July 23, 2020: Town of Bedford Update on COVID-19

Important Updates: All Town-Sponsored and Large-Scale Events Cancelled for 2020, Food Bank-New Location, and New Time!, Reusable Bags are Back, Moratorium on Evictions, Reopening of Adult and Amateur Sports
July 23, 2020: Town of Bedford Update on COVID-19

Town of Bedford Update on COVID-19

July 23, 2020

The Bedford COVID-19 Task Force met Thursday, July 23, 2020 to review the latest guidance from the Department of Public Health (DPH), the office of Governor Charlie Baker, and Town Legal Counsel.

The COVID-19 Task Force is comprised of the following Town officials:

Sarah Stanton, Town Manager

Jon Sills, Superintendent of Schools

Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services

Robert Bongiorno, Police Chief

David Grunes, Fire Chief

Taissir Alani, Facilities Director

Case Counts

Over the past several weeks, the Bedford Board of Health conducted a comprehensive review of COVID-19 positive cases and the case count as reported to the town by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH). The review revealed duplicate cases, cases that belong to other jurisdictions, and cases reported to other jurisdictions that are actually Bedford residents, which has led to adjustments in the Bedford case count reported today. The data reporting discrepancies typically result from incomplete information provided by an individual at the time of testing. As more information is obtained by the Board of Health relative to ongoing case investigation, the total case count will be adjusted and reported accordingly.

As of today, July 23, 2020, there have been a total of two hundred seventy-four (274) positive cases of COVID-19 reported to the Board of Health by the MA DPH, of those, one hundred fifty-three (153) are Bedford residents not living in a healthcare/long term care setting. The deaths of forty-five (45) Bedford residents have been attributed to COVID-19. The total case number includes residents of the Town of Bedford, including but not limited to those in: single-family homes, apartments, the VA campus, Hanscom Air Force Base, special needs group homes and any and all other larger assisted living/care facilities in Bedford as reported to us by the MA DPH.

As you may be aware, long-term care facilities serving the elderly and congregate care facilities, house susceptible populations with underlying conditions who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Increased testing occurs at these facilities and results in more positive cases being identified. As such, cities and towns with these facilities, like Bedford, experience elevated positive case counts and, unfortunately, deaths due to the vulnerability to COVID-19 of the populations within those facilities.

Two hundred twenty-four (224) of the total Bedford cases have already recovered and have come off isolation. This number is down from two hundred twenty-five (225) reported on Monday, as one case that had been assigned to Bedford, which we were following, was transferred to the rightful hometown for continued follow-up. There may other Bedford residents who would be considered persons under investigation in that they are symptomatic, have undergone testing but have not yet received results. There are other individuals impacted by COVID-19 in the community that have not sought medical attention, and/or have not been tested and are isolating at home regardless. Those individuals do not appear on the surveillance reports the Town receives from the MA DPH.

The Board of Health continues to do the appropriate follow-up and outreach to those residents and close contacts known to us and the VA is conducting follow-up and contact tracing of the Veteran’s under their care. Many of the identified close contacts of some of the Bedford cases never exhibited symptoms, have completed their required quarantine period and have been released from quarantine by the Board of Health.

Please note, in part to alleviate the community concern, the VA does do a daily report of their numbers, which includes inpatients, outpatients and staff, many of whom do not call Bedford home. The information can be found here: https://www.accesstocare.va.gov/Healthcare/COVID19NationalSummary

Town-Sponsored and Large-Scale Events Cancelled Through the End of 2020

At Monday’s Select Board meeting, in the interest of public health and safety, the Select Board voted to cancel several Town-sponsored events through the end of 2020, including but not limited to, Bedford Day, Oktoberfest, the Citizen of the Year ceremony, Veterans Day commemorations, road races (whether or not they are town-sponsored), and any indoor or outdoor event that typically draws large crowds. The well-attended nature of these events makes it extremely difficult to maintain social distancing, and protect public health during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the Board voted that the Council on Aging will remain physically closed to the public through 2020, and that Town board, commission, and committee meetings will continue to be conducted virtually through Zoom through the end of 2020.  For town committees previously identified as Phase II committees, meetings will re-start after Labor Day. In the interim, the Town Manager’s office will be working to temporarily assign a staff person to facilitate Phase II remote meetings.

Cancelling some of Bedford’s most wonderful events was a decision that did not come lightly. The Select Board shares residents’ disappointment that these events and programming will not be held this year. We all look forward to being able to attend these types of gatherings again!

Fall sports, after-school activities, recreation programming, and child-care continue to be under evaluation as part of school reopening discussions. More to come!  

Food Bank – Planning for a new location and day/time

The Town of Bedford has operated a successful drive-thru Food Bank every Friday at the John Glenn Middle School (JGMS) at 99 McMahon Road since in mid-March. To date, over 3,500 bags of food, to supplement meal preparation during the week, have been provided to Bedford seniors, schoolchildren, Veterans and residents experiencing food insecurity.

