WHITMAN — Whitman-Hanson Middle School will be set up as a COVID-19 vaccination center, according to a report on WBZ-TV Channel 4 Wednesday, Dec. 2. Volunteers are being sought to help staff the station and people will be receiving robocalls notifying them of when it is their turn to get the shot.
Fire Chief Timothy Grenno said the desigation was made during the H1N1 epidemic several years ago under a request from the Department of Public Health. About a month ago the DPH asked for modifications to the plans to make them drive-through.
“The Middle School has always been our spot,” he said. “They want us to be ready and be prepared, so that’s what we did and we sent out a press release for nurse volunters to help us staff it, and we’re getting a pretty good response.”
Access and traffic flow as well as remote learning days work well with the state’s requirements, according to Grenno.
Whitman is currently back in the red zone with 62 positives out of 1,228 tests (a 5.5 positivity rate) and Hanson has 33 positives out of 789 (a 4.18 positivity rate) for the week of Nov. 19-26.
Whitman cleared one of it’s three clusters last week, with two remaining, including one at Christo’s, which will remain closed until Dec. 11.
“We’re looking for volunteers right now who want to step up and be a big help,” Interim Town Administrator Lisa Green told the station. The centers will operate in the same manner as drive-through testing sites do now.
Gov. Charlie Baker said, in accordance with CDC guidelines, the focus will first be on high-risk individuals such as health care workers, nursing home staffs and first responders. Those shots could be available as early as next week and it could take until March to inoculate health care workers, according to the report, with the general population not able to receive it until spring.
COVID is also causing some changes to the upcoming special Town Meeting in January.
The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Dec. 1, voted to change the special Town Meeting quorum from the usual 150 to 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and hold it in the Performing Arts Center at WHRHS.
“Under the new regulations that the governor announced back in early November, there was a question of whether public settings fell under the new ‘no more than 10 indoors’ [regulation],” said Green. She said it appeared that public government meetings appeared to still cap off at 25 people.
Gov. Baker’s COVID regulations allow towns to reduce town meeting quorums to as low as 10 percent of what town bylaws otherwise require. Green, however, expressed concern about the effect such a drastic cut would have on important business such as the sewer force main replacement, especially in view of the fact that the Selectmen, Finance Committee and DPW Commissioners would also have to attend.
She advocated placing any reduction at no lower than 25, although she noted that East Bridgewater has eliminated their quorum requirement.
Town Clerk Dawn Varley would have to submit any reduction request to the Attorney General’s office for approval within 10 days.
Town Moderator Michael Seele said he had no objection to the reduction request, but asked what the procedure would be if more than 100 showed up.
“It doesn’t seem likely that we’d get 100 people, but you never know,” Seele said.
Chairman Dan Salvucci said the gymnasium is not likely to be available due to school activities, but Green said it would be free for an early evening session on a Saturday.
Selectman Justin Evans said technical link-ups to other rooms could help if a larger turnout occurred. Right now, Wednesday evenings, Jan. 6, 13, 20 or 27 are now being considered for scheduling. The town has until Dec. 23 to schedule a specific Town Meeting date.
Selectman Randy LaMattina favored pushing it to Jan. 27 out of concern over the recent up-tick in COVID-19 cases in town.
“Sixty days seems like an eternity considering what’s going on with COVID,” he said.
Salvucci questioned whether a four-article Town Meeting warrant required the presence of town counsel, since besides the force main, there are only unpaid bills to be voted. Town counsel is only available on Wednesday evenings during the week, but can also attend a Saturday session. Both he and Evans expressed concern about giving the DPW enough time to bid out the project in the spring.
Selectmen also discussed the burgeoning problem towns and school districts are seeing in fraudulent unemployment claims related to COVID-19. The board approved Green’s request to contract with Unemployment Tax Management Corp., to help keep up with the work.
“We’ve been inundated,” Green said. “They’re coming in in droves, and I was finding that trying to keep up with the numerous requests and paperwork required … I couldn’t keep up with it.”
The state can levy fines if paperwork is processed late. Towns have three days to deal with the notices. Green reached out to East Bridgewater for advice and was told they used UTM, which is also working with Abington and the W-H School District, among other entities being similarly victimized by the fraud. The corporation handles all paperwork (online), appeals, protests, other legal activity and auditing involved in the process. The service would cost Whitman $695 per quarter, Green said.
“For everything that they’re going to provide, it’s really something I strongly recommend that we do,” she said.