce a potential spread. 

“We’re fully assisting the mayor right now on coordinating our response to this unprecedented full outbreak,” said Ricchi. “This is the biggest incident I’ve been involved in since I’ve become emergency management director and I’m so confident in the mayor’s ability to handle this. The leadership has been calm and level-headed. I can’t say enough about what we’ve done so far because this is truly unprecedented.” 

That effort, Ricchi said, involves a quarantine and isolation task force to monitor people who may have been exposed; enforcing the governor and mayor’s restriction on mass gatherings; monitoring at-risk populations, such as the city’s large elderly population, who are at a high risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness; and coordinating a public information task force to provide updates. 

For instance, Stop & Shop is opening earlier to offer older adults aged 60-plus an opportunity to shop separately from 6-7:30 a.m., but if the elderly are unable to leave their house to go grocery shopping, they’re urged to contact members of the City Council or School Committee for assistance, Cyr said. 

“We have a very large population of seniors within the city,” said Cyr. (We’re) asking everyone to check on your neighbors (and) your friends.” 

If there’s anything that Pechinsky hopes people would take away from his message Tuesday night, it would be for them to wash their hands.

“I can’t stress that enough,” Pechinsky said. “COVID-19 does live on metal surfaces for a few days at least, we know that, but it doesn’t spread through your fingers. It spreads by putting your fingers in your mouth or your nose. In order to mitigate this, it’s washing your hands. Try not to touch our faces, sneeze into our elbows.” 

Although Pechinsky said there have been no coronavirus cases in the city yet, he expects there will be a positive test result at some point. The health center is in the mitigation phase and is triaging patients in a separate area at the front entrance to determine whether testing is needed. 

The health center anticipates coronavirus testing will “ramp up” in the next couple of weeks since the limits on testing, which has been a major stressor throughout the outbreak, have finally been loosened, Pechinsky said. 

Starting Wednesday, Pechinsky said the health center’s focus will be on conducting tele-health, rather than in-person appointments, with patients to reduce exposure.

“We’re stressing that social distancing,” he said. “This is unprecedented times, so really pulling together is what’s going to get us through this.” 

Although schools are closed, Tutwiler said kids are still encouraged to access resources on the school’s website to continue their education, and the city’s youth won’t miss meals they might otherwise only get at school. 

“Grab and go” lunches are available for all youth in the city under the age of 18 daily between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at four sites: Thurgood Marshall Middle School, Lynn English and Classical High schools, and Lynn Vocational Technical Institute. 

Tutwiler said 375 youth took advantage of those meals on Monday and 450 kids were served on Tuesday. 

“We’ve attempted to act swiftly and substantively in the best interest of the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” said Tutwiler. “This is not a snow day. It’s not a time for play dates. This is a serious, serious matter we’re faced with. The only way we will emerge successful is if people follow the guidelines.” 

Declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts increased to 218 on Tuesday, up from the 197 that were reported on Monday, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. 

Residents are encouraged to take the following precautions to prevent a community spread of the coronavirus: 

Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. 
Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue and dispose of any used material. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. 
Stay home if you are sick and call your doctor. 

All Lynn residents are encouraged to visit the City of Lynn Health Department “Coronavirus Resources” page at lynnma.gov/coronavirus for more information and sign up for the Smart 911 updates at https://smart911.com. 

Residents can still conduct city business by phone or online. Citizens can call Lynn City Hall at (781) 598-4000, Lynn DPW at (781) 268-8000, or the Lynn Public Library at (781) 595-0567, and follow the city website, lynnma.gov., for updates.