KN95 face mask. FFP2 mask as covid-19 protection. Coronavirus mask on black table.
Superintendent Julie Hackett and Board of Health Chair Wendy Heiger-Bernays say that the CDC's changed guidance yesterday could mean considering ending Lexington's mask mandate for schools and in town sooner than March 15. (Courtesy of Envato Elements)

Good morning and welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup on yet another snow-covered weekend.

Much of the big news this week is international. In a cosmopolitan community like Lexington, we’re wondering whether the invasion of Ukraine is affecting families and friends of anyone in our town. If anyone, especially Ukrainian or Russian expats living in town, wants to share how the invasion is impacting you, feel free to reach out at sophie@lexobserver.org. Next door to our town is the Bedford Citizen, where editor Julie McCay Turner had the thoughtful idea of sharing a link to the Kyiv Independent, an English-language, independent local news source covering the war.

One other note: We’re trying a slightly shorter newsletter with fewer topics per issue, and want to know if you prefer this to the longer format. That does mean we’re holding off on any more election coverage this week, but we have plenty planned for next week – our last issue before the town-wide election Monday, March 7. If you missed any of our previous election coverage, you can read about Precinct 2 Town Meeting candidates in our Feb. 12 newsletter, and about School Committee candidate positions in both our Feb. 12 and Feb. 5 newsletters. As always, you can reply to this email to share your thoughts on ideal newsletter length and topics of most public interest as we continue to figure out how to make LexObserver most useful to you.

Now for this week’s news:
 

Week of Feb. 26: Lexington News Roundup

Reported by Sophie Culpepper

NEWSLETTER SECTIONS:
                                   

  • The mother of Brendan Reilly, the man killed at the Hancock St. roundabout Feb. 12, says their family is “looking for answers.” Meanwhile, Lexington’s Commission on Disability plans to form a “Collaborative Reform Workgroup.”
  • The latest CDC guidance change could mean reconsidering local indoor mask mandates currently in place at LPS and in town sooner than March 15, according to Lexington’s Superintendent and Board of Health Chair.
  • COVID-19 Weekly Update: It’s Week Six of town-wide cases dropping.
  • Community Announcements: Free Town COVID-19 testing for two more Saturdays; Year of the Tiger car parade will pass through Lexington tomorrow; another virtual School Committee Candidate Forum next Friday.

Mother of Brendan Reilly, man killed at Hancock St. Feb. 12, says family is “looking for answers”
 

  • In our newsletter last week, we reviewed Lexington’s public police policies and heard that community members are continuing to ask for answers about how and why a man was shot and killed by police at the Hancock St. roundabout on the afternoon of Feb. 12. 
  • Yesterday, LexObserver spoke with the mother of Brendan Reilly, the man identified as the victim of the police shooting.
  • Reilly had “a great love for the ocean,” and for “animals, fishing and many other sports,” according to an obituary submitted to the Boston Globe last weekend by the Reillys. He was a loving brother, uncle, son and grandson whose “love for his family was always present.” 
  • Reilly’s mother, Carol Reilly, told LexObserver that “like many individuals, he had suffered with mental health, and had good days and bad days, in terms of feeling alone.” 
  • Reilly’s funeral was held earlier this week. Now, the family is “looking for answers” about why Reilly was shot, Carol Reilly said. Above all, “for us, it’s very important to understand why such great force was used,” she said.
  • Carol Reilly first published a statement describing the family’s anguish about Reilly’s killing on Patch Feb. 20, and called the use of force on Reilly “unnecessary.”
  • In this statement, she wrote that the family had been told Reilly was the one who called the police for help. She told LexObserver that information shared with the family earlier this week had suggested this, but now, “things seem to be pivoting” – meaning the family still does not have clear answers about what happened that afternoon.
  • “We the family of Brendan Reilly are devastated over the events that took place on February 12, 2022 on Hancock Street in Lexington,” she wrote in her statement, thanking those who have supported the family through their grief and loss. The family was not responsible for making the sign saying “Our Hearts Our Breaking” at Hancock St., she told LexObserver, but it was heartwarming to see, she said.
  • “There must be reform – there must be additional training for first responders – there must be professional clinical support integrated into the police force to accompany responders who are called upon in crisis particularly for the marginalized,” she added in her statement.
  • “We hope that this tragedy sheds a light on the inadequacies in the system,” she wrote. “We demand change before another life is lost.” 
  • Community members can donate to the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health in Reilly’s memory at www.mamh.org.
  • Lexington’s Human Services Department “is available to provide support to any residents who are feeling impacts from this tragedy,” Director of Human Services Melissa Interess wrote in an email to LexObserver. They can be reached at 781-698-4840 or humanservicesoffice@lexingtonma.gov, and information about available services can be found at their website. “Our hearts go out to all who were impacted by this tragic event,” she wrote.

