LOWELL — Several key health and safety metrics continue to show declines in actual reporting numbers for COVID infections, air quality in classrooms affected by the Lowell High School construction project, and citywide monthly opioid overdose cases.
The city’s success in combating the opioid crisis was the subject of a March 7 motion by Mayor Sokhary Chau, who asked City Manager Tom Golden to explore the potential benefits of merging the opioid task force and the homeless task force.
“What are the advantages and disadvantages of merging the two task forces?” Chau asked the body. “They are both very important teams. The intent of the motion is to explore the idea.”
Corey Belanger, chair of the mayor’s opioid task force since its inception in 2015, spoke in favor of merging the task forces, saying the opioid task force had been largely inactive since former drug abuse coordinator Lainnie Emond left last September. The position was recently filled by Devon Goldberg.
“Unfortunately, over the years, the task force’s involvement has declined,” Belanger told the council during public comments on the motion.
“We all know that the (opioid) problem is widespread out there and in our community,” he continued. “It seems that homelessness is a priority. When I was a member of the Council from 2014 to 2017, that was the height of the opioid crisis. It’s a national crisis. It’s increasing across the country, but our city seems to be bucking the trend.”
Overall, opioid cases in the city are declining, although historically cases have occurred during the winter months. Cases rose to 146 last August and 145 last September, well above the median of 106 cases per month.
The January overdose report from PrideStar Trinity EMS recorded 92 cases, reflecting a significant decrease from October’s 121 cases. Opioid reports were not reported for the months of November and December of last year.
The privately held company, headquartered in Lowell, is the city’s contract provider of 911 emergency service. As part of its contract, the company submits monthly overdose reports to the Lowell Department of Health.
A statement was read against the motion for Dee Halzack of Lowell, who argued that opioid addiction was a separate problem from homelessness.
“Some opioid users are also homeless, but not all homeless people are opioid users,” Halzack wrote. “Substance abuse disorder and homelessness are two very different problems that require the full attention of the agencies called to work on them. They would be doing the city a disservice if we ended up devoting less time to both of them by combining them into a task force.”
She cited fires, floods and tenants being priced out of market units as triggering factors in leaving people homeless. There are more than 300 adults without shelter in Lowell who have captured the majority of the attention of the council and the community to whom the motion is directed. The Lowell School Committee and the Lowell Public Schools Administration serve the needs of students enrolled in the district and living in homeless families.
A 2019 report found 982 students without housing, a 20% increase from the previous year. The number now stands at 1,457 students – a staggering 67% increase since 2019. Ten percent of the total student population identified as homeless in the 2021-2022 school year, according to the report by Latifah Phillips, the school’s chief equity and engagement officer.
Although the motion passed 8-3 and the Council was willing to receive a report on the issue, a majority of Council members also indicated that they would not vote for a combination of the two task forces.
Air quality at Lowell High School during the renovation/remodeling project is a monthly report to the health department after staff and students raised concerns about the issue last summer.
The problem of indoor air quality at the high school was first studied in July by Cashins and Associates, a Wakefield-based industrial hygiene and environmental testing firm.
The company has been retained by Suffolk Construction to provide professional air quality consultancy services. The scope of work consisted of measuring various indoor air quality indicators during renovation works at sites throughout the project.
A July 2022 report found that real-time air quality readings of dust concentration numbers in two third-floor classrooms of 610B (readings of 2,308) and 617 (2,423) of the existing 1980s building — the so-called “D” building — were particularly acute were. closest to the new gym – on which a new three-story extension will be built.
No official upper air quality guidelines have been set at the site, but the report noted that a value of 150 is “typical for use in both habitable and work areas.”
A January report shows that most readings are below the 150 range, with few classrooms at or slightly above that threshold. Monthly reports are submitted to the Health Department.
COVID case numbers continue to fall, as do vaccinations administered by the health department, which reports that “interest has waned since the holiday”. Overall, the communicable disease report was quiet, although there was a slight increase in influenza cases.
City Council meets Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall offices on the second floor, 375 4161 Merrimack St. or [email protected]. The Health Department meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in the Mayor’s Reception Room on the second floor of City Hall, 375 Merrimack St.