Mayor Donna D. Holaday
February 11, 2021
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining me to hear this latest COVID-19 update. We continue to see significantly smaller daily new cases since the New Year. Last week our case rate reduced to 20.5 per 100,000, according to the State report. This is a 50% decrease from the previous week and our rate had been over 50 per 100,000 over the holidays. In addition, our positivity rate is now 2.31. It had been above 5% for the majority of the holiday season. This is encouraging news, but I ask that all residents continue to be vigilant, make good decisions and following all the state’s guidelines.
Access to vaccines has been a major news topic and progress in dispensing is slowly improving. Last Friday the State opened a 2-1-1 hotline for residents 75 years and older to assist in signing up for a vaccine. There are over 500 workers to assist in fielding calls representing 100 languages. This is in addition to the online portal available on mass.gov. Our Council on Aging now has an intern staff that is also available to help with signing up.
We are trying to respond quickly to what has become a frustrating process in navigating the state’s vaccine appointment process. The state is very much aware the system is difficult and that there is a scarce number of time slots. However, as the number of vaccines increases over the next several weeks and months, it will be more readily available. I understand this does not help our seniors right at this moment. The state has advised that there are now (7) seven mass sites, the closest to us being the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Danvers, with two more sites to be added shortly. There will also be more appointments coming to the pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS and ConvientMD and to the grocery chains like Stop & Shop. As these area sites are confirmed and operational, we will provide additional information.
At the local level, Beth Israel Lahey Health (Anna Jaques Hospital is part of their network) will be operating a vaccination center at the
Newburyport Senior Community Center at 331 High Street beginning on February 15th. The center will operate through mid-April but will begin with a shorter schedule due to vaccine availability. The goal is to operate the center Monday through Friday from 8:30AM to 7:00PM and ultimately provide 500 vaccines per day.
This is a Beth Israel Lahey operation with the City of Newburyport who is hosting and providing space for this vaccination center as a local and familiar site for our seniors. Beth Israel Lahey Health, including AJH, serves over 100,000 patients in the region and that health care providers who are part of this health care system will be contacting their patients with information on how to make an appointment for the vaccination center at the Senior Community Center and other BI/LH sites. All appointments for the clinic will be scheduled through their network. There will be no walk-in appointments. For now, patients in their system who are identified in Phase 2 at age 75+, followed by age 65+ that are next in priority will be contacted on how to register for the vaccine. Please note the health network is working on how much supply they will receive initially to determine how many people can be invited to receive the vaccine.
We very much want to connect with you and try to help you in your efforts to get a vaccine appointment as soon as possible. We are committed to doing everything we can to help you navigate this and get our residents vaccinated.
Our health department is continuing to work with our neighboring com munities to develop additional regional sites. The 2nd dose for first responders is scheduled at the Page School in W. Newbury and all who received their first shot, should have received an email to register. This regional team is working on additional clinics but it is taking time as we await distribution of the vaccine. Thank you all for your patience and cooperation.
I’m pleased to announce in working with Superintendent Sean Gallagher and District Nurse Leader, Cathy Riccio that we have partnered with Cataldo Ambulance Service in hopes of providing COVID-19 vaccinations for the Newburyport Public Schools faculty and staff, again dependent on access to the vaccine.
If all goes well vaccinations will occur at the end of February and 2nd dose at the end of March. As we know, study after study makes clear that our children need to be in school, in person in their classrooms to support educational and emotional development. And while in person learning is especially challenging during this time, and we understand the challenges families have had face with remote and hybrid learning. Obtaining vaccines for the teachers and staff is a significant step in the right direction. We are also working with the state on development of a weekly COVID-19 pool testing programs for the students. The goal is to get as many students as possible back in the classroom as soon as possible. Please know this is a priority for all and further discussion and options for increasing in-person learning is ongoing and will be part of the agenda at the next school committee meeting on Feb. 23rd.
Finally, local governments across the country are collaborating to declare the first Monday in March as COVID Memorial Day. 32 Newburyport residents have died from complications from the virus. This resolution is part of a late file submitted to the City Council earlier this week. This will give the Council time to review and vote on the resolution at the February 22nd meeting and in advance of COVID-19 Memorial Day on March 1st. I anticipate flags will be at half-staff and I will be reaching out to our churches to have the bells toll 32 times to honor all those we have lost to this virus and the families and survivors who continue to suffer.
