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BY GAYLA CAWLEY| August 25, 2020

LYNN — With numbers continuing to indicate Lynn has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the state, Mayor Thomas M. McGee said the city will start to take a more proactive approach to controlling the surge this week.

In addition to measures that will start to be implemented this week, McGee said the city is considering reimplementing an overnight curfew and enforcing a universal mask mandate, which would require residents to wear a face covering outside at all times.

“Brockton instituted a curfew the other day,” said McGee. “We just want to make sure we’re taking the right action. We’re taking these steps now and we’re trying to get our hands around where these cases are happening.”

Those steps being taken now, he said, includes removing basketball hoops at public parks and prohibiting baseball and events from taking place at Manning and Fraser fields indefinitely.

Lynn Beach and Lynn Woods will be open for passive recreation only. And the city will not be approving any permitted events for the time being, other than those that are for city purposes, McGee said.

In addition, with the support of the Baker-Polito administration, the city will be re-engaging its enforcement and compliance team, which will provide both education and enforcement for individuals and businesses that have not been adhering to virus restrictions.

Members of the team will get out into the community to hand out masks and talk to people, but they will also work with the Baker-Polito administration and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to perform spot checks at businesses where there have been complaints.

So far, McGee said the problem has mostly been with patrons at businesses, rather than the owners, such as customers entering supermarkets without masks.

“Most businesses have been complying, but we’re going to continue to ensure that’s happening across the board,” said McGee, explaining that there has been a handful of complaints and spot checks will begin this week.
As McGee and Public Health Director Michele Desmarais have attributed much of the city’s recent surge to large social gatherings such as house parties and baby showers, the enforcement team will be working with local police to monitor those types of gatherings.

The city will work within its public health and law departments to send letters to hosts of any residences that have been identified as having hosted large social gatherings. Said letters will inform them of Gov. Charlie Baker’s limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, no more than 25 and 50 people respectively, and warn them of the potential $500 fine for any continued violation.

No fines have been issued so far, but McGee said the law department is in the process of drafting letters of warnings for eight to 10 residences where large gatherings have taken place.

“It’s important to send the message not only to those that have indicated that they’re in violation of the governor’s orders, but just to let people know we’re taking this seriously across the board,” said McGee.

In addition to gatherings, McGee attributes the spike to people living in close quarters in more densely populated areas of the city and playing high contact sports like basketball.

The city will be mailing out information in multiple languages to certain densely populated zip codes where spikes have been identified, which will encourage residents to wear masks, practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and get tested.

But he said infected people are also becoming more reluctant to provide the city’s contact tracing team with information about where they have been or who they have come into contact with, which makes it more difficult to pinpoint where cases are coming from.

“People are interacting with people, whether it be at work or with families,” said McGee, citing the city’s close proximity to other high risk communities, such as Revere, Chelsea and Everett.

“That’s part of the problem. If you let your guard down, it can spread easily. It’s very contagious. I think it’s a number of things. That’s why the contact tracing and the testing is so important.”

As for additional actions, McGee said he would consider closing down parks and playground equipment again, which was done in earlier phases, if there are large gatherings and problems in those public areas. But so far, he said organized sports seem to be causing the problems with virus spread in parks, rather than the equipment.

With a positive test rate of 7.09 percent, which is nearly five times the state average of 1.5 percent and the highest rate aside from a small town skewing the results, it’s easy to make the argument that Lynn is the new epicenter of the virus in Massachusetts.

But McGee said that the same argument can be made for several communities on any given week, such as Revere, Chelsea and East Boston.

“It’s not just Lynn,” said McGee. “It’s this area that continues to be (in) this crisis, where most of the cases have been happening,” said McGee. “We could be called the epicenter today. Today the story will be about Lynn. Chelsea still has a high rate. Next week it could be Revere.”

Regardless of what community is carrying that unfortunate distinction, McGee said local leaders from those high risk cities need to be working together to stop the spread.

“We can’t take our eye off the ball,” said McGee. “This is continuing to be an issue we have to address.”