HAVERHILL — As the city struggles to get out of the high-risk zone for COVID-19, state testers will continue working here through Friday as the mayor pleads with residents to embrace ways of fighting the virus.
This comes as Haverhill had its 70th death due to COVID-19 — a 70-year-old nurse whose passing has deeply upset the local health care community, Mayor James Fiorentini said.
The mayor said he was informed Tuesday that the nurse, who worked at a local nursing home, had died.
"When I called to offer my condolences, the family has asked me not to give the nurse's name or other identifying information, so I will not," Fiorentini said in a Facebook posting. "This is tragic and frightening news to any of our front line medical personnel."
The mayor said nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants in Haverhill put themselves on the line every day dealing with people they know are sick with COVID-19 and might infect them.
"Almost always without social distancing, our nurses and other medical personnel are in constant and very close personal contact caring for the sick," he said. "They know it puts their own life in danger but they show up every day and do their jobs."
Fiorentini said he is seeing signs of pandemic fatigue in residents who are no longer following social distancing rules and are having house parties.
He said he understands that everyone wants the crisis to be over and that someday it will seem like a bad dream — but for now it's a reality they must embrace.
"But as Yogi Berra once said, it isn't over till it’s over," the mayor said. "Please keep the social distancing, the masks and something all too many people forget, the frequent hand washing. And please keep all our front line workers today and every day in your thoughts.''
Fiorentini said the state's temporary outdoor testing sites on Locke and Washington streets were shut down because of rain earlier this week. He said those sites were scheduled to close on Wednesday, but will remain open Thursday and Friday because of the time they lost to the rain.
Both testing locations operated by the state — 358 Washington St. across from Fantini Bakery, and the parking lot on Locke Street next to Butch's Uptown restaurant — will be open from 1 to 6 p.m. each day.
Local schools are also having more COVID-19 cases among students and teachers, with six now at Whittier Regional High and one new case at Haverhill High.
The Haverhill High student tested positive while attending classes during a time the student was considered contagious, school officials said. Superintendent Margaret Marotta said all people who had contact with that student tested negative and the student is now in quarantine.
With high school sports resuming this week, Marotta said all student athletes were asked to be tested. She said that as of Tuesday, 160 students were tested and of the 100 tests returned in time for this report, all were negative.
Meanwhile the community is acting too relaxed, the mayor says, having house parties and other gatherings where the virus could spread. He is pleading with people to wear masks and observe social distancing to decrease the spread and help Haverhill get out of the red, high-risk zone.
Haverhill tallied 13 new cases on Wednesday, three on Tuesday, 11 on Monday, 15 on Sunday, 13 on Saturday and nine on Friday, according to city health nurse Mary Connolly. Well over 1,000 tests have been conducted over the past two weeks while state testers were in Haverhill, Connolly said.
"We're going to be red (high-risk zone) again as of this Wednesday night," she said. "The rate has gone down, but it is not enough to get us out of the red. As it stands, next Wednesday we're already in the red based on our average daily rate of 11 (new cases). If we get no new cases over the next three days, it could change, as the case count ends on Saturday."
She said that to get out of the red, Haverhill must have an average daily rate of no more than five new cases over a 14-day period, based on its population of 66,000 people.
As the state testers prepare to leave Haverhill, the Pentucket Medical doctors complex behind the Merrimack Street parking deck has opened a test site for its patients. The city has an agreement with Pentucket Medical that the site will test all local students or teachers who had close contact at school with someone who was infected. The site is not open to the general public.