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Through communication, FRCOG preps for possible COVID-19 surge this fall


Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2020 3:53:59 PM

GREENFIELD — The Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) is preparing for a possible convergence of the flu and COVID-19 this fall and winter by meeting regularly with school and public health nurses, area health agents and directors, local boards of health and others to plan.

Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker said there were 50 nurses from Franklin and Hampshire counties at the last meeting.

“We’re discussing what we can do to prevent and respond to a second surge,” Walker said. “School nurses are hungry for what role they can play and what role science plays in all of this. People are sharing resources. It’s good work.”

She said everyone is concerned about what happens when children return to school and cases possibly start to rise. There will be issues of privacy, how to communicate with parents and the community, and the role of local boards of health and schools.

“We want to work out these issues in advance of a surge in case that happens,” she said.

FRCOG has also been meeting with health agents and directors every three weeks. She said they’ve been talking about the challenges related to reopening, whether schools or businesses.

“Every other week we meet with boards of health,” she said. “We talk about what everyone is hearing, what questions are coming up, how to be ready and how to understand guidance from the state and federal governments.”

Walker said everyone agrees it’s important to get the word out about upcoming drive-thru flu clinics, and FRCOG is helping.

“Towns are doing drive-thru clinics this year in response to COVID-19 and keeping socially distant,” Walker said. “The few that will be inside will be safe and socially distanced. But more importantly, we’re hoping lots of people participate so that health professionals and volunteers can get ready for a COVID vaccination when that happens. When it does, there will be lots of people lining up, so we hope lots of people line up for the flu shot.”

Along with those types of plans, Walker said FRCOG has been making decisions about how it will provide COVID-19 data and updates on its website. She said the agency will continue to remind people about washing their hands, wearing masks and staying home, but will also present data it continues to collect from the state.

“We won’t be updating a Franklin County map each week like we did in the spring,” she said. “Instead, we have a link to the dashboard of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts. It has a map of the entire state, but you can click on individual towns and cities to get numbers. We believe an overview of the entire county, rather than looking at each town, makes more sense.”

Walker said people will be able to find all information in one place by going to the FRCOG website, even if it means they have to click on links to other websites.

“People will have access to a weekly summary,” she said. “The maps and charts and information are easy to access and understand.”

The map, for instance, codes each town and city with colors: gray for those with fewer than five cases; green for lower risk (greater than four cases per 100,000); yellow for moderate risk (four to eight cases per 100,000); and red for high risk (greater than eight cases per 100,000).

Walker said FRCOG has been asking the state to provide weekly numbers for school districts. She said, for instance, if one town in a school district were to report fewer than four cases, that wouldn’t necessarily impact that district as much as all towns in it reporting cases.

“We should be able to see the numbers for all school districts in the county at one glance,” she said. “It would be really good to have that information as winter approaches and schools reopen.”

If people look at the charts and information on FRCOG’s COVID-19 page, they’ll see, for instance, that there were many more COVID-19 tests given this past week than the week before. Walker said that is because some students were returning to school and were required to have a test — boarding schools, School Choice students, etc.

“It doesn’t explain why, so some of it can be a little confusing, but most of it is pretty easy to read, and allows people reading it to come to conclusions quickly,” she said.

Walker said FRCOG has also been providing businesses with “mask signs,” asking patrons to wear masks when entering.

“We’re doing what we can, all working together to make sure nothing gets out of hand,” she said. “We want everyone to have access to see the big picture for the county, get a countywide overview when searching for data.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/33UEmUZ. From there, you can follow various links to the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, the Massachusetts COVID Command Center, Region 1 Health and Medical Coordinating Coalition, and more.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


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