As we pass the two-week mark after the Independence Day holiday weekend, public health officials are watching for any sign of an increase in COVID-19 cases on Cape Cod. And some evidence may be emerging.
Key pandemic indicators in Barnstable County remain low, with just 13 new cases reported Monday. But the trend is beginning to rise. The rolling one-week average of new cases Monday stood at eight, up from three a week earlier. It’s the highest seven-day average since late May, when a June 1 data anomaly is removed. For several weeks, Cape Cod had fewer than 10 new COVID-19 cases each day, and the number is now over 10.
“For awhile, we were basically in single-digit numbers,” Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the health board this week. The numbers are now in the double digits, “still exceedingly low, but they are trending upward slightly.” Public health officials worry that the increase might be linked to the July 4 holiday, protests, “as well as the influx of seasonal residents and visitors,” he said. “We’ll just be keeping an eye on that.”
Tuesday’s number of new cases was back down to a single-digit increase, but that “single data point” does not represent a trend, Duncanson said.
Health board member Ronald Broman asked how test results are reported when they involve summer residents and tourists, since those results typically go to the health department in the community where a person lives year-round.
“Officially, we would not necessarily get notified about it,” Duncanson said. Unofficially, local officials would be notified only if the fire department brings the patient to the hospital, he said. Both state public health officials and the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force are aware of the shortcomings of this system and are looking for solutions, Duncanson said.
Health board member Noble Hansen said that’s a priority.
“We don’t want to be lulled into thinking we have fewer cases” than actually exist, he said.
Key in controlling the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing, hand hygiene, staying home when sick, and the proper use of face masks. The Chatham health board designated Main Street downtown as a mandatory mask zone from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but officials received complaints about groups of unmasked people present after 9 p.m. In response, the board voted this week to extend the mandatory mask hours downtown until 10 p.m. Compliance appears mostly good; Police Chief Mark Pawlina said downtown patrol officers have given out several information flyers to people not wearing masks, but no one has yet been issued a warning or citation.
The board also voted to close a potential loophole in the regulations, which allow people to take off their masks while eating or drinking. Some people were walking down Main Street without a mask, holding a cup of coffee, and were technically in compliance with the rules. The new regulation makes it clear that people can doff masks for eating or drinking only if they are seated and practicing social distancing. The rule applies in all of the town’s mandatory mask zones.
Meanwhile, the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund continues to provide assistance to residents in financial need. From July 1 to 10, the organization funded 13 applications, distributing a total of $12,301. Sixteen adults, 7 children and four seniors benefited. Since it began in April, the fund has received and funded 136 applications totaling $140,811, benefiting 211 adults, 198 children and 36 seniors. Most of the assistance has helped pay mortgages and rents, utilities and car payments. The fund has raised $489,497 to date.
To apply for assistance or contribute, visit www.chathamimpactfund.com.