In an effort to allow the school staff to prepare for reopening in the fall, the Food Bank location is shifting locations and distribution day/time, after July 31st. Starting the first week in August, the Food Bank will be operated out of the Town Center Building (yellow building behind Town Hall) at 12 Mudge Way, situated on the Town Campus. The drive-through model will be maintained with residents pulling up to the front door of Town Center via the rotary. Signs directing residents to the location will be posted. The process for bag pick up will essentially be the same with cars pulling up to the door and a volunteer placing the bag in the car trunk, back cargo area or back seat. Residents do not get out of their vehicle. The new schedule for the Town Center Food Bank will be Thursdays from 4:00 - 5:30 pm, with the first event on Thursday, August 6th from 4:00– 5:30 pm.

Families and guardians in need are welcome to continue to access Bedford's Food Bank.  Starting in August, the intention is to provide one robust bag of food per household in need, but separate bags will no longer be customized for school students.  For nutritious meals adhering to school nutrition guidelines, the summer nutrition program in Waltham is also available to Bedford families. Please navigate to https://meals4kids.org/find-summer-meal-site for hours and directions, as well as information about other summer feeding programs for schoolchildren in the area. 

The Town Center Food Bank will continue to operate primarily on a drive-through basis, with limited exception for residents who are on foot. Those utilizing the Food Bank cannot park their car and walk up to the site. Residents should enter the Town Center rotary from Mudge Way and will be directed in reverse around the rotary. The separate Food Bank delivery system will continue to operate for homebound seniors, and disabled residents. If you are a homebound resident and in need of food assistance, please e-mail [email protected].

Thank you to the Bedford Food Pantry, Gaining Grounds in Concord, the Greater Boston Food Bank and donors to the Bedford Emergency Relief Fund for the continued support of this well needed effort which serves upwards of 150 families each week during this crisis.

Reusable Bags – Again allowed to be used in Grocery Stores and Pharmacies

On July 10, 2020, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH) rescinded a previous emergency order related to grocery stores and pharmacies that, in part, prohibited the use of reusable checkout bags by grocery stores and pharmacies and their patrons. 

As such, as of July 10th , the MA DPH now permits the use of reusable bags and does not consider reusable bags to be a significant risk factor in the spread of COVID-19 due to the implementation of other grocery store and pharmacy specific requirements are in place to reduce COVID-19 exposure. Given this news, the Bedford Board of Health wants to remind residents that it is still important for all to continue to follow best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses by cleaning and disinfecting common touch surfaces and hand washing frequently to prevent transmission. Follow these tips to help protect yourself and others when using reusable bags:

  • Clean and disinfect reusable grocery bags often and after each use
  • Do not use reusable grocery bags for other purposes. Bags used for groceries should be cleaned before and after use, and especially before and after if used for other purposes.
  • Allow reusable bags to dry completely before storing or using.
  • Store reusable bags in a cool, dry place away from other items or storage areas that may contaminate them.
  • Check with stores if they have policies or procedures in place for the use of reusable bags
  • Consider bagging your own groceries when using reusable bags
  • Use hand sanitizer when leaving the store and before entering your car.  Always wash your hands when you return home and after handling any surface touched by others.
  • Remember food safety to prevent foodborne illness – Separate meat, fish, or poultry; fresh produce, and ready-to-eat foods. Dedicate one bag for each type of food. Remember to refrigerate foods within at least two hours of leaving the store and as soon as possible during the warmer weather. As a general rule discard any food left out longer than two hours (weather or room temperature dependent).

For more tips on the safe use of reusable bags during COVID-19, please view the Board of Health article found here: https://www.bedfordma.gov/bedford-board-of-health/news/tips-for-safe-use-of-reusable-bags-during-covid-19

Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures Extended to October 17th

On July 21, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker extended the pause on evictions and foreclosures for 60 days, until October 17, 2020, through the authority granted to the governor by Chapter 65 of the Acts of 2020, An Act providing for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 Emergency, which was signed into law on April 20, 2020. This law’s limitations on evictions and foreclosures have allowed many tenants and homeowners impacted by COVID-19 to remain in their homes during the state of emergency, and this extension provides residents of the Commonwealth with continued housing security as businesses cautiously re-open, more people return to work, and the state collectively moves toward a “new normal.” The moratorium was set to expire on August 18, 2020.

Tenants are strongly encouraged to continue to pay rent, and homeowners to make their mortgage payments, to the extent they are able. To assist low-income households in making rent and mortgage payments, as well as support landlords needing these rent payments to pay expenses, the Baker-Polito Administration launched a new $20 million, statewide fund, the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) program, on July 1st.

This funding complements the $18 million currently available through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) homeless prevention program, which can also be used for rent or mortgage payments. In each program, landlords or mortgage lenders receive payments directly from the RAFT administering agencies.

During this 60-day extension, the Administration will consult with the court administrators and other stakeholders regarding programs and policies to help tenants avoid eviction when proceedings resume.

