Mayor Holaday's Weekly COVID-19 Update February 18, 2021

Mayor Donna D. Holaday
February 18, 2021
COVID-19 UPDATE

Link to video recording.

Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for listening in on this latest COVID-19 update. As many of you may know, our senior residents 75 years and older began getting vaccinated on February 1st. And just last week, the state announced that companions and caregivers who accompanies a person is also able to get the vaccine. With this, we have seen a significant flow of our seniors 75 plus being able to get to a site for vaccination. It was also just announced that as of today, individuals that are age 65 or older, or individuals with two or more specific medical conditions, and residents and staff of public and private low income and affordable senior housing are also eligible to receive this vaccine. With this announcement, an additional 1 million individuals in Massachusetts become eligible for the vaccine.

However, the major challenge is supply and the State had been receiving only 110,000 vaccines per week which will increase slightly to 139,000 vaccines starting next week. The demand clearly is outpacing the current supply. In anticipation of this challenge, and with the limited vaccine supply provided by the federal government, the state will be streamlining the vaccine distribution process.

Starting in March, the state will focus on increased capacity at locations such as the mass vaccination sites, regional collaboratives (of which we have been fortunate to have one of these clinics for first responders with neighboring communities) and pharmacies. The goal is to have one uniform set of rules across all sites that are more efficient and better equipped so that people can be vaccinated more quickly. The closest mass site to us in Newburyport is the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Danvers, where there’s been success for our residents with this operation. We encourage you to utilize it if you are able. There are also a few local Walgreen and CVS pharmacies available in our area.

As some of you may know, there has been difficulty and confusion in navigating the state’s vaccine appointment process. The state is now encouraging eligible residents to register on a new dedicated and more user-friendly website at: vaxfinder.mass.gov. Or, if you prefer to register over the phone with live assistance, you can also call 2-1-1. Please anticipate a wait time to be connected with a person.

We also continue to encourage residents to ask for assistance from family members and friends. We also understand that some residents do not have adequate or access to transportation. The Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) Office of Special Services is providing transportation to vaccination sites in the Merrimack Valley service area, 7 days a week. For assistance, please feel free to call the MVRTA Office of Special Services at (978) 469-6878 and select Option 3 when prompted, or e-mail them at specialservices@mvrta.com.

At the local level, Beth Israel Lahey Health (Anna Jaques Hospital is part of their network) is currently operating a vaccination center at the Newburyport Senior Community Center at 331High Street. However with the limited supply of vaccines, it is unclear at this moment if this site will be able to continue. Right now only 500 vaccines were available this past week and only 300 for next week. Appointments were made for 75+ through the BILH system which serves over 100,000 people in the Greater Newburyport area. Please note the health network is working on how much supply they will receive to determine how many people can be invited to receive the vaccine, in addition to how long they will be able to do this given the state’s new priorities in the distribution process for the vaccine. This is a Beth Israel Lahey operation with the City of Newburyport hosting and providing space for this vaccination center.

Our health department is also continuing to work with seven neighboring com munities to develop a regional vaccine site. However, it may be some time depending on our ability to meet the state’s recent changes on designated site priorities, requirements for the numbers of eligible residents, and supply and distribution of the vaccine. We are continuing to address this.
Additionally, these new guidelines have postponed our efforts to work with our EMS provider to vaccinate teachers next week. We still hope to be able to provide vaccines at a later date in March.

All of this is a shared responsibility and a formidable effort to offer safe and effective vaccines to all of us locally, and to the millions of Massachusetts residents. Working together, state and local municipalities along with our health departments and health care partners can meet this challenge. I know how anxious many people are to obtain the vaccine but until supply increases, we must be patient.

Locally, we are continuing on a positive downward trend with our COVID numbers in Newburyport. We are still in the “Yellow”, or medium risk category, but our Average Daily Rate per 100,000 cases for the last 14 days has dropped from 20.5 percent to 18.9 percent this week. And our percent of positive cases over the last 14 days has dropped from 2.3 percent last week to 1.9 percent. And while the data shows improvement, the message for all of us is clear: we must stay diligent. This means to continue practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and washing our hands. And please, it’s more important than ever to monitor your health. Be alert for symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and other signs the CDC has identified. By taking these precautions, we can help protect ourselves and our loved ones and stay healthy and safe.

Finally, relating to Covid-19, I anticipate the City Council will pass a resolution Monday night to establish the first Monday in March as COVID Memorial Day to honor all who have passed from this virus and the impact on family members and survivors. We lost 32 people to this virus.
Some local city activities that I’m pleased to announce – the Library is now reopened for limited walk in browsing during their regular scheduled hours, and appointments can be made for computer use, scanning, printing, faxing and photocopying. You can check the library’s website, or call 978-465-4428, x242 for more information.

We have also begun the AARP Tax-Aide Program that provides in-person and remote tax assistance free of charge to anyone, with a special focus on low to moderate income taxpayers who are 50 and older and have simple taxes. Tax help is provided in safe environments using a variety of methods based on a number of factors, including where you are located, COVID-19 spread, and volunteer availability. In Newburyport starting yesterday and through April 15th, volunteer AARP Tax Aides are modifying procedures to keep everyone safe during the pandemic. To register for this valuable service at the Newburyport Senior Community Center, call the Newburyport Council on Aging at (978) 462-0430.

Tonight at 7:00 pm, we will be presenting the Climate Resiliency Plan for the City developed by the Newburyport Resilience Committee. 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. 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. 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.

Lastly, while we all look forward to a time when we can return to a more normal life, let’s keep in mind that it is a process, and it may be a long one at that. But by continuing to be diligent with the virus, we can help speed up that process. Remember, we’re all in this together.