NORTH ANDOVER (CBS) – According to Massachusetts’ COVID-19 risk map, the town of North Andover – population 31,000 – has the highest rate of new cases in the state.
“We are being penalized artificially,” Chris Nobile, the Chair of the Board of Selectmen, told WBZ-TV.
Nobile said the town currently has 16 active cases of COVID-19 in residents, but is in the “red zone” because of an outbreak at Merrimack College a few weeks prior.
More than 60 students contracted COVID-19 in Monican Hall, a freshman dorm on campus. The outbreak was largely contained to that one dorm. “I was shocked to hear it. A lot of kids got it,” said freshman Johnny Cuddy, who got sick with the virus while living in Monican Hall. “The college is doing well adjusting,” he said, now that students are back to school after a week of remote learning. “It’s going pretty well.”
The red zone designation means the town of North Andover is unable to move into Phase 3, Step 2 like other towns in the state. This would allow restaurants, libraries, and event centers to expand tables and capacity.
“Look we had a bad break here,” Nobile said. “It was quickly identified and contained…it did not spread to the greater community, which we’ve seen.”
The Board of Selectmen and other town officials wrote a letter to Governor Charlie Baker’s office, calling on Baker to reconsider the rules, and asking him to consider colleges and universities with contained COVID-19 outbreaks separate from the towns in which they are located.
“We are writing today to request that you reconsider using the “red“ classification as the metric for moving to Phase 3 Step 2, and consider carving obvious clusters in universities and colleges out of Town numbers moving forward,” the letter said, in part. “Without the Merrimack College cases, the Town would have an incident rate of 3.8 percent and be categorized as a green (lower risk) community.”
“We ask [the Governor] to take a look at our community, don’t penalize us,” Nobile told WBZ. “The 43 businesses and our libraries [that are affected], allow us to have that reopening, which we’ve earned.”
One business affected is the Stevens Estate, a wedding venue that can currently host 50 person outdoor weddings under the present guidelines. If the Governor granted North Andover’s request, 100 guests would be allowed.
“We haven’t seen any ripple effect into the community whatsoever,” Nobile elaborated.
Governor Baker’s office has not yet responded to the letter.
Still, some residents say it’s too soon to cry “success.” “It still doesn’t give me much assurance,” Tammy Gandhi said as she walked her dog in downtown North Andover while wearing a mask. “How are they ensuring that it’s contained? That’s something you can never be sure of. You can’t fight something that you can’t see.”