COVID-19 cases surge in New Bedford; mayor orders strict screening process at nursing homes

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — After a recent surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell implemented strict measures to protect the city’s most vulnerable.

Mitchell signed two executive orders Wednesday which include mandatory wellness checks, quarantining and isolation requirements for senior living facilities, nursing homes and lodging houses.

“It’s our job to make sure these places are buttoned up, so this virus doesn’t get in. It’s plain and simple as that,” Mitchell said.

Within the past week, Mitchell said the city went from six confirmed COVID-19 cases to 33. He declared a state of emergency on March 13 in response to the pandemic.

“What we need now more than ever is to stick with the social distancing that residents of our city have been doing very well,” he said.

Mitchell’s new order requires the managers of senior living facilities and nursing homes to take the temperatures of all faculty and staff members each day before they begin their shift and right before they leave. Anyone with a fever must be sent home immediately and ordered to self-quarantine.

In addition, senior living facilities and nursing homes are now required to conduct regular wellness checks on all of its residents – which can be done by phone or in-person depending on the type of facility.

If the facility is unable to complete a wellness check successfully, they must notify the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the resident’s emergency contact.

Mitchell also implemented strict hygiene measures and sanitation requirements, including requiring all staff members to wash their hands before and after coming into direct contact with residents or infectious material. Staff members are also required to wash their hands before putting on or after removing personal protective equipment.

Lodging houses have been ordered to screen all potential guests looking for a place to stay. Mitchell said potential guests must have their temperature taken, and anyone who has a fever or is symptomatic may only be allowed in if they can obtain a private bedroom and bathroom.

Mitchell said staff members must also conduct frequent cleaning of public spaces and high-touch items and surfaces.

Failure to comply with the emergency orders will be met with a $500 per day until the violations are corrected, Mitchell said.

“We’d rather not get to that point but we can’t mess around with this,” he said.

Mitchell said while the orders are strict, they’re necessary to protect public health, especially among vulnerable populations.

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