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Cambridge City Council Requests Details on Coronavirus

Cambridge City Hall is located near Central Square.
Cambridge City Hall is located near Central Square. By Margaret F. Ross
By Camille G. Caldera, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council unanimously adopted a policy order requesting information on what steps Cambridge should take to prevent a coronavirus outbreak at its meeting Monday evening.

The policy order — sponsored by city councilors E. Denise Simmons, Timothy J. Toomey Jr., and Patricia “Patty” M. Nolan ’80 — requests that City Manager Louis A. DePasquale consult the Public Health Department to settle upon measures the City should take “to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus” and “to minimize the risk to our community if the pandemic spreads to Massachusetts.”

“You cannot turn on the television or go to your email and not hear something about this virus. People are very worried and concerned about it,” Simmons said at the meeting. “A lot of us just don’t know where to turn, so I think it’s important that we get a report from our city manager through our public health department what they’re doing.”

The order requested that the information be reported at the City Council’s next meeting on March 16.

At the portion of the meeting dedicated to comments from the public, William Hanage — an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health — stressed the importance of a proactive response to the disease.

“We think that this virus can often be transmitted before a patient becomes aware they’re infected, presenting great challenges for control, and as a result, we must be more than proactive,” Hanage said. “This city should expect substantial disruption for potentially long periods of time during the most intense period of transmission, and planning for this has to happen now — including support for the most vulnerable in our community.”

Hanage also referenced research from Marc Lipsitch — another epidemiologist at HSPH— who estimated that around 40 to 70 percent of the world’s population will become infected.

“With optimistic estimates of the mortality rate, that would translate to dozens of deaths in Cambridge alone, with many more severely ill and hospitalized,” Hanage said. “We have a very narrow window to prepare — hopefully as much as months, but maybe as little as weeks, and you should act accordingly.”

Nolan told the other councilors she hoped the city could work with Hanage on its response to the virus.

“I really encourage us, if it’s appropriate, for us to reach out to people like him,” Nolan said. “I think if our Department of Public Health can be put in touch with him and include him in whatever work that we’re doing to ensure that we understand where this is going, it seems like that’s exactly the kind of resource that we are so lucky to have in the city.”

Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan said he is planning to hold a Health and Safety committee hearing to distribute more information on preparedness.

“We have to use all the channels of communication to make sure that people know what they can and should be doing to get ready, and really the simplest way to boil it down is personal hygiene, wash your hands, and be prepared. Have a plan for how you would stay at home and conduct your work if there was a quarantine for an extended period of time,” Zondervan said.

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

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