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Burlington Case Rate Continues to Drop but Vaccine Distribution Frustrating Local Officials

Burlington’s number of new COVID-19 infections continued to drop this week but the state’s rollout of the vaccines is being criticized by local officials.

After falling out of the red and into the yellow zone two weeks ago and improving even more last week, this week’s report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) shows the rate of spread in town has dropped even further.

According to DPH’s most recent town-by-town report dated February 18, Burlington’s percent positivity rate is 2.84 percent and the town’s average daily incident rate per 100,000 people is 19.5. The previous report, dated February 11, had Burlington’s percent positivity rate at 3.95 percent and the town’s average daily incident rate per 100,000 people at 28.

This follows a trend in the area as Burlington’s neighbors Bedford, Billerica, Lexington, Wilmington and Woburn are all also in the yellow.

According to DPH, in order for a community to move into the green, it would have to have an average daily incident rate per 100,000 people less than 10 and a percent positivity rate under 10.

Despite falling numbers, health officials still advise everyone to follow the guidelines of wearing masks in public, maintaining social distancing and frequent hand washing.

They are also encouraging people who are eligible for the vaccine to sign up for a clinic, but they are not making it easy for people to do it in their home communities. As of this Thursday, February 18, people 65 years and older and those with two or more comorbidities are now eligible to sign up for an appointment. This means almost 1 million more people are newly eligible for a vaccine.

However, on Thursday the state’s website experienced issues and crashed while people were in the process of signing up for an appointment at one of the state’s mass vaccination sites. Also, the state has said that it will stop sending vaccines to municipalities starting on March 1, according to a letter from Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders.

This has caused frustration among local health officials who say they are ready and able to vaccine residents at the local level.

“I think it’s egregious,” Burlington Board of Health Chair Dr. Ed Weiner told BNEWS. “We, within this community, can serve this region better than the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can. We have a plan and we have a Medical Reserve Corps in place. We are ready.”

Dr. Weiner said the decision to prioritize mass vaccination sites is not fair to seniors, people who are ill and those without transportation.

“Why should they have to travel dozens of miles and wait in the cold for a shot when we can do it here?” he asked. “I cannot believe the incompetence of the Mass Department of Public Health.”

Dr. Weiner said he has been testing the state’s registration website and the hotline to see what people trying to sign up are facing. He said the phone line had a 144 minute wait time and that the website keeps crashing on him.

He said this is leaving people feeling desperate. He said a 93-year-old woman came to the Board of Health to seek a vaccine but they had none to administer.

“She was in tears – we consoled her but we had no vaccine to give her,” he said. “She has no place to go except her local board of health but the governor says ‘Sorry, find a way to travel 30 miles.’ I was heartbroken.”

Governor Charlie Baker said on GBH on Thursday that the lack of doses in the state is due to a smaller-than-needed number of them coming from the federal government. He said the state regularly receives hundreds of thousands fewer doses than requested. He added that he hopes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose, is approved for emergency use soon.