Officials Await Results Of COVID Tests

By: Tim Wood

A pop-up testing clinic was held in