GLOUCESTER — As businesses reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Gloucester’s public health team is evolving its approach to keep residents informed and safe.
In all, the city has 17 public health professionals working to address the COVID-19 pandemic locally.
“We’re really lucky we have this team in place,” Public Health Director Karin Carroll said. “It’s a special group, and together, they’ve been innovative and incredibly thoughtful about the needs people have at this time. We’re very fortunate that city leadership were so supportive, from the very beginning, of the public health needs surrounding this virus.”
New cases of COVID-19 in the city are currently trending down, and there are approximately five confirmed positive cases in the city currently. There have been 258 confirmed cases of the virus in Gloucester since March.
The City of Gloucester has assigned Janet Dickinson, a Plum Cove Elementary School nurse, to assist businesses as they navigate the state’s re-opening phases. She began her new role assisting the business community on June 20 and has been a member of the city’s COVID-19 nursing team since schools closed their facilities due to the virus in March. In her role, Dickinson is working full time as a public health nurse to consult with businesses and agencies as they open and have questions, and is also tasked with identifying any “business clusters” of COVID-19.
A “business cluster” is known as one or more cases of COVID-19 among employees. When a business cluster occurs, Dickinson will assist the business in identifying any other employees who were exposed and will facilitate the testing and quarantine of those people. She will also provide information and education to the business owner and/or manager to share with employees moving forward to reduce risk of exposure and promote the health and wellbeing of both employees and the public.
In particular, local public health officials are advocating for businesses to make employees feel comfortable taking a sick day and/or working from home should they exhibit a known symptom of the virus, including but not limited to cough, fever or shortness of breath.
Gloucester’s Health Department adopted the “business cluster” identification approach from the City of Peabody, which shared its model for identifying possible cases of COVID-19. A health inspector may respond along with the public health professional to a restaurant to review basic infection control and food handling protocol, identify possible concerns and train staff.
“Our Health Department has done a tremendous job of adapting to the needs of our community throughout this pandemic, and I think that’s a testament to our City, our ability to collaborate with one another and the ingenuity among our staff,” Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken said. “The health and wellbeing of everyone in our City is our top priority, and we will continue to actively monitor this virus in Gloucester and evaluate what we can do to better address this pandemic and keep people healthy.”
The city’s public health professionals will also help individuals obtain transportation to a testing center if necessary, and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, have helped identify other needs people incur should they contract the virus or come in close contact with a positive case. This has included helping families in quarantine access food, and thinking holistically about the affected individuals’ needs.
Among the city’s COVID-19 team of 17 public health professionals are Diana Edgar-Moloney, Vanessa Doucette and Salam Madi, who work for the City of Gloucester Children’s Dental Center. Doucette, a dental hygienist and teacher,is helping the city analyze COVID-19 statistics in the community.
She provides reports daily to Mayor Romeo Theken and Carroll, and is also working with Carroll to track community COVID-19 data this summer to assess how long it takes each person exposed to the virus to isolate or quarantine. The City will then analyze how it can work to identify possible solutions to shorten that amount of time in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
“The faster we can find out there’s been an exposure and get the exposed people home, away from others, the better chance we have of keeping people healthy and businesses open,” Carroll said. “We’re looking forward to analyzing this data and discerning if there is a way for us to reduce the time a close contact or positive case is around others.”
As people start to return to work, visit businesses and hold small social gatherings, when a new case does arise, public health professionals are also finding there are more close contacts to be identified than prior to the state’s re-opening phases.
The city’s public health professionals also continue to check in with the city’s two long-term care facilities daily for updates and to discuss any questions or concerns.
The city is additionally in the early stages of planning an aggressive flu season education campaign and opportunities for high risk residents to get their flu vaccinations safely and with reduced risk of exposure to COVID-19. Public health officials believe keeping flu cases low this fall and winter will be critical should the region see a second wave of COVID-19 cases. More information about this initiative will be provided when available.
As more information is shared by the state about the plan for re-opening schools this fall, the city’s public health professionals will also work with Gloucester Public Schools to implement the necessary procedures and precautions.