Expert Advisory Panel 4 discusses vaccination rates and return of after school activities



Expert Advisory Panel 4 convened virtually on May 14 to discuss local vaccination efforts and returning students to after school extracurriculars.

Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety, and Logistics convened via Zoom at 3 p.m. on May 14 to discuss COVID-19 vaccination efforts and reopening after school extracurriculars for the Public Schools of Brookline (PSB).

The meeting began with discussion on the success of pooled testing and the spread of COVID-19 in Brookline. Throughout all PSB schools in the past week, there has been only one case of COVID-19. Associate Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School Nira Pollock discussed the possibility of sending a summary of their work to struggling counties as a guide for how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were able to implement mitigation measures that were effective, while the data was coming in about transmission and how it worked and we were able to pull this off,” Pollock said. “I feel like we should consider constructing some type of summary written down, so other places with high rates can benefit.”

The focus then shifted to increasing vaccination rates amongst Brookline citizens. In all age groups the number of Brookline vaccinations were lower than neighboring towns like Newton, Needham, Wellesley, Cambridge and Boston.

In order to increase the number of vaccinations in Brookline, and in light of the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 and older, PSB partnered with Pelmeds Pharmacy to set up a vaccination program for students. Pelmeds will visit the high school, Baker School and Florida Ruffin Ridley School on May 20, 26 and 27. The vaccine is not mandatory for the time being.

After the announcement about vaccinations, the meeting delved into specifics about sterilization and disinfection and which remain necessary. Senior Staff Scientist at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University Jenny Tam said there is a difference between cleaning and disinfection.

“Cleaning is always a beneficial thing, but maybe not disinfecting. As we’ve said before, a lot of the mitigation strategies that we set doesn’t just help with COVID-19 but also with other diseases like the flu,” Tam said. “If you want to clean bathrooms twice a day, that’s not bad, but you don’t have to disinfect.”

Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine Benjamin Linas said that schools can also move away from the “obsessive disinfection of equipment”. Linas said that items like books, instruments and sports equipment are all things where disinfection is not needed.

Cleaning remains a cheap and easy option to remain safe, and there was no discussion about loosening mandated cleaning guidelines. There were not enough panel members to formally vote on the changes to the sterilization guidelines, but they instead wrote a guide highlighting the general consensus.

Panel 4 addressed a letter sent by Director of Operations for the School Business Service and panel member Matt Gillis to Interim Superintendent Dr. James Marini on May 10. The letter regarded the return of afterschool activities such as the Brookline Music School, after school enrichment programs, Brookline community and adult education and allowing groups to rent out PSB spaces.

Gillis was asked to bring it to Panel 4 to hear their opinion. Currently the only afterschool activities have been after-school care and recreational basketball. Gillis said that directors of these programs would be willing to make sacrifices in order to operate.

“Their business has been hurt by being closed down, and our students have been missing out on it,” Gillis said. “Everyone is willing to miss out on a little instructional time to take the right precautions.”