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Milton Times: COVID committee keeps eye on Delta

By Elaine Cushman Carroll, Milton Times staff

MILTON, OCT. 14, 2021 -- As state experts continue to disagree about whether the COVID-19 Delta variant is about to surge out of control or has hit a plateau, state Rep. Bill Driscoll Jr. said the Joint Committee on COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Management, which he co-chairs, is pushing ahead.

This oversight committee’s leadership is keeping in close contact with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Baker administration and ready for whatever comes next.

“There’s evidence that supports both opinions,” Driscoll said. “It’s a wait and see situation at this point.” He explained that the rate of hospitalizations will be of particular concern as the situation continues to be monitored. If a new surge is evident, this may require the implementation of measures such as post-poning elective surgeries and indoor masking for everyone.

Driscoll pointed out that the Delta variant acted completely differently from the original strain and its surges are difficult to predict, not- ing that leading epidemiologists are split in their opinions. “Nobody’s gotten this right,” he said.

Driscoll added that one epidemiologist put it best by expressing gratitude that “we didn't start the pandemic” with Delta.

In Milton, the number of cases of COVID-19 for the month of September was 135, up over August’s total of 125. At its height, the town was seeing more than 500 cases a week, but that dwindled to an average of about 20 cases a month for June and July.

About half of those who tested positive have been vaccinated, but those vaccinated are generally showing less severe symptoms, according to Health Director Caroline Kinsella.

According to Milton’s Health Department, the percentage of positive tests over the past two weeks did rise to about 2.37 percent but then dropped to 1.83 percent of those who took the test. Although the Board of Health implemented mandatory face coverings for the town’s public buildings, no further expansion of mandates has been issued. More than 68 percent of Milton residents over 12 years of age were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 30, according to data kept by the town.

According to Driscoll, the next big wave of implementation will be the vaccines for children aged 5 to 12 now that the Pfizer vaccine is nearing approval, possibly as soon as later this month. “We’ve got concerns around how robust a plan is in place for the under 12 (group) that is about to receive the vaccine,” he said. “We want to know that the administration and the DPH are driving forward about how to vaccinate the 5 to 12 year olds.”

Driscoll and co-chair state Sen. Joanne Comerford are considering holding another public hearing about childhood vaccines and their safety. The committee held a six part regional listening tour across the state and heard from local and regional partners, Driscoll said.

Driscoll and Comerford have continued behind the scenes calls with state Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. The committee has before it about 30 pieces of legislation and has been reviewing the state and local departments of public health’s handling of the pandemic, what worked, and what could be improved upon.

Driscoll said that the committee is reviewing data and documents and preparing a report to bring forward. The response and coordination among hospitals and other health care systems in the state to meet the virus surges have been “a real bright spot,” he said. “That's gone really well throughout the pandemic,” said Driscoll, adding that the committee wants to make sure that this gets built into planning for possible future mass casualty events or pandemics.

The committee’s report will also review the distribution of the personal protective equipment and the rollout of testing, contact tracing, and the vaccines. “We heard a lot of confusion at the local level,” said Driscoll, adding that he and his colleagues received valuable input from local and regional public health about how to improve communications.

Driscoll indicated that if the Delta variant or another one begins to surge, the committee would switch its efforts back to an active oversight role. “We’d be focusing on the present again,” he said. Driscoll believes that the report could be ready by the end of the year if no surge hits.


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