Selectmen in East Bridgewater will investigate how the town handled an outbreak of COVID-19 at a private club, saying some residents have voiced concerns about oversight by the Board of Health.
Members of the health board also ceded their authority to investigate the outbreak to the state, accepting a recommendation Monday from the town’s lawyer to recuse themselves from any further involvement amid concerns they might have a real or perceived conflict of interest.
The moves come as town officials say at least 55 people have now contracted COVID-19 associated with the East Bridgewater Commercial Club. The facility has since shut down for cleaning, and will remain closed through at least Dec. 15.
Selectmen convened an emergency meeting last week after learning of the positive cases. They postponed a Town Meeting scheduled for Dec. 7 as a precaution.
The town's public health department is now urging anyone who went to the Commercial Club between Nov. 16 and Nov. 27 to get tested for COVID-19.
Town leaders have yet to publicly disclose what they know about the coronavirus outbreak, which they said surfaced roughly around the week of Thanksgiving. The NBC10 Boston Investigators reached out to the East Boston Commercial Club for comment, but we couldn’t speak with anyone on camera for this story.
Since the local cluster first came to light, rumors have surfaced on social media regarding whether East Bridgewater regulated the facility appropriately, Town Counsel John Clifford said Monday.
To his knowledge, Clifford said no member of the Board of Health has taken any official action with respect to the club, or intervened on its behalf. But rumors and “innuendo” regarding the board are spreading in the community, particularly online, he said.
Under state guidelines, the responsibility to enforce coronavirus safety measures in East Bridgewater falls largely on its three-member board of health and their staff.
Speaking at a public hearing Monday, all three acknowledged they are members of the Commercial Club, though two, Myles Heger and Lisa Lesogor, said they only joined about 30 days ago. Board Chairman William Hubert said he has longer-standing ties to the organization.
Clifford, the town’s lawyer, advised them to recuse themselves from any ongoing enforcement activity involving the club, saying they risked the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"I'm making these recommendations out of an abundance of caution to try to stem the tide, particularly on social media, that somehow the town has acted in a way that favors the club, or that any of the officials involved have done anything wrong, especially in terms of Board of Health actions,” he said.
But members initially disagreed on whether that was necessary. Lesogor, a nurse, said members have a range of other affiliations that some might perceive as conflicts with their roles as public servants, citing examples such as carrying a library card or participating in sports.
Members ultimately voted 3-0 to hand over enforcement authority of the Commercial Club to the Department of Labor Standards, which will communicate directly with the private organization regarding its COVID-19 cleaning and safety protocols and the recent outbreak.
More on COVID From the NBC10 Investigators
Several hours earlier, selectmen authorized town lawyers to investigate how the health department handled the matter, as well as its enforcement activities generally prior to the outbreak.
Selectmen voted 2-0 to authorize the probe, with David J. Sheedy and chairwoman Carole Julius in favor. Selectman Peter Spagone Jr. abstained from the vote, explaining he is a longtime member of the club.
Responding to questions from NBC10, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health said in an email that the DPH does not comment on individual clusters of coronavirus, but noted they “almost always involve reduced adherence to public health prevention measures such as gathering sizes, masking and social distancing.”
Resident Sean Riley said he’s glad to hear the situation is getting an outside set of eyes.
“I think someone without a vested interest in the outcome of this should look into it,” he said.