Officials urge vigilance as Peabody expected to move into red zone for COVID

PEABODY — City officials expect Peabody will move into the red, higher risk category, for active COVID-19 cases when the next weekly state public health report is released Thursday, but they say the situation is not quite as dire as it may sound.

They attribute an uptick in coronavirus cases to small events, household exposures and informal social gatherings around the city in recent weeks. And the best response, they say, is for residents to be vigilant about health and safety measures such as social distancing and wearing face masks.

For now, the city’s schools will continue in a hybrid learning model, and any changes to that model will be based on multiple weeks of data and evidence of increased risk of transmission to students and/or staff within school buildings, said Mayor Ted Bettencourt in a press statement Wednesday afternoon.

Bettencourt said that, according to the Peabody Health Department, the city’s average daily COVID-19 case rate has risen to approximately 12 cases per 100,000 people, which would likely prompt the state to shift Peabody from the yellow or moderate risk level up to red.

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A public health data report from earlier in the week showed Peabody had 60 active cases, as of Oct. 26, for an average daily incidence rate of 7.7 over the previous 14 days and had administered 3,908 tests in that time, which equaled a 1.79% positivity rate. Total cases were 1,289 since the pandemic began.

“Although this increase in cases is not entirely unexpected based on public health forecasts for a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall, and based on similar increases nationwide and across many other cities and towns in Massachusetts, it does serve to remind us of the importance of remaining vigilant,” Bettencourt said. “We need to redouble our efforts to follow CDC guidelines, particularly regarding physical distancing and face masks, so that we can reverse this troubling trend and keep our residents safe and healthy.”

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A similar message in this vein was sent to Peabody residents via robocall on Tuesday.

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In regard to the schools, the mayor noted that administrators and health officials worked together during preparations to reopen buildings for the fall to establish rapid response protocols for whenever a member of the school community tests positive for COVID-19.

Rigorous contact tracing and quarantine procedures are in place, he said, along with enhanced cleaning efforts at each school. The city also conducted a comprehensive air-quality assessment in August that did not find any major problems.

“Thanks to the aggressive safety protocols we have in place at the Peabody Public Schools as well as outstanding cooperation from students, parents, teachers, and staff, we are able to continue our hybrid learning model at this time,” Bettencourt said, also noting there is daily communication between his office, Superintendent Josh Vadala and Public Health Director Sharon Cameron.

“We will continue to monitor circumstances closely and adhere to all state guidelines relative to the safety and well-being of our school community,” he said. “It is critically important in our efforts to control the spread of this disease for our residents to share information if contacted by a public health nurse as part of a contact tracing effort.”

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And as the holiday season approaches, still some nine months into the ongoing pandemic, officials urge residents to “guard against complacency” and continue to wear masks, maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others, and limit gatherings with people outside their household.

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