The Halifax Board of Selectmen met Thursday, Dec. 3 at their new time of 3 p.m. for their weekly extra meeting during the pandemic. Board of Health agent Bob Valery got things started telling the Board there were 13 positive cases in town since the previous meeting, 8 of which came in after Thanksgiving. He said that of the 473 tests that were run on Halifax residents in the previous two weeks, 24 were positive for an overall positivity rate of roughly 5 percent.
Valery also updated the Board on a change in the recommendation by the CDC for bringing employees back to work after being deemed a close contact of someone that tested positive. Valery said the new requirement states that someone with a known exposure can return to work after 10 days if they remain asymptomatic or after 7 days if they have a negative test and remain asymptomatic. Valery said the CDC determined that there was only an increased risk of 1 percent in moving from a quarantine period of 14 days to one of just 10 days. The Board voted to match the town’s policy to that of the CDC requirements. Town Administrator Charlie Seelig noted that if you are symptomatic, even with a negative test result, the town would like you to stay home.
Valery also said that someone with a positive test result must notify the Board of Health and follow all directions given to them but noted that it is only strongly recommended that they communicate with fellow workers.
Selectman Gordon Andrews asked Valery when the best time would be to get a test after an exposure. Valery said that it is best to wait 5 days after the exposure. Valery did, however, say that if you are displaying symptoms it is probably best to get a test prior to the 5-day window. Fire Chief Jason Viveiros recommended getting a PCR test if you have had a known exposure.
Valery also said that there is new guidance regarding holiday shopping. Stores have been reduced to a maximum of only 50 percent of full occupancy with no more than 10 people per 1,000 sq. ft. Valery and Seelig said that it appears that Walmart is following the recommendations and Valery said that they had hired outside security to help with the count.
Chief Viveiros said they had begun the employee testing that week. They conducted 63 tests most of which were antigen tests with the exception of 4 PCR tests. Of the 63 tests, 2 were positive. Viveiros said that those two positive cases did both have some degree of symptoms. “So far it’s been very successful,” Viveiros said.
There was anonymous correspondence to Seelig and the selectmen requesting that the town post information regarding COVID on Facebook and asking that they take a more proactive approach in debunking misinformation that is found on town Facebook pages. Seelig said that he conferred with Valery and while both intend to post accurate information to social media, he said he was “not sure either of us has the time or energy to deal with the misinformation that shows up.” Referring to it as a “rabbit hole” Seelig told the Board, “our resources are limited.”
Selectman Troy Garron said, “I appreciate the letter and appreciate the concerns, but I think there is enough information out there for any logical person to read or to watch on TV.” He noted that he, personally, wouldn’t go to Facebook for accurate information on the virus saying he prefers to get his information from trusted news sources.
The Board and Valery also discussed the disease surveillance and outbreak management platform Maven which aids in tracking positive cases. Seelig pointed out that college students who test positive while out of state but return home to Halifax would not show up in the Maven system. “We know there are more cases out there than just the numbers that we see,” Seelig explained. Andrews asked Valery whether Maven tracks people who are a-symptomatic but positive and was told that it does.
The Board also dealt with some non COVID related items. The Pope’s Tavern project has been moved to the spring. Seelig said he was unsure at this point what the plan was to deal with patches that will be needed in the meanwhile.
Seelig also asked the Board to approve a renewal of the town’s contract with public accountants Powers and Sullivan for FY21 through FY23. The contract is for $26,500 which is up $1,000 over the previous contract. There will also be a maximum charge of $5,000 for a single audit to deal with the COVID money received by the town. Seelig said that both himself and the town treasurer have been happy with their work thus far. The Board approved Seelig moving forward with the contract.
Seelig also briefly discussed the plans for outdoor seasonal decorations throughout the town including an ice sculpture and lights. He said that there was some gift money available for decorating purposes. Garron said, “You know with what’s going on now, we do need something to alleviate the scary. If it’s possible to do it safely and not cause any problems, then do it.”
Several issues relating to various proposed marijuana ventures in town were also discussed. Seelig said that Green Earth Cannabis, who plans to open a retail store next to Twin Lakes Liquors, had presented a Host Community Agreement (HCA) but that it was not in a format that the town had previously used. Town counsel and Seelig has asked them to redo the HCA using the one drawn up with Bud’s Goods and Provisions as a template since a lot of time was spent on that.
Seelig said that a Facebook post pointed out that High Hopes proposed site for their facility was within 500 feet of Lyonville Tavern which poses a potential problem. Seelig said he alerted the company and let them know that it wouldn’t be possible to even attempt to change the zoning bylaw until at least May. He said he was waiting to hear back from them.
Finally, the possibility of requiring Bud’s Goods to have a water line was also discussed. The water line right now doesn’t extend to the agreed upon location. Seelig said they would need to make sure that they weren’t asking Bud’s to pay for a water line that other people would be benefitting from. Seelig said that from a farming perspective, it would be their business whether they would need a water line but said that it could be different from a fire protection point of view.
Andrews said he would like to see the water line extended to ensure not just the safety of Bud’s should there be a fire but also the safety of the neighbors and firefighters. A continuation of the discussion was scheduled for their next meeting.
Andrews asked Seelig where the town stood on getting answers from the County as to whether certain items would be reimbursable through CARES Act funds. Seelig said he had made appeals regarding certain items including laptops for the teachers at Halifax Elementary.
Seelig told the Board that the Massachusetts Beautification Program named Halifax resident Shirley Graf Litter Buster of the Year for her work collecting thousands of NIPS bottles. Seelig noted that this is a statewide award and not limited merely to the town or county. The Board noted the tremendous work done by Graf.