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Swampscott resident contracts COVID-19, town reacting

By David Mclellan | March 20, 2020

SWAMPSCOTT — A Swampscott resident has contracted COVID-19, according to the town’s Board of Health Chairwoman Marianne Hartmann.

Hartmann would not give out identifying information about the resident, but said the resident is isolated at home and is in regular communication with town officials.

“This is the first of likely many cases in Swampscott,” Hartmann said.

The Swampscott Selectboard and Board of Health held a virtual, online-streamed meeting Wednesday to educate the public on the town’s response to COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus that can cause influenza-like symptoms and has infected at least 256 people in Massachusetts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to closing schools and public buildings until at least April 6, Swampscott is taking measures to comply with the CDC recommendations on “social distancing.” Playgrounds have been closed. Town fields are still open for residents, but no group gatherings are allowed and people must remain at least 6 feet away from each other.

All town-sponsored events, fire and building inspections, and in-person town government meetings have been postponed until further notice. Town government bodies may hold virtual meetings using the Zoom application on computers and mobile devices.

“Social distancing is so vital. I continue to hear confusion over this. There should not be playdates, there should not be football games, there should not be groups of people over for dinner,” Hartmann said. “Earlier today, I needed to talk to a group playing basketball at the court, they were not happy with me but they understood.”

Because dining in at all restaurants in Massachusetts has been banned, the town is allowing all of its restaurants to provide take out or delivery services, even restaurants that are not licensed to do so by the town. It is recommended that restaurants set up a drive-up system where take out orders are brought to customers in their cars, in order to prevent lines from forming at the restaurants.

Free take-home meals are provided to all residents — not just students — at Swampscott High School Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Neia Illingworth, a registered nurse and public health emergency coordinator for the Swampscott Health Department, said about one in five people who contract coronavirus will need hospitalization. Those over the age of 60 and people with preexisting health conditions such as heart and lung disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are more likely to develop a serious illness, she said.

The virus is thought to be most spreadable from person to person, with low “survivability” on surfaces, Illingworth said. People become infected when an infected person’s respiratory droplet — from a sneeze or cough — lands in another’s mouth, or is inhaled into the lungs.

“In general, because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packages that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures,” Illingworth said.

Someone may get infected by touching coronavirus on a surface and then touching their face, but this is thought to be “not the main way” the virus is spreading, Illingworth said. As always, it is recommended people frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, she said.

In addition to Swampscott, there are presumptive coronavirus cases in Marblehead and Revere, and a parishioner at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Lynn.

A case of coronavirus is “presumptive” when a patient has tested positive for coronavirus, but the test has not been confirmed by CDC. After CDC affirms the positive test, it becomes a “confirmed” case.

“We are at war with the common enemy of COVID-19, and unless we all join together to battle against it we will not succeed in keeping the amount of illness and the death toll down in our town,” Hartmann said.

For more information on Swampscott’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, and for information on watching online-streamed meetings, visit the town website at www.swampscottma.gov.