Rivera: Bring in the National Guard - Press conference turns into a plea for help
by Bill Kirk, Eagle Tribune (photo by Marlene Checo)
Mayor Dan Rivera's press conference about the spread of the coronavirus in the city quickly turned into a plea for help: a plea to the state for National Guard troops to begin patrolling the city in case of civil unrest caused by the outbreak; a plea to the state attorney general for authority to implement an overnight curfew; and a plea to residents to stay home so they don't spread the virus even further than it has already spread. With five cases of the coronavirus confirmed in the city, Rivera cautioned that infection statistics at this point are pretty much useless. "It has become clear to me that no one has an accurate count of the number of people who have been infected with the virus in Lawrence today," he said, speaking at noon to a small crowd of mostly Spanish media, as well as assorted medical and public safety officials outside the parking garage at Lawrence General Hospital. "The lack of testing early on (means) that people with symptoms were sent home without testing and have been in our community transmitting the virus. Because of this the public health professionals believe that we have community spread here in Lawrence and I believe them. So, you must treat everyone you come in contact with as if they are infected," Rivera added. He noted that the real number of coronavirus cases in Lawrence is probably much closer to 500 than five. Several medical officials who spoke during the press conference agreed. Because of the lack of testing, "the first phase of the epidemic was missed," said Eduardo Haddad, chief of medical affairs at Lawrence General Hospital. "We don't know the prevalence of the disease in the community." He advised people to wear masks when out in public. "If you're going to be in close contact, wear a mask," he said. Dr. Bill Goodman, chief medical officer at Holy Family Hospital, reported that cases are rising as test results start trickling in. The hospital has a drive-up testing facility at its Haverhill campus, where clinicians have conducted some 700 tests, 400 of which have been returned. Of that 400, around 10 percent, or 36 tests, came back as positive. Dr. Zandra Kelley, chief medical officer at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, also cited lack of testing — and slow processing of tests — as problems with the overall outbreak. "We're only just getting our results back," said Kelley, noting that tests had to be sent to the West Coast for processing. Now, tests can be done locally, improving the amount of time it takes for results to come back. But in many ways, she said, it's too late. "We believe there are a lot of people with coronavirus walking around the neighborhoods," she said. "Some will just have a cold. Others will get very ill after about a week." She said even people with symptoms might not get testing in the coming weeks because "the supply of tests is low." She repeated what became the mantra of the press conference: "Stay home." Or, as Rivera stated in Spanish a dozen or so times: "Quédate en tu casa."