FALMOUTH – The Covid-19 virus has “completely changed the job in a way that I didn’t think it could change,” said Falmouth Health Agent Scott McGann.
“I can’t put enough time into it every day,” he said.
Falmouth had 85 positive tests as of Wednesday March 8, said McGann.
“That number scares a lot of people but it doesn’t represent the actual, real number which is higher.” he said. The real number is unknown because there is not enough testing, he said.
“That being said, if we weren’t social distancing, it would be enormously higher,” said McGann. “It could be ten times higher. The growth would be really high really fast. And a high percentage of those people would need to go to the hospital.”
The message seems to be getting across to most people, he said.
McGann said he is working seven days a week and expects to for the foreseeable future. “What does Belichick say? No days off,” McGann said of his schedule.
“It’s stressful, but not like nurses, doctors, grocery store workers and more who are putting their health on the line every day,” he said.
“I’m answering a lot of questions,” he said. “The phone rings a lot. We’re answering as many questions as we can… Some people are not computer savvy,” he said, and they are having trouble getting information online.
“A lot of people are frustrated that people are not paying attention” to social distancing and avoiding gatherings, he said.
Some messages have been about “a couple of places that continued to be open that were confused about whether they were allowed to stay open and we took care of that,” said McGann.
A lot of calls have been from people concerned that someone that they know is not avoiding gatherings.
“If there’s something we can do, we will,” he said. “But it’s hard if a roommate is going to a friend’s house and the other roommate doesn’t want them to go.”
“I’m doing the best to get the message out,” he said. He recently “sent out a robo call reminding people to hunker down.”
And, he said, the town has been proactive in closing things such as hair and nail salons, as well as closing down beaches when too many cars were gathering in parking lots, he said.
“We made a decision to close the schools in Falmouth before the state mandated it,” he said.
McGann said that when he is not answering calls from citizens, he spends much of his time on calls with other health departments and state officials to gather the right information to give people.
“In mid-stream, they have changed several times what a close contact means,” he said. The current definition “is if you have been within several feet of each other for more than 15 minutes,” said McGann.
“It would include housemates, family members. It could include co-workers. It may or may not,” he said.
When things do open, “there will be a new normal.” – Scott McGann, Falmouth Town Health Agent.
Deciding if co-workers have close social contact would depend on how close in distance people worked together, he said. Workers who spend time in the same the same truck, for instance, would have close social contact but they may not have it with others in the same company.
McGann is also trying to get the word out about the benefits of wearing a face mask when in public, he said. “It really protects others,” he said. “A lot of people are asymptomatic… And you’re not going know if you’re asymptomatic.”
“Other countries have been doing this for a while,” said McGann.
Asked how long he thought this period of complete shutdown might continue, McGann said, “If I had an answer to that, I would be standing next to Dr. Fauci. [Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases].”
“I can tell you that the worse we are as a people at social distancing, the longer this will take,” he said.
McGann said he understands that businesses are anxious to open again but said, “The cases will tell you when you can re-open again, not the calendar.”
And when things do re-open, he said, “There will be a new normal.”
“There is no way you go back to 100 percent normal in a short period of time. There will be certain things that are not going to happen right away.”
McGann, who has been Falmouth Town Health Agent since 2018 and before that was assistant health agent from 2002 until 2015, said communicable diseases have always been on his radar in the job.
Things like Lyme disease, hepatitis, salmonella, HIV, and tuberculosis might arise from time to time, he said.
“In a normal world, if something happened, you might have four or five cases at a time where you are required by law” to follow a state program and make contact with the individual and make sure they follow guidelines to keep the community safe, he said.
Those contacts are made by the VNA, he said. “With Covid-19, not only do you need to deal with the cases but you also have to contact close associates and have them quarantine,” said McGann.
And while his time dealing with contagious diseases – specifically the Covid-19 virus – has grown exponentially, he still has other parts of the job that he must do. Some of the aspects of his job have stopped and others have slowed down, he said.
“The main job of a health agent day to day is Title 5 [septic system inspections], food, tenant and landlord issues, pools, recreation camps, tattoo parlors, tobacco and hazardous waste,” he said. “All aspects of that.”
“Falmouth is pretty spread out so I do a fair bit of all of it,” he said. While most Cape towns are are somewhat similar, he said the job of a health agent could vary depending on a town.
In a place like Lowell, he said, “you’d be dealing with more housing and no Title 5.” But because Falmouth has a lot of septic systems, he said, that is a one significant portion of his job.”
The weather, he said cooperated in a way this year, said McGann. “Normally our septic inspections are at their lowest in January and February. But this year we were really warm so we were busy with septic inspections.”
“Since then,” said McGann, “the coronavirus has taken over my job by a factor of ten.”
Back in February when he was first consulting with state and local officials about the possibility of Covid-19 arriving on Cape Cod, he said no one imagined that a total shutdown might happen.
“To be honest, February feels like it’s three years ago,” he said.
Three years ago, McGann was near the end of a three-year mid-career break after 13 years as assistant town health agent in Falmouth. In 2015, he took a job at Whole Foods which he kept until 2018.
In 2015, with his path for advancement in the town blocked at the time, he “decided take job in the corporate world,” he said.
He was a food safety expert for Whole Foods covering the region from New Jersey to Maine, he said.
It was similar to the job he had for ten years, from 1992 to 2002, with Shaws Supermarket prior to becoming assistant health agent in Falmouth. The job involved, “putting out fires. Taking care of issues,” he said.
Those would often involve a specific health issue in a local store, and a local health department, he said.
When the top health agent job in Falmouth came open in 2018, McGann applied to his old department and got the job.
McGann, 49, of Falmouth, was born and raised in Acushnet. He has a degree in biology from the University of Massachusetts. He had a biology teacher his sophomore year in high school who inspired him, which is why he chose his path.
And just as the Covid-19 virus chose this time in history to arrive, Scott McGann is part of the moment in one Cape Cod town.
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