Orange to lead North Quabbin public health collaborative

  • Franklin County and the North Quabbin region’s COVID-19 cases for the two-week period beginning Dec. 26 and ending Jan 8. Towns in blue registered 10 cases or fewer over the two-week period. STAFF GRAPHIC/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2022 3:49:03 PM
Modified: 1/16/2022 3:47:59 PM

ORANGE — The town is on board with a regional public health collaborative for COVID-19 contact tracing after the Board of Health and Selectboard voted separately to sign an agreement to receive state money dispensed through the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

Orange Health Agent Matthew Fortier approached the boards last week to pitch the collaborative and explain the rationale behind it. He said he reached out to the state Department of Public Health and secured $100,000, to be split evenly over two years, for Orange to serve as the lead town of the collaborative of some North Quabbin municipalities. The funding would also support hiring someone, likely a public health nurse or social workers, to conduct the relevant epidemiological work.

COVID-19 contact tracing is the process of identifying people who may have come into contact with an infected person so they know to get tested and isolate or seek treatment if necessary.

Fortier said the money also would be used to pay for upfront legal fees and administrative and equipment costs.

“Essentially, this is the last piece of that puzzle, to get the chair of the Selectboard and the chair of the Board of Health to sign off on both,” he said at Wednesday’s virtual Selectboard meeting.

Fortier said Town Counsel Donna MacNicol has reviewed and revised the agreement.

Jane Peirce, who chairs the Orange Selectboard and is a member of the Board of Health, said Wednesday that signing onto the collaborative is important, and that the state has made it clear it is moving forward with investments in public health. The other towns interested in joining are Wendell, New Salem, Warwick and Petersham.

“It’s very beneficial to the local communities because contract tracing is important to find who they’ve been near and tell them to take precautions,” she said. “So it’s really nice to have those local communities also participating with us.”

Phoebe Walker, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ director of community services, said that at the end of November the state closed its community contact tracing collaborative that it started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it became clear that local public health officials did not have enough nurses to conduct contact tracing. So, Walker said, the state made other funds available in two rounds — one in late summer, one in the fall — to help smaller communities handle contact tracing.

Walker said the state money is going directly to FRCOG, which will disseminate it and facilitate the collaborative.

“This allows them to get state money by working together,” she said. “This puts them on track to get any number of additional resources.”

Walker said the rate of COVID-19 cases in Orange and Athol are the highest in the region. She said the solution is simple: “Vaccination, vaccination, vaccination.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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