Brunkhorst, O’Connell Spar Poliment at LWV Board of Health Form

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Covid-19 is disappearing from the local scene. Masks are no longer needed indoors, new cases average less than three a day, and some age cohorts are over 90% vaccinated.

But the pandemic – which no one has declared over – dominated the questions presented to the two candidates for a seat on the Board of Health at Sunday afternoon’s forum, sponsored by the Bedford League of Women Voters.

And there was little chance of duplication, as one of the candidates, Bea Brunkhorst, is a candidate for re-election, and the other, Alison O’Connell, is the challenger.

Asked about their positions during the February 14 board vote to rescind the February 28 mask requirement, Brunkhorst acknowledged that she preferred to wait until March 7 to assess the impact of residents returning from vacation. “We had a pretty good week and I’m very happy that I got it wrong,” she said.

Brunkhorst also referred to the advisory message board members put together at their meeting last week, which discusses protecting the most vulnerable, home testing and “a number of things we still have to do. We are not completely out of it yet. »

O’Connell said she was “very supportive” of the board’s vote and the thinking behind the advice. O’Connell pointed out that at the start of the pandemic, she was behind the mask requirements. “With the influx of vaccines, we’re in a different place,” she said. “Now we can move to a place of flexibility.

“From a data perspective,” she said, “you’re not going to see the added impact of a mask mandate when people were self-isolating,” because now residents are at work, in stores and go back to socializing,” she said. O’Connell also stressed, “I think we should always wear masks in clinical settings and around vulnerable people.”

Brunkhorst insisted on this point when the candidates took turns asking questions. She wanted to know why O’Connell signed a petition calling for the mask mandate to be relaxed in December, as cases soared during the Omicron push.

“I stand by that,” O’Connell said, pointing to “community data” that showed little difference in Covid cases between cities with and without the requirement. She acknowledged removing the masks would have been an “experiment”, but “everything we tried was an experiment”. O’Connell also noted that his brother in Sweden reported that the Covid experience was similar to Bedford’s, but there was no mask requirement there.

O’Connell also had a turn to question Brunkhorst. She asked the incumbent to share what made her successful as a new member of the Board of Health. Brunkhorst was first elected 23 years ago.

Asked about planning an analysis of the local response to the pandemic – and if a model for the future can emerge – Brunkhorst said: “We need to involve the whole community in different ways. The whole city must be involved and objectively”, perhaps coordinated by a neutral party. “It’s not just about statistics; it’s about people’s lives.

O’Connell said she handled these types of assessments in a professional manner. She said the first step is to set clear goals, then assess current processes and identify where they can be improved or streamlined. Referring to “the Socratic approach,” O’Connell said, “it should be completely unbiased and uncritical. Now is not the time to pass judgement. »

Candidates were asked about how the council is addressing the mental and physical health impacts of isolation and other stages of the pandemic.

Materials need to be accessible to everyone, O’Connell said, and residents need to understand what their resources are. She added that it would be more effective in person, helping residents feel less isolated – “a return to doing things together as a community”.

Brunkhorst said she was “very proud that the city has invested in four social workers,” as well as regional mental health services. She said they might be invited to a health board meeting. Brunkhorst also said the board needs to work with schools on a risk survey and community forums.

When asked if decisions about face covering requirements were a matter of ‘civil liberties’, O’Connell commented: ‘In the beginning, it was very important for us to do things collectively. Now we are in a very different place. We have predictable data, very good access to vaccines, and we see that transmission often does not result in serious disease. All of this makes it easier for people to choose, she said; “you need a very strong threshold for mandates.”

Brunkhorst did not address the issue of “civil liberties”. She said the advice relies on data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, initially on transmission rates and more recently on hospitalizations and hospital capacity. “These are the kinds of things the Board of Health needs to consider.” She added that it’s important that “objective epidemiologists” look at the data, and “I think it needs to be done under CDC direction.”

There were also a few questions that were unrelated to the pandemic. Candidates were asked about other Board of Health priorities.

Brunkhorst cited the fight against tick and mosquito-borne diseases, mental health and obesity. Specifically, she noted that residents on the east side of Route 3 are not served by playgrounds. Brunkhorst also mentioned “vaping, domestic violence and many other things”.

O’Connell agreed on ticks and mosquitoes, and added that the council should look at the environmental impact of chemical applications. She also said she would appreciate community feedback on the council’s priorities. “Whenever I’m new to something, I solicit feedback,” she said. “That’s one of the things I haven’t necessarily seen. We are the board that works for the community. I want us to echo where the community wants us to spend our time.

Candidates were asked about the council’s role “to ensure that diverse populations are heard and served”.

O’Connell asserted that “a general mission statement should be inclusive. This should be a founding principle for any board here in town. Perhaps one of the survey questions she mentioned would be about strategies that align around that goal.

Brunkhorst responded that part of the council’s value system is “how to serve the most vulnerable – mental health and well-being and how to help people come out of this pandemic with all this drastic isolation”. She noted that, scientifically, DNA in humans is 99.99% identical.

Both candidates were asked if they were running as a team and, if so, what their goals were. But the question was only really relevant to O’Connell, who, along with three other candidates for two other positions, introduced himself as “Better Together.”

“Better Together,” O’Connell replied, “is a feeling of bringing the city together, bringing energy and being positive and being together in general.” The contestant, getting a little emotional, added that as a newcomer to town, she casually met the other band members and “they literally reached out to me.”

Brunkhorst commented that “it is important that each of us operates on our own merit.” She acknowledged that mutual support is “not a bad idea”, but that a “list” is not appropriate for a local election.

Each candidate highlighted qualities in the opening and closing statements.

O’Connell said that as a mother of a young child, “I think I can represent parents who want their voices heard on the board of health.” As a compliance manager in the healthcare industry, she said, “I’ve worked as a team, created programs, rolled out policies, reviewed results, analyzed data. This has been my career and this would mean a lot to me to leverage that in my own community.

Brunkhorst, research scientist and biosafety officer, said: “I always use my scientific knowledge to inform my policy choices.” She said she would continue to listen to “valuable insights” from constituents and praised the professional staff at the Department of Health. “Thanks to them, we were able to get residents vaccinated and tested before many other cities.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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