As of Monday, July 27, eight Falmouth lifeguards had tested positive for COVID-19 antigens.
"On Friday evening, after work hours, after 5:30 PM, we had our first verbal anecdote of a positive case," acting beach superintendent Margaret Clayton told the select board at its meeting Monday, July 27. "This was shared via social media with other staff, and it set off a vested interest in getting tested. This testing meant that we were short staffed, and we have been running shorter staff for the past three days."
Health Agent Scott McGann said while positive COVID-19 antigen tests are considered "probable" cases of the coronavirus, the results are being treated as confirmed cases.
Contact tracing of the involved lifeguards is underway.
"The conclusion of that contact tracing is the first time we will have definitive, factual information exactly what is likely to have created this potential cluster of positives," Town Manager Julian M. Suso said. "We have some conjecture, but until the contact tracing is done with the help of the [Visiting Nurses Association] and reviewed by Scott McGann, we will not know with relative certainty what exactly occurred."
Ms. Clayton expanded on that.
"There was a social gathering after hours that I don't believe followed social distancing guidelines, so that concern is what drove some of the anxiety," she said. "It felt like exposure, since they do not live together and were not wearing masks."
The spike in positive test results has lead to short staffing at Falmouth beaches.
"On Saturday, two beaches did not have lifeguards," Ms. Clayton said. "I sat in a chair as a lifeguard. A lifeguard supervisor sat in a chair to keep an extra beach open. People who got tested but were not symptomatic came in after their test to allow other staff members to leave and get tested."
The short staffing continued on Sunday when only four beaches were staffed with lifeguards. Lifeguards were staffed at eight beaches on yesterday. Ms. Clayton said she expected to staff eight beaches on Tuesday as well, but the number can change between leaving the office in the evening and returning the next morning.
"We are making these decisions on a daily basis," Ms. Clayton said.
After the first confirmed case was confirmed on 5:38 PM on Friday, that number increased to four confirmed cases on Saturday, six on Sunday and eight by the end of the day Monday. There are 117 employees in the Falmouth Beach Department.
"I am eagerly looking forward to the day when we have no new cases," she said. "I have been talking with the town manager's office and health department very frequently. We've had a running dialogue of phone calls, texts and emails since this all started."
Mr. Suso said the town is offering free COVID-19 testing to all beach department employees at Falmouth Hospital.
"We appreciate Cape Cod Healthcare's assistance and participation, and noted that in the release issued earlier, though many individuals have been involved in that as well," he said. "We hope to have results back within 48 hours so that yet this week, we will have definitive information on exactly what we're dealing with."
This testing is not mandatory, but is available to all lifeguards, parking attendants and clerks at the beach department.
"With the discussion between the manager's office and the health department, this was really the response that was felt to most appropriate get the data we need, to make this test free and easily available in our own backyard," select board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said. "We can't force people to do it, but we are encouraging all employees who are concerned, from the beach department to begin with, to go forward and get this test. It is very simple to do, and for our younger employees, we hope their parents will assist with that."
Mr. Suso said all beach department employees are encouraged to take this test, including those employees who were previously tested for antigens.
"At the end of the day, what this is about is protecting our beach department employees as well as the citizens of our town," he said.
Ms. English Braga asked for clarification of a rumor on social media that intimated beach department employees were instructed not talk about their positive test results.
"There is this idea that employees were told not to tell people if they thought they were positive or had a concern," she said. "Can you address that?"
Ms. Clayton said the department supervisors requested its employees tell them about positive test results prior to telling each other. This would allow the information to be released to staff members via a department memo, rather than on social media.
"When I was compiling a timeline for the town manager's office, my supervisor of staff looked at their communication with staff. We believe the general population was told via social media at least eight minutes before myself or my supervisors were," she said. "The way that information was delivered created a bit of panic."
She said the department wants transparency, and is sharing the data was staff on a daily basis.
"It was really about an issue in how information flows down, not keeping it a secret and come to work," Ms. English Braga said.
Ms. Clayton confirmed this, saying any employee who tested positive or lives with someone who tested positive is not expected to come to work. The rapid-test positive results are being treated as positive cases.
"Any staff member who is symptomatic or doesn't feel comfortable, they have individually reached out to supervisors and have not been scheduled accordingly, but that has meant we are making day-to-day decisions on scheduling, and the public can't necessarily know until the day of what the staffing will look like at each of the 10 beaches," she said.
If a beach does not have a lifeguard, a sign stating "no lifeguard on duty" will be posted. The department has these signs on hand, as they are typically used at the end-of-the-season when lifeguards return to school.
Michael G. Heylin of Cliffwood Lane, Falmouth, asked if lifeguards who were tested over the weekend were allowed to return to work. Ms. Clayton said they were, if they tested negative.
"In terms of the testing that the town is providing, which is not the rapid test and will be starting tomorrow [Tuesday, July 28], our policy that went out to staff was if you tested negative on the rapid test, if you are awaiting results on the regular two-to-seven-day response time test or if you have not been tested yet, you can come into work if you are asymptomatic. You wear the mask, you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when soap and water is unavailable, and continue to practice social distancing at work and outside of work hours," she said.