The law suspends most residential and small business commercial evictions, as well as residential foreclosures. It does not relieve tenants or homeowners of their obligation to pay rent or make mortgage payments. The law also:

  • Prevents landlords from sending notifications to residential tenants that threaten eviction or terminating of a lease;
  • Limits court actions on non-essential evictions;
  • Relieves tenants, both residents and small commercial, from late fees and negative credit reporting;
  • Allows landlords to use “last month’s rent” to pay for certain expenses, though not as a replacement rent payment, and only with proper notification of tenant;
  • Requires lenders to grant a forbearance for up to 180 days if a homeowner experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 submits such a request; and
  • Allows for alternative payment agreements between lenders and borrowers regarding forbearance payments. Additional resources and information can be found on DHCD’s COVID-19 Resource Page found here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-dhcd-website

Additionally, the Mass. Housing Partnership (MHP) developed a resource guide for tenants and others facing financial distress due to the emergency.  This is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese on MHP’s website: https://www.mhp.net/news/2020/resources-for-tenants-during-covid-19-pandemic

Homeowners who may be falling behind on mortgage payments, or in danger of doing so, should seek advice on their best course of action and may choose to negotiate an altered payment schedule or refinance at a lower interest rate. Some useful resources for homeowners are:

Some non-profit organizations that offer foreclosure counseling are:

Reopening of Adult and Amateur Sports Activities in Phase III, Step 1 - Safety is Paramount!

While Phase III, Step 1 of the state’s gradual reopening is underway, over the past week or so Town Officials cannot help noticing some issues with non-compliance while groups are using Town facilities and fields.

When engaging in Lower Risk (i.e. tennis, pickleball, swimming, catch, disc golf, golf, individual biking,) and Moderate Risk (i.e. baseball, softball, track and field, cross country, running clubs, team swimming, volleyball, dance class, fencing, field hockey, no-contact lacrosse) sports and recreation activities, it is imperative that organizers and participants comply with the following standards for safe engagement:

  • No more than 25 players on any surface/playing areas for team/group sports.
  • No more than 100 people including participants, players, coaches, volunteers, spectators in the aggregate in, on, or surrounding any surface/playing area or start/finish lines at any one time, provided that there is adequate space for all participants, players, coaches, volunteers and spectators to maintain at least six feet social distancing, recognizing that for some moderate risk sports intermittent contact may occur for players.
  • Larger playing areas and surfaces, such as athletic fields, tracks, facilities that have multiple courts or playing areas, may be used by more than one group at one time, provided that adequate social distance and group separation can be maintained.
  • Face coverings and social distancing of six feet is required when participants are not actively engaged in an activity (e.g., on bench, huddles, breaks, locker rooms, pre/post practice).
  • Dugouts, benches & bleachers are allowed to open only if they can be thoroughly cleaned before and after every use and six feet of distance can be maintained.
  • Sportsmanship should continue in a touchless manner – no handshakes/slaps/fist bumps.
  • Spectators must wear facial coverings and maintain six feet of social distance at all times. For competitions and tournaments in the water, the aforementioned limitation applies to any applicable activities on land.
  • Coaches, staff, referees, umpires and other officials are required to wear facial coverings and maintain social distancing of 6 feet from players, coaches, spectators, and other persons at all times.
  • No spectators allowed for sports and activities played by individuals 18 years and older.
  • Activity organizers should ensure that individuals are not congregating in common areas or parking lots following practices or events.

Groups are encouraged to be mindful of these safety standards or risk losing their permission to use town fields and courts for their programs. Please use the following link to navigate to the full Phase III, Step 1 Guidelines and Standards issued by the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs https://www.mass.gov/doc/safety-standards-for-youth-and-adult-amateur-sports-activities-phase-iii-step-1/download.

“Stop the Spread” Testing Sites Open in 8 Communities

In case you missed the news, free COVID-19 testing sites are open in eight communities as part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s “Stop the Spread” initiative. These sites will remain open until August 14th to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in communities that are above the state average in total cases and positive test rate, and have experienced a decline in testing levels since April. Residents of the communities of Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, and New Bedford are urged to take advantage of the availability of these new testing sites, even if they are asymptomatic. While testing sites were launched in these 8 communities, they are open to all residents of the Commonwealth. Visit www.mass.gov/stopthespread to find out more.

Common Sense Actions to Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19

Employ Social Distancing Basics:

  • Stay Home, especially if you’re feeling sick, have a fever, or a cough as to avoid contact with other individuals. If you are sick, stay at home and contact your healthcare provider for further instructions.
  • Call/Facetime/Online chat with friends and loved ones

If you go out for essential needs:

  • Avoid Crowds
  • Stay 6 feet away from others
  • Don’t shake hands or hug
  • Wear a face covering or mask if physical distancing is not possible. Always have a face covering with you. You cannot always predict or control when someone will be close to you.