HAVERHILL — As COVID-19 cases increase in the city, Mayor James Fiorentini said a major factor is the reluctance of residents to cooperate with contact tracing.
Fiorentini said some residents who test positive for COVID-19 are not being honest about who they have been in contact with, which is hampering the city’s ability to stop the spread of the virus.
Gov. Charlie Baker recently imposed new restrictions designed to slow or stop the spread, and Fiorentini said he has taken action on the local level.
The mayor said he hired more contact tracers, nurses and inspectors to enforce the city’s COVID-19 rules. He also arranged to have free testing at elderly housing complexes.
Fiorentini said, however, that having more city workers focused on the virus will not stop the spread unless the public cooperates with Public Health Nurse Mary Connolly and her staff.
“Some people (who test positive for the virus) are simply not being honest about who their contacts are,” the mayor said. “They regularly tell her (the city nurse) that they have not been in contact with anyone, which we know is impossible.
“Some people lie about how many people live in the home,” Fiorentini said. “They say only one person lives with them, and we hear and see others. Some refuse to disclose where they have been or who they have been with.”
Fiorentini said the keys to stopping the spread of the virus are testing, contact tracing and isolation.
“But we cannot contact trace unless the people who are infected work with us,” he said. “If you or someone you know is infected, search your memory. Tell us everyone you were with. You are not going to get them in trouble. We do not fine people we find out through contact tracing are breaking the rules. You just might save their health, or even their life.”
Connolly urged residents to avoid having social events, even at Thanksgiving.
“People need to stop having gatherings with family and friends,” she said. “I have one case in which 40 people may have been exposed due to one (infected) person having attended different gatherings. That’s the kind of situation you can have when someone who is not feeling well attends one or more gatherings.’’
Fiorentini said he is installing signs downtown and in other public places to remind people that masks are required in public areas, even outside, and that the primary source of the spread is now believed to be small gatherings in people’s homes.
The mayor asked everyone to abide by the rules set by the governor of no more than 10 people for any indoor event and no more than 25 for any outdoor event.
The city reported 18 new cases of the virus on Monday and 26 on Tuesday — the most in any recent single day. The total number of deaths in Haverhill due to the virus had increased to 76 as of Tuesday, health officials said.
According to the state’s most recent COVID-19 report released Nov. 12, Haverhill is still in the moderate-risk yellow zone, although the city’s positivity rate increased to 3.39% (percent of people tested who have the virus) from the previous week’s 2.8%. Haverhill’s average daily rate of infections (per 100,000 people) increased to 21.6 from the previous week’s 15.5.
On a more positive note, the mayor said the national media is reporting two major vaccines that are doing well in their preliminary trials.
“One company would find it difficult to manufacture and distribute enough vaccine, even with the help of the federal government,” Fiorentini said. “Two companies make it exponentially more likely that a vaccine is coming soon. They are talking about mass distribution around April.”
Fiorentini said the distribution will be an enormous undertaking by the federal, state and local governments and private industry.
“It is way too early to say what role, if any, we will have as a local government, but I will be reaching out to find out what I can and keeping you informed,” he said. “If you have any particular knowledge of this, please reach out to me.”