Four cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) were reported in the state of Massachusetts this summer, according to a press release sent to Andover community members in late August. With school back in session, the administration has urged students and faculty “do everything they can to mitigate risk and to make sure that they’re staying safe,” according to Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students.
EEE is a neurological virus transmitted primarily through mosquitoes. At the time of publication, the town of Andover was rated “high risk” on a scale weighing remote, low, moderate, high, and critical risk, according to Mass.gov Executive Office for Health and Human Services.
In an interview with The Phillipian, Elliott explained how safety precautions are being taken and expressed across campus in order to ensure the community’s safety.
“The chances of a student contracting EEE are very low, but… we’ve been communicating to our community the very same advice that local officials have been giving us in terms of trying to avoid peak hours of mosquitoes, which are usually dawn and dusk. So we’ve been encouraging kids not to linger outside, providing students with bug spray, and recommending that students bring their own bug spray so that they can feel safe that way. We’ve also moved evening activities inside,” said Elliott.
When the EEE virus was discovered in Andover, members of the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) worked with local law enforcement and community members to determine the best course of action. As a preventative measure against the mosquitoes, OPP has also applied barrier spray to high risk zones for the virus, according to an email from Bronwyn Boyle, Manager of Environmental Health and Safety for the Office of the Physical Plant.
“Members of the OPP Department attended [an Andover] town meeting to gather more information. We have worked with the town of Andover to spray areas on campus, specifically, athletic fields and play areas. Signs have been posted notifying people that barrier spray has been used…We recommend that students follow the protocols, staying indoors during peak mosquito activity hours (dusk ‘till dawn), wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants to minimize skin exposure and using bug spray. OPP will continue to work with the town to keep our community safe,” wrote Boyle.
According to Boyle, the spraying will continue until the first frost, when the mosquitoes are killed by the cold. As an additional protective measure, the Cochran Bird Sanctuary was closed during the opening of school and its open hours are limited.
Prior to this year, the last report of EEE near Andover was in 2006, when EEE-infected mosquitoes were reported in the Methuen-Haverhill area, according to Mass.gov. In 2006, Andover had planned to use similar sprays to lessen the risk of EEE-infected mosquitoes, but received some backlash from faculty and community members for what they felt was the excessive use of harmful toxins, according to The Phillipian archives. However, unlike in 2006, the Andover area is now at a high risk infection level for the virus.
The closing of the Sanctuary for the first week of school conflicted with Andover’s Cross Country teams, who normally practice on the Sanctuary trails and hills. However, this change opened up new opportunities for the team to explore the surrounding area and branch out of their conventional spaces.
“Normally, we’ll do our first preseason workout on the hills in the Sanctuary, so it was a little thrown off that routine…But we did do something fun, which we don’t usually do, which was that the boys and girls teams bussed on Monday morning to Lexington and Concord, I believe, on Battle Road. And so we got to run a section of that, which was really cool because it is kind of off campus, and we got to learn a little bit of the history of the area a little bit more…we did miss having the sanctuary for that first week. We’re happy to be back in the sanctuary,” said Posie Millett ’20, captain of the Girls Cross Country team.
Elliott noted how the presence of the virus on campus could be a worrying scenario for many students and families, but was impressed by the energy shown by the Andover community in mobilizing and implementing safety features. She also expressed gratitude to administrators and others who have been creating spaces for students to get to know each other inside.
“I’m aware that for some kids and families this has provided or created a fair amount of stress and nervousness, and I totally get that. And that’s a crummy way to start school, particularly for our new kids. And for kids and families for whom mosquitoes are really new things. I’ve been amazed by everyone’s willingness to just adapt and wear bug spray and come inside and move more quickly…I’m grateful to my many colleagues who have just adjusted and created events inside and for students to have been responsive and made those things fun,” said Elliott.
Prior to students’ arrival on campus, faculty met with a mosquito expert that laid out the dangers of EEE and further educated staff about mosquitoes. One surprising outcome of their meeting was the discovery that Rabbit Pond in Pine Knoll is actually a low risk area for EEE-infected mosquitoes.
“One thing we did learn was that, for whatever reason, the species of mosquitoes that carry EEE don’t like our Rabbit Pond, so for Pine Knoll kids who live near there to realize that the chances of a mosquito there being one that carries EEE are smaller.” said Elliott.