BELMONT — Town and school officials are reacting cautiously to news that a horse in town has tested positive for West Nile Virus and are taking measures, such as ending school practices earlier, to avoid potential contact with mosquitoes.
State health officials announced the positive test on Oct. 9, telling residents that their town now has a “high” West Nile risk level.
Town Health Officer Steve Paquin said the news took him by surprise. He quickly posted notices of the risk level and advisories to use bug repllent on town buildings. He expected to field a lot of calls from residents, but has only had a few, he said.
“It’s scary, but I don’t think anyone’s panicking,” he said. “Unfortunately, our town is in the epicenter of this because one horse tested positive. We know the bugs are out there, there isn’t much we can do besides trying to warn them.”
In the meantime, Shaker Regional School District Superintendent Maria Dreyer has taken many measures. Parents have been informed through a notice, and all standing water on school grounds has been eliminated, she said.
Dreyer also decided that all school athletic activities outside — team practices and games – must end just before 6 p.m. until the risk level is lifted. Residents can still use the fields beyond that deadline, however it’s at their own risk, she said.
Normally at this time of year, athletic activities would continue until 6:20 p.m.
“Until we get a frost, we’re going to finish games and practices early,” Dreyer said, adding that she has notified school officials at other districts who have activities scheduled at local schools.
“We have to take precautions to protect our own student athletes, and any other students who might be coming here,” she said.
Paquin and Dreyer said they’ve been instructed that the risk level will only be lifted when a hard frost comes that will kill mosquitoes.
“We have to wake up and our lawns have to be white, it can’t just be a light layer of frost,” Paquin said. “It has to come soon. I’ll take that first half inch of snow any time now.”
As of Oct. 9, the state public health lab had tested 5,174 batches of mosquitoes so far this season; 14 tested positive for West Nile Virus and 20 tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).
One person has been diagnosed with West Nile Virus, and three horses were positive for EEE earlier in the season.