The following is a statement released from Town Manager Robert LeLacheur, Jr.
I hope this note finds you all well and safe. Please know that no one can do more to protect the health and wellness of the Reading community than each of you – and please remember to look after each other.
Two days ago, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts changed their approach to Covid-19 vaccinations, with an emphasis on state-run large sites and online sign-ups. As many of you know, the best locations for up-to-date information from the state are: https://www.maimmunizations.org and this map for state locations: https://www.maimmunizations.org/clinic/search.
Another useful map combines state and private locations, but not all are available to Reading residents: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-vaccination-locations-for-individuals-in-eligible-groups-and-phases. As I write this, the state is working to simplify the online application process, and we will keep the community updated. Right now, the emphasis is on completing Phase 1 eligible candidates (medical personnel and first responders); then moving to 75+-year-old residents; 65+-year-old residents; and then under 65-year-old residents with two or more serious medical conditions.
In Reading, since March 2020 we have provided updates on our home page www.readingma.gov. The red banner on the top of that page represents all the best information we have, along with many links to a lot more information. Recently we added a yellow ‘COVID-19 Vaccine Info’ button to that home page, which is also included within the red banner page.
Your Emergency Management team in Reading is prepared to run large scale local clinics, as Town and School staff have worked collaboratively and diligently through the myriad of logistics to make this happen. However, those plans were shelved by the new approach by the state, as we have been told that we will receive a maximum of 100 doses per week for the foreseeable future. At that rate, we would be vaccinating our 75+-year-old residents well into next fall, let alone the other 20,000+ residents! I raised this point on a state-wide call on Tuesday, and the same frustration is happening everywhere.
Yesterday Governor Baker indicated that the uncertainty of vaccination supply is a national issue, and believes that the federal government will provide more information by early next week. This will allow the state to better plan vaccine distribution, and we will continue to advocate loudly for more vaccine so we may directly serve our residents locally.
Some folks have asked about actions in neighboring communities. For reference, we are in a public health region within the state that reaches to our north and west, and led by Andover. We challenged this setup earlier this winter, but it did not change. I am told that one of the charms of New England is the decentralization of government to the local level. While I often see and enjoy that charm, during a pandemic having Police, Fire, and Public Health all in three different regional groups does not improve the efficiency of a coordinated response, a point I raised over a decade ago. Yet rest assured that we are using all of our relationships with other communities regardless of region to provide the best resources for Reading.
Today we have only 20 doses of vaccine on hand with another 50 doses on the way. So right now, our best advice is for neighbors to please help each other. Yesterday, I did hear from some residents that with persistence they were able to schedule appointments. However, we know that about 25% of our 75+ population do not use computers regularly, and the state’s online application process can be daunting.
We began the process to reach out proactively to lists of the frail and fragile residents that would most need our help. This help ranges from online computer assistance through medical rides. We have also contemplated delivering services to our homebound residents. However, our resources have been swamped by hundreds of incoming calls in the past 48 hours – very understandably. We have shifted additional staff to help out, and are keeping lists of requests so that we may soon return to our proactive work aimed at those most in need.
I believe the new approach by the state is a good one, and will, err… overcome some of that local charm when we are ready for broad vaccine distribution at Phase 3 sometime in the spring. In the meanwhile, we will advocate for more vaccine so that we may at least serve our most frail and fragile residents.
The pandemic has exhausted us all, in a wide variety of ways, physically, mentally and emotionally. One day in the future, we will all be well-rested and calm, and able to look back critically on things that might have been done differently.
Today, however, is the time to remember to take care of each other and be a close-knit community.
The pandemic has isolated us in ways we could not have imagined. Isolationism is divisive. Please stop, take a deep breath, and call an elderly relative or neighbor that might need your help. Working together is the only way we’ll get the best results the community deserves.