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BY GAYLA CAWLEY| January 8, 2021

Leaders from nine North Shore communities have teamed up to prepare for the potential implementation of further economic rollbacks should the post-holiday surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue.

Municipal leaders, public health directors, and Board of Health members from nine communities — Lynn, Marblehead, Nahant, Peabody, Salem, Swampscott, Beverly, Danvers, and Gloucester — have met with hospital presidents from North Shore Medical Center (Salem Hospital) and Beverly Hospital, and a leading epidemiologist over the past two weeks.

The meetings have been aimed at reviewing current COVID-19 case data and hospital capacity, and discussing whether communities should consider further rollbacks — which would include additional restrictions on indoor activities — to help reduce the post-holiday spread of the virus, according to a joint statement signed by the community leaders.

“Essex County has the highest case counts in the commonwealth and, with increasing COVID case counts happening throughout the North Shore, municipal officials are collectively concerned about overwhelming our local hospitals’ capacity,” the statement said.

“We are particularly troubled about impacts to our hard-working residents in the healthcare workforce. With little remaining capacity at our region’s hospitals, everyone is negatively affected, even if the reason for your hospital visit is not COVID-related.”

North Shore leaders are currently deferring taking additional action on rollbacks, the statement said, but respective mayors, town administrators and public health directors “remain committed to supporting our healthcare institutions and will continue to monitor case counts and hospital capacity on a daily basis.

“If case counts continue to increase, hospital admissions, whether for COVID or any healthcare need, will be compromised and further action by local officials may be necessary,” the statement said. “Should case numbers rise, several communities in the region are prepared to restrict unnecessary indoor activities that may contribute to the spread of the virus.”

All nine of the communities that signed onto the joint statement are in the red this week, the state’s designation for cities and towns that are at a high risk of virus spread.

In Lynn, Mayor Thomas M. McGee and Public Health Director Michele Desmarais, who both signed onto the joint statement, issued two executive orders on Wednesday that extended the city’s economic rollback to a modified Phase 2, Step 2, until further notice.

The city rolled back from Phase 3 on Dec. 18, and rather than lifting the additional restrictions this week, McGee opted to keep the orders in place with no clear timeline as to how long the rollback would be in place.

Since Dec. 18, the two city orders have placed further restrictions on certain indoor establishments, particularly restaurants and bars, and have required other businesses that were open in Phase 3, including gyms, museums and indoor events spaces, to close.

“We’re seeing it play out, not just locally,” McGee said of the post-holiday case spikes, noting that city leaders have been getting feedback from doctors and epidemiologists, in terms of “how the surge continues to impact all of us.”

“It’s a nationwide and statewide problem. We’re also seeing a substantial spike here in Lynn,” said McGee, explaining that the virus continues to hit communities like Lynn hard, where many people are living in crowded conditions and working in essential jobs.

North Shore municipal leaders, public health directors and members of boards of health, along with healthcare leaders from NSMC and Beverly Hospital, said they “strongly encourage all residents of the region to avoid non-essential, in-person activities with people not part of your household for the next several weeks,” the statement said.

“Even with reduced occupancy restrictions, these non-essential activities during a time period of rapidly rising community transmission, should be avoided if at all possible. The next several weeks are crucial to our collective health as a region,” the statement said.

“Everyone has worked so hard the last 10 months and with vaccine distributions underway, we are hopeful that brighter days are ahead in 2021.”

The statement was signed by:

Mayor Thomas M. McGee and Public Health Director Michele Desmarais in Lynn.
Town Administrator Jason Silva, Health Director Andrew Petty, Board of Selectmen Chair Jackie Belf-Becker, and Board of Health Chair Todd Belf-Becker in Marblehead.
Town Administrator Antonio Barletta and Health Director John Coulon in Nahant.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt and Health Agent Sharon Cameron in Peabody.
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, Health Agent Dave Greenbaum, and Board of Health Chair Dr. Jeremy Schiller in Salem.
Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald and Health Agent Jeff Vaughan in Swampscott.
Mayor Michael Cahill and Health Director Bill Burke in Beverly.
Town Manager Steve Bartha and Health Director Mark Carleo in Danvers.
Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and Health Director Karin Carroll in Gloucester.