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FALMOUTH, Mass. — Eight Massachusetts lifeguards tested positive for the new coronavirus last week after attending a party the week before, and evidence shows beach department staff tried to delay releasing the news of the positive tests to other lifeguards.
Officials in Falmouth, Massachusetts, learned about the positive COVID-19 cases among the town’s lifeguards over the weekend, according to a statement Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso released Monday afternoon.
Town officials were still waiting for those test results to be entered into the state’s reporting system, Suso said in the statement, and Health Agent Scott McGann is working on contact tracing with the Visiting Nurses Association.
Monday night, however, during a Falmouth Select Board meeting, Maggie Clayton, acting beach superintendent, said they found out about the first case Friday after work hours and that so far there are a total of eight verbal positive coronavirus cases among 117 staff members.
A former lifeguard for the town of Falmouth, who asked that their name not be used to prevent retribution, said lifeguards tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a party last weekend with many other beach department staff members.
In messages on GroupMe, a mobile messaging app, between town of Falmouth lifeguards, which were obtained by the Cape Cod Times, a person said Saturday at least four staff members have tested positive for coronavirus. In separate text messages also obtained by the Cape Cod Times, between a beach supervisor and a lifeguard who tested positive, the supervisor requested that the lifeguard not tell anyone about their test results.
Addressing the text messages, Clayton told the Select Board Monday that supervisors asked employees not to say anything about the positive cases because they wanted to discourage peer-to-peer discussion before the supervisors could inform the entire beach department.
In a post on Facebook earlier in the day, Falmouth resident Mike Heylin, a former Select Board candidate, applauded the lifeguards for notifying town officials about the positive tests. But he said the town should have let taxpayers know sooner.
The Falmouth Beach Department and the Health Department referred all press inquiries to Suso, who did not respond to emails from the Cape Cod Times about the positive tests and the text messages.
Falmouth Select Board Chairwoman Megan English Braga said she could not comment on the text messages because she has not seen them herself and does not know the supervisor who sent them.
“I haven’t seen it with my own eyes and I can’t verify it, and I don’t know who all of these individuals are and what their relationship is with each other,” English Braga said.
Commenting on the delay to notify the public, she said town officials over the weekend spoke with the people potentially involved and began working on the problem, but the test results were not confirmed and put into MAVEN, the state’s infectious disease database, until Monday.
“You don’t want to rely on rumors,” English Braga said. “It’s striking that balance between listening to individual stories, having that hard data. Not wanting to wait too long, but not wanting to jump the gun if in fact there is nothing going on.”
Free COVID-19 tests will be available for all Falmouth lifeguards and staff members of the Beach Department at Falmouth Hospital site as part of a town effort, Suso said in his statement.
Testing for staff members was expected to begin Tuesday, Suso said in the statement, and the town hopes to have the results within 48 hours of testing. The town will release updates as more information and results become available, according to the statement.
English Braga said working with Cape Cod Healthcare to enact that policy for free testing for beach department staff also took some time to arrange, furthering the delay.
During that testing process, the lifeguard stands at some Falmouth beaches will be operating on a temporary, reduced staffing basis, according to the statement.
“We are guardedly optimistic that Beach parking monitor positions can continue to be regularly staffed,” Suso said in the statement.
Reach reporter Jessica Hill via email: [email protected]
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