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BY ELYSE CARMOSINO| February 3, 2021

SAUGUS — Saugus saw a marked decline in COVID-19 cases between December and January, Public Health Nurse Teresa Riley-Singh told the Board of Health this week.

The news, announced at Tuesday’s Board of Health meeting, was met with cautious optimism from officials who were hopeful the numbers may indicate a positive trend in Saugus, which has remained steadily classified by the state as a red zone for virus transmission since August.

According to Riley-Singh, Saugus reported a total of 823 cases of COVID-19 for January, with an average of 27 cases per day.

While still high for the community, she said the number was a noticeable improvement over December’s case number of 1,090, or 35 cases per day.

“If you’re looking at just the numbers, we’re definitely better,” Riley-Singh said, although she noted that both December and January’s numbers were still higher than November’s case count of 442, or 15 cases per day.

She added that over the last three months, Saugus’ case count has remained fairly consistent with the statewide average, noting that December’s numbers for both Saugus and the rest of the Commonwealth were roughly two and a half times the case count of November.

“The only real way to tell is time. We’ll have to see what February brings us,” she said.

Board of Health Chair William Heffernan asked Riley-Singh and the town’s Public Health Director, John Fralick, if there was anything more the town could do to prevent further virus transmission besides continuing to stress to residents the importance of washing hands and wearing masks.

“Honestly, at this point Mr. Chair, it really does have to do with vigilance,” Fralick responded. “Obviously it’s very encouraging to see that we’re trending in the right direction, but we can’t let that let us drop our guard down.”

Echoing the advice state and local health officials have imparted on the public since the start of the pandemic last March, Fralick said residents should continue to do their part to prevent the virus’ spread.

“We just have to continue to wear our masks and social distance — all the rhetoric we’ve been hearing for the last year,” he said. “(COVID-19) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it’s certainly trending in the right direction.

“We just have to remain vigilant at this point and continue to hope for the best.”

Since March, Saugus has reported a total of 3,280 confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the community, including 61 deaths.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree announced last month that Fallon EMS at the Square One Mall, located at 1201 Broadway with entry off of Essex Street, will continue to offer free drive-through testing for Saugus residents Monday through Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. No appointment is needed.

“Obviously testing is just one part of the strategic plan of slowing the spread of the virus,” Crabtree said. “Testing, combined with following the CDC and Mass Department of Public Health guidelines, is the key to doing that.”

All samples go directly to the Broad Institute in Cambridge for immediate testing with a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time.

Notification of negative test results will be made via email, while phone calls will be made for positive results. Residents can register using a tablet when they arrive. Most sites will close in inclement weather due to risk of test contamination.