 

Commission on Disability will form “Collaborative Reform Workgroup” to examine police training, recommend changes
 

  • One group in town is already looking to take action as a consequence of Reilly’s death.

 

  • The Commission on Disability, a Town Commission with eight Town-Manager appointed members, is forming a workgroup focused on exploring policing policies and practices related to mental health, Chair Victoria Buckley wrote in an email to LexObserver. “The Commission advocates for those who are marginalized and works for reform and solutions,” she wrote.

 

  • “The workgroup will make recommendations for reform and provide opportunities for community conversations,” she specified. Funds must be available for both training and salaries of “mental health police team members,” she added.

 

  • Buckley, who described herself as a master’s level mental health clinician with over 35 years of experience, wrote that the group plans to look into “what training is being given and not given – such as, whether police officers use the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) model and how many officers are certified in MHFA (mental health first aid).” Lexington Police Chief Michael McLean previously referenced “Crisis Intervention Training” among the multiple types of training emphasized by the LPD for officers over the past two years in a Jan. 26 email to LexObserver. McLean could not be reached for additional comment by press time.

 

  • The Commission on Disability is also asking for the police to be “teamed with mental health clinicians,” Buckley added. It is not clear whether or to what extent this already takes place in Lexington. “We know that other towns have models that we can learn from,” she wrote.

 

  • “Since the tragedy, many people have been calling me for support, mostly parents of children who are disabled or residents who are disabled themselves,” Buckley wrote. As a consequence, she asked that the Town release a statement letting people know they could call the Human Services Department for support – such a statement was released last week, as LexObserver previously reported.

 

  • “We would like to see community conversations being held,” Buckley wrote, though the Commission understands that officials and the police can’t answer specific questions during an active ongoing investigation.

 

  • “The families of individuals must know that they do not stand alone in the face of such tragedy,” Buckley wrote.

 

  • Carol Reilly said it was “terrific” that a community effort to talk about reform was taking place in Lexington. “It is time for change,” she said.

 

  • The Commission on Disability will hold a special public meeting via Zoom next week, on March 1.

Mask Mandate Could End Sooner Than Expected? Superintendent, Board of Health Chair say latest CDC guidance change could mean reconsidering local indoor mask mandate for schools and town sooner than March 15
 

  • Last week, Superintendent Julie Hackett sent a letter to the Lexington Board of Health asking that they wait to lift their local indoor mask mandate until March 15, the date it is set to expire, despite the state’s guidance released earlier this month announcing that its mask mandate for schools would end Feb. 28. Hackett explained in the letter that “we continue to sort through conflicting guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding masking in public schools.” When Hackett sent her letter, the CDC was continuing to recommend universal masking in schools, in contrast with the state lifting its mandate.

 

  • But yesterday, CDC guidance changed such that, in practice, it aligns with the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on no longer recommending or requiring universal indoor masking in schools. And according to Hackett and Board of Health Chair Wendy Heiger-Bernays, this change could mean reconsidering the townwide and school indoor mask mandates before March 15 – a change from the consensus at Board of Health and School Committee meetings last week, when some community members had already asked during public comment opportunities that the mask mandate be reconsidered sooner.