We are in much better shape economically than we were last spring but continue to be concerned about the fallout the closure of businesses. We have received a technical assistance grant to work with the city on revitalization and a Shared Street grant for $286,000, that will help the City continue the parklet and expanded outdoor dining program launched last summer. The grant will be used to design and install parklets for outdoor dining downtown. In addition, the grant will also fund pedestrian improvements at the State Street and Pleasant Street intersection to improve the crossing to make it safer and more accessible. We plan on beginning this work in mid-March, weather permitting and will be working with our downtown restaurants.
Just a reminder that we still have over $150,000 remaining in a grant awarded to Amesbury and Newburyport from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to support small businesses affected by the pandemic. Eligible small businesses can still apply for up to $10,000 in grant funding, which can be used for operating expenses such as payroll, or rent or mortgage payments; or hiring a consultant to provide legal, accounting, marketing and/or web development services. Businesses are encouraged to check our website for details.
I would like to thank our DPS staff for their hard work on the snowstorms we experienced over the past two weeks. We measured in at 17 inches of heavy wet snow, with an incredible amount of manpower and equipment necessary to clear our roadways over a 28-hour period on Tuesday, Feb. 1st and again this past week.
We’re also aware of the effects of such a large storm on the ability for residents to shovel and clean their sidewalks in order to comply with the city’s municipal code regarding snow and ice removal. But, please remember during these events not to plow or throw your snow onto the roadway. Snow should be removed from all sidewalks within six hours of snow stopping during the daytime. If snow stops falling at night people have until noon to clear the sidewalks bordering any property they occupy. We recognize that some people may be physically unable to actually clear snow and ice on their own. Please know that the Council on Aging in collaboration with Newburyport Youth Services have people available to provide snow clearing either for a fee or on a volunteer basis.
The recent storm also took an enormous toll on our residents at the Reservation Terrace neighborhood on Plum Island. In spite of having 150 sand super sacks installed by MassDOT, the area was still very much compromised with the strong nor’easter. I continue to work very closely with Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and state agencies for an interim protection for homes and the water/sewer infrastructure plan as we work with the Army Corps of Engineers on the upcoming dredging project on the Merrimack River that will provide more long-term protection with a new dune and berm.
As a coastal community, we have seen the impact of storm surge and climate change. It is critical we work collectively as a community to address these ongoing challenges. I am happy to report that the Newburyport Resiliency Committee has developed a Climate Resiliency Plan for the City. The plan will be presented to the public at 7:00 pm on Thursday, February 18, 2021. A link to connect to this meeting, information about the Resiliency Committee and a full copy of the plan can be found on the City website under the Public Meetings Calendar and Resiliency Committee pages. I am very grateful to the members of the Resiliency Committee under the Chair of David Chatfield and former Co-Chair Michael Morris who worked diligently for several years with members of our staff and community to develop this plan. The new Climate Resiliency Plan, the first developed specifically for the City of Newburyport, addresses a now global planning and sustainability issue surrounding climate change for our seaside community, a portion of which is located on a barrier beach and much of which has frontage on the tidally influenced Merrimack River. Its chapters address Newburyport-specific climate change hazards and vulnerabilities, and recommends adaptation strategies to ensure that Newburyport remains a resilient community in the face of global warming, sea level rise and climate change implications. These strategies include infrastructure installations and improvements, regulatory and administrative approaches, community communication and education, and mitigation through “carbon footprint” reductions. I encourage all to join in this meeting.
February is Black History Month, providing a time to reflect upon the accomplishments of Black Americans, and acknowledges the central role of African Americans in United States history. It is fitting that our High School with support from the Newburyport Educational Foundation and Literary Festival, organized a community read. The chosen text, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is a powerful and graphic novel describing the racism, corruption, and cruelty that has pervaded the American court systems and lead to the systematic abuse of marginalized communities.
Additionally, our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Alliance has been meeting twice a month since December. It is a great group of residents with broad community representation who are committed to making Newburyport a more inclusive community. The group is working on a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Threats). The Alliance is also working with Michael Eatman, who has been working on similar issues within the School District. The Alliance is working to complete this analysis; develop a community survey; participate in additional trainings; finalize goals and action steps and then engage our community later in 2021.
In closing, I know we are all anxious for greater access to vaccines and I am confident we will see additional sites and more vaccine in the coming months. There is much to be hopeful for we number of cases decreasing in our city and state but we must continue to listen to medical experts warning us that the virus is still very much with us, and so please remain vigilant. Thank you again for your support and compliance, we will continue to move forward together. Wishing all a Happy Valentine’s Day and encourage you to get your special dinner from one of our local restaurants. Stay safe and stay healthy.