Taking no chances, some South Shore communities ban evening outdoor activities
Football practices, soccer games and other outdoor activities could be affected as some local school district take steps to protect students from potentially deadly mosquito-borne illnesses.
This year in the region, mosquitoes carrying Eastern equine encephalitis have been found in Halifax, Kingston, Plympton, Easton and Raynham. West Nile virus has been detected in mosquitoes in Weymouth, Brockton, Easton, Raynham and Foxoboro.
And while the number of infected mosquitoes is lower this year than last, some school administrators and health officials said they are not taking any chances.
School bells in Cohasset will not be ringing until Sept. 4, but there is already a ban on outdoor evening activities - and other towns are doing the same.
Abington and Carver officials say they will cut-off dusk-to-dawn use of school athletic fields. The Halifax and Kingston boards of health will be meeting soon to discuss the option, and other school districts are pondering what, if any, action to take at this point.
Abington Superintendent Peter Schafer said the district has canceled all outdoor school activities between 5:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the recommendation of the health board.
Additionally, parents will have the final say in whether their children participate in outdoor gym classes or recess.
“If parents want to call us and have their child stay in during the day, we will also make accommodations for that,” Schafer said.
If a day is particularly overcast and/or humid - prime mosquito weather - all children may be required to stay indoors, Schafer said.
No sporting events have been canceled, he said, but chances are, that, too will happen.
“Over the last three years we have, so we anticipate we will this year,” Schafer said. “This (ban) will be in effect until the first hard frost.”
Carver enacted a 6 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. ban on activities on school property on Aug. 1. Cohasset’s ban, announced Monday, runs from 6:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. Both school’s restrictions will remain in effect until further notice. As in Abington, parents will have the option of keeping their children indoors all day if they choose.
Schafer, the Abington superintendent, said although there have been no human cases of EEE or West Nile virus in the area this year, a history of fatalities on the South Shore cannot be ignored. Thus the reason behind the pre-emptive action in his district is simple, he said: “To keep children safe.”
The aim is the same in Halifax, where Health Agent Cathleen Drinan said Thursday she was in the midst of contacting health board members to discuss a ban.
In Kingston, where bans have been enacted in the past two years, Health Agent Henny Walters said closing fields or reducing hours will likely be a topic at Monday’s health board meeting.
All school fields and other recreation areas in Kingston have been sprayed on a weekly basis since mid-July. The board revealed Monday that spraying will take place daily until further notice.
Drinan wants the board to consider banning all organized outdoor activities, such as sports practices, from 6 p.m. until dawn.
“Even though the numbers are lower, Kingston, Halifax, Plympton, are all in a high-risk area this year,” Drinan said. “People need to do all they can to not be exposed, and it’s a peak time.”
The board isn’t scheduled to meet again until Sept. 5. Drinan plans to call an emergency meeting as soon as possible.
“We don’t want people to panic; it’s not that at all, but we want them to be safe,” Drinan said. “We’ve had a child die in Halifax from EEE, we don’t ever want to see that again, so if banning outdoor activities can help save someone’s life, let’s do that.”
Since 2004, EEE has infected 13 people in Massachusetts and killed six. Eight of those cases were reported in Plymouth and Bristol counties. No human cases have been reported this year.
The state Department of Public Health on Thursday confirmed that a a vacationer had come down with West Nile virus on Martha’s Vineyard. They added that it was likely the 81-year-old Missouri man had contracted the disease in his home state.
More information about EEE and West Nile Virus is available through local board of health offices and the Department of Public Health’s Web site, www.mass.gov/dph/wnv/wnv1.htm.
Karen Goulart of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at email@example.com.