COVID remains a concern for Ahtol-area health officials


For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-06-2023 12:59 PM

ATHOL — Health Agent Deb Vondal updated members of the Board of Health on the status of COVID in the community and how it still remains a presence.

“Our active cases, which are reported through the state and that are lab verified, it’s been running in the 20s,” said Vondal at the board’s meeting on Jan. 31. “That has not really changed at all. Again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg because of all the home testing that’s being done.

“We continue to have the COVID wastewater surveillance in town. In fact, we just received and email in December and the state will continue that monitoring program for the rest of the full year of 2023. So, between those cases and anecdotal reports, basically the levels have not come down. So, it’s still out there.”

Vondal said the case numbers continues to fluctuate, depending on some degree to community activity.

“There was more of a spike in the fall, like with the beginning of school, then there was around the holidays, which was interesting,” she said.

Vondal noted that Winchendon Board of Health Chair Keith Kent issues a report every couple of weeks which contains information on positivity rates for several communities in the region.

In Kent’s most recent communication, issued on Jan. 21, he reported that, according to state Department of Public Health statistics, the rate for Athol stood at 7.16, based on 405 molecular tests. That represented a decrease from the level for the previous week, which was 8.23%.

Phillipston’s positivity rate plunged from 23.81 to 11.11% over the same period. Royalston’s rate also dropped considerably, from 28.57 to 15.38%. Winchendon’s positivity rate was reported at 11.5% for the eighth consecutive week.

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Vondal said vaccine clinics continue to be held, but attendance has been—to say the least—disappointing.

“We had a vaccine clinic at the YMCA last week and only one person showed up,” she said. “We put a sign out, and there was lots of activity coming in and out, but we didn’t have anybody else.”

Vondal explained that the clinic was put on by the Community Health Center (CHC) of Fitchburg. She added that CHC had received a grant that got extended to help cover the cost of the clinics, which are held on behalf of the Montachusett Public Health Network.

Board member Joanne Hamlett said she hadn’t seen any publicity regarding the clinic, but Vondal said, “It was on our (the BOH) Facebook page, and it was shared a lot. It got a lot of hits, and Mitch Grosky shared it on the community page; he always shares the Board of Health stuff. But we still only had one person sign up.”

Another clinic has been scheduled for March 1 at the Athol Senior Center from 9 a.m. to noon. In addition to COVID vaccines, Vondal said, shots for shingles and pneumonia would also be available. Anyone interested in attending need not be an Athol resident.

Asked about the vaccination rate for Athol, Vondal explained, “For one dose we’re at 74%. For second dose, we’re at 66%. Only 38% have received their first booster, and 17%, their second booster. That’s pretty much the case across the state. There’s not many people getting their boosters. And those first doses were much earlier on.

“COVID is kind of on the back burner, but we still can’t forget about it. As long we still have clinics, people should take advantage of it.”

Greg Vine can be reached at