Dedham to Offer Free Testing After COVID-19 Outbreak Linked to Bruins Watch Parties

Two groups of young people went to Boston Bruins watch parties, likely leading to the town's spike in COVID-19 cases

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Officials in Dedham, Massachusetts, outlined a strategy Friday which includes testing to deal with two clusters of coronavirus cases believed to be linked to two Boston Bruins watch parties attended by young people.

NHL playoff watch parties attended by two groups of young people likely led to the spike in COVID-19 cases, according to officials, one of which was composed of high school students.

The "significant increase" in confirmed COVID-19 cases led the town's School Committee and Board of Health to indefinitely postpone the start dates for students to learn in-person this fall.

"That's the most disappointing thing about this is that a lot of people put a lot of effort into getting us ready to go back to school," Dedham Town Manager Leon Goodwin said during a Friday morning meeting.

Board of Health Chairwoman Leanne Jasset said that the rise in cases was linked to two gatherings of young people, including a party attended by high school students which led to 26 COVID-19 cases. While the agency didn't explain what the gatherings were for at the time, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday they were "to watch a bunch of Bruins playoff games."

Students will still begin school fully remote as planned on Sept. 16, but the first phase to bring them back in the classrooms will no longer begin, as originally scheduled, on Sept. 21. All in-person learning plans have been postponed by the district with updated timing contingent on the trajectory of the virus in the community. 

The latest reports from the Dedham Board of Health shifted the community into the "Red Zone" on state maps, indicating a 9.7 average daily incidence rate per 100,000 people. As of Thursday, the town had 486 cases of coronavirus between, with 37 new cases in the past two weeks.

A free mobile testing unit, provided by the state with the "high risk" designation, will remain in town for a minimum of three days.

"We encourage every Dedham resident to get tested at the testing site," Jasset said Friday.

Health officials are urging residents to continue to take coronavirus safety measures including mask-wearing, avoiding group gatherings, monitoring for symptoms and practicing proper hygiene. 

"What appeared to be small innocuous actions can have a very big effect on what the rest of us here are doing in town," Goodwin said.

"The town's 'high risk' designation should serve as a strong reminder that COVID-19 has not gone away and heeding public health guidance is as important as ever," Jasset said. "The community's participation continues to be crucial in stopping the spread."

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