As the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic evolve, leaders from nine North Shore communities have been having regular discussions, consulting with local hospital executives, and seeking public health expertise in order to present a regional response to a global pandemic.

With infection numbers rising over the past few months and the number of available hospital beds shrinking, local leaders in Beverly, Danvers, Gloucester, Lynn, Marblehead, Nahant, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott decided to focus on a coordinated response. Officials have also been analyzing the region’s case and testing data and hospital statistics, and discussing possible collective responses.

Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said the regional approach reflects a level of cooperation that has long existed among the North Shore communities, a connection that has been strengthened by the past year’s challenges.

“The takeaway for me is that there’s just a real strong collaboration and collegiality among both local leaders and public health officials,” Driscoll said. “I think there’s a strong belief that if one community is doing well, we’re all doing well.”

On Jan. 6, the communities released a joint statement announcing that they had been meeting with executives from Beverly Hospital and North Shore Medical Center to review COVID-19 case data and hospital capacity, and consulting with an epidemiologist.

The leaders urged residents to avoid non-essential, in-person activities with people outside of their households for several weeks. If case numbers kept rising, the statement warned, several communities were prepared to restrict indoor activities further to lessen post-holiday virus spread.

“We are particularly troubled about impacts to our hard working residents in the health care workforce,” the joint statement read. “With little remaining capacity at our region’s hospitals, everyone is negatively affected, even if the reason for your hospital visit is not COVID-related.”

The statement also noted that Essex County had the highest case counts in the state at that time.

Of the nine communities, Lynn initially decided to enact further restrictions but has since rescinded them. While there was some support in the group of officials for more restrictions, they decided against region-wide rollbacks. The discussions allowed officials to work through some issues and understand each others’ viewpoints, Driscoll said.

Danvers Town Manager Steve Bartha said the regional cooperation has been an important element of the town’s COVID response. The town is home to 27,000 people, but is also part of a subregion of 170,000 with Beverly, Peabody and Salem. Consistency is essential for residents who cross borders regularly, he said.

“If each community is doing something differently, it just creates confusion for our residents, who move throughout the region daily,” Bartha said.

The COVID situation in the region has improved some since Jan. 6. Essex County now ranks third in average daily cases (70.2 per 100,000 people) and fourth in positivity rates (7.45%), according to Department of Public Health data from late January. Eight of the nine North Shore communities were trending lower in these two metrics as of Jan. 28.

With some progress being made, the group has started pivoting toward regional planning for vaccinations, Driscoll said. Those plans remain in the formative stages, she said, but officials are eyeing vaccination sites in Lynn, Salem and Peabody.

Officials said the past year’s experience has been enlightening, and that the strengthened relationships will likely help with addressing future challenges.

“I think all of us are learning lessons daily — in collaboration, communication, mutual aid, regionalism, etc. — the benefits of which will outlast the pandemic,” Bartha said.

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