 

  • Yesterday’s new CDC guidance outlines COVID-19 Community Levels, which can be low, medium or high, based on three factors: the number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people in the past seven days, the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and the total number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. According to the CDC’s classification, Middlesex County is among those counties which fall into the “low” classification – meaning community members no longer need to wear masks, including in schools. 

 

  • All counties in Massachusetts fall into either “low” or “medium” classification, according to the Boston Globe (neighboring Suffolk County, for instance, currently has a ”medium” community level) – and for counties in either of those classifications, individuals don’t need to wear masks, per the CDC. But, those in medium-risk counties at high risk for severe illness, including immunocompromised people, can “talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions.” Masks are still required in some places, including public transportation and school buses under a federal order set to expire March 18.

 

  • “The CDC’s new guidance absolutely changes things from my perspective,” Hackett wrote in a message to LexObserver Friday. LPS has followed and respected CDC guidance about public health throughout the pandemic, she added. Given that the CDC was still recommending masking in schools when DESE lifted its statewide mandate, “to suddenly ignore their advice would have been highly unsettling to many,” she wrote. Now, “in light of this new CDC guidance…we will definitely take another look and reconsider our decision in collaboration with our Board of Health.” 

 

  • Board of Health Chair Heiger-Bernays is “currently in conversation with the Public Health Director and School Superintendent in light of the new CDC guidance,” she wrote in an email to LexObserver Friday. Heiger-Bernays “will seek to hold a meeting to discuss – noting that decisions cannot be made without the public meeting,” she wrote. Open Meeting Laws prevents BOH members from communicating outside of public meetings, she added. The low case rates for another week in a row, high vaccination rates (“wonderfully high for the first shots, but much of our community has not been boosted”) and “lower strain on local hospitals” are among other factors to consider, she added. State vaccination numbers by municipality suggest that as of Feb. 24, approximately 90% of Lexingtonians are fully vaccinated, while about 59% are both fully vaccinated and boosted.

 

  • Like Hackett, Heiger-Bernays stressed that “when the State lifted the mask mandate for schools, the CDC was still recommending masking in schools.” 

 

  • “Through this pandemic, we have recognized the importance of clear and consistent responses and messaging across this entire Town in order to protect the health of all people who live, work and play in Lexington,” Heiger-Bernays wrote.

COVID-19 Weekly Update: Week Six of town-wide cases dropping

Community Announcements

  • Free Town PCR COVID testing today and next Saturday: Between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. today and March 5, Lexington residents can get a free PCR test at the LPS Administration Building thanks to town American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Could be especially helpful today for those families returning from February break travels. You can find out more and register here.
  • Greater Boston Car Parade for Year of the Tiger: Tomorrow, if you head to Depot Square at 2:30, you should be able to catch a car parade and lion dance celebrating the Year of the Tiger and Lunar New Year. A car parade throughout Greater Boston will come from the Arlington direction, pass through the Town Center and turn left down Worthen Road before heading to Waltham. CALex (Chinese Americans of Lexington) and LexYouth are partners in this event, and will be distributing fortune cookies, lucky candies and oranges at a table in Depot Square.
  • Another candidate forum as Election Day approaches: With local elections, included the contested School Committee race, just over a week away, there’s another Candidate Forum you can attend: The PTO/PTA Presidents Council (PPC) is hosting a virtual School Committee Candidate Forum this Friday, March 4, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. You can register here.

That’s a wrap for today. Was this roundup useful to you? What do you want to see in this email next week? Let us know, and please ask your friends to sign up and donate too! Reach out to sophie@lexobserver.org with tips and questions anytime. As always, you can also check out and share our website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages. Thanks so much for reading and have a great weekend.
 

With gratitude,
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi
LexObserver Team

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