HEALTH DIRECTOR: Wilmington Is ‘Heading Backwards’ In Fight Against COVID-19, Fears ‘COVID Fatigue’ Is Setting In Among Residents

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington’s most recent COVID-19 numbers has Health Director Shelly Newhouse worried.

“People want to get back to normalcy. I want to get back to normacly. But we’re going backwards with this,” Newhouse recently told the Wilmington Board of Selectmen during her bi-monthly COVID-19 update. “We’re seeing trends with parties and social gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks or social distancing. Engaging in this risky behavior is why we’re seeing our cases rise… People have COVID fatigue. They’re just tired of everything COVID. Now that school has started, it’s almost like we’re in another cycle of increased cases, positives and quarantines.”

As of October 29, 2020, Newhouse reported 35 active positive cases, with an additional amount of residents — described as “well over 50” — in quarantine due to potential exposure.  Most of the active positive cases aren’t connected, with only 5 households having multiple cases. None of the active positives are in the town’s nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

“In the spring, the nursing homes and elderly were where we had most of our positives,” Newhouse told Selectmen. “This cycle, we’re seeing it more in younger people.”

The state has now delegated Wilmington as a “High Risk/Red” community. If Wilmington retains that designation for two more weeks, it will need to revert back from Step 2 to Step 1 in Phase 3 of the Governor’s Reopening Plan. Wilmington would need to reduce capacities at outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50, close performance venues and certain types of indoor recreation, lower gym capacities from 50% to 40%, and place further restrictions on fitting rooms at retail establishments & live music at restaurants.

In a Facebook post, Newhouse noted new “lockdowns” may also not be of the question if the community’s COVID-19 cases continue to increase.

Newhouse said the rise of quarantines is attributed to several parties recently held in town. She gave one example involving a recent party attended by a Wilmington High School student.

“I couldn’t get all the contacts out of the party. I then had a positive student at the high school who was in class. [And it turns out] that positive student came out of the party. Had I known about this person, I could have quarantined him and he wouldn’t have been in school. Now that one person is making me have to quarantine 20 more people,” explained Newhouse. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to answer the call… No one wants to see on their caller ID that it’s me calling. But you have to answer the phone. The majority of the people I’ve had to talk to are great. But just one person can set us back.”

Newhouse emphasized that when she has to call residents to tell them to quarantine, she doesn’t “name names.”

“When I call someone, I don’t tell them who told me that they were a contact. I say ‘You were identified as a contact of a positive.’ That’s as far as it goes. No one knows who the positive was or who identified them as a contact. People feel like they’re telling on their friends or family members. They’re NOT going to get in any trouble,” stressed Newhouse.

Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony agreed with Newhouse and praised her efforts, urging parents to have another conversation with their children.

“We’re all fatigued. We’re all tired of dealing with the school situation, whether it’s remote or hybrid. We need to remind our kids and other parents in our peer group that we need to stay vigilant. When we slip up like this, it just sets everything back. I know the kids are frustrated by it,” said O’Mahony, referencing the fact the high school recently transitioned to remote learning for two weeks after more than 25 students attended a house party and refused to cooperate with the Board of Health.

O’Mahony also thanked Newhouse for the way her Health Department handled a recent scare where members of the WHS Varsity Boys Soccer Team, of which her son is a member, were potentially exposed to COVID-19 from an opposing team.

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