Haverhill Health Board Defers, For Now, to School Department on New State School Reopening Guidance

Haverhill Public Schools' Physician Dr. John Maddox and Director of Health and Nursing Services Katie Vozeolas previously addressed the City Council. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill’s Board of Health says it expects to defer to the judgement of the school department when issues arise relating to the coronavirus once students return next month.

During an emergency meeting of the Health Board and members of Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s newly appointed Medical Advisory Panel, school pediatrician John L. Maddox explained he is looking for consistency.

“We’re making sure we’re beginning now and that we’ve got the roles and responsibilities between the city side Board of Health and the School Department clarified…the city is not saying one set of rules and the schools have a different set of rules,” Maddox said.

Haverhill Public Schools Director of Health and Nursing Services Katie Vozeolas noted the Health Board might differ with new guidelines released Wednesday by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. For example, she said, the state does not suggest dismissing an entire classroom if one person exhibits COVID-19 symptoms. Instead, Vozeoloas said, state education officials suggest only close contacts within six feet of the infected person and who have had more than 15 minutes of exposure should be dismissed.

“I think we’ll need to do a good bit of education within the classroom setting with the teaching staff so they understand that because, of course, they’re going to be nervous,” she said.

City Public Health Nurse Mary Connolly said the state guidance is similar to how communities handle cases of whooping cough. She explained cough surveillance is undertaken for the remainder of students beyond the six-foot radius.

Health Board Chairman Peter Carbone said most decisions are best left to the schools.

“Personally, I would defer to the school health department more than the city Board of Health on the school issue. It’s nice that we’re in the loop on it, but I think they have a better feel for what’s going on in the schools than we would,” said Carbone.

The other Health Board member present, Alexander Matolcsy, said he sees state guidelines as being flexible to meet specific and unique community needs. He suggested Vozeolas and Connolly work together to field any concerns.

While the Health Board is willing to help if specific issues arise, Carbone said he’d rather let full-time staff make the calls. “I’d much prefer Mary and her staff to make these determinations. They’re the boots on the ground. Not us.”

Comments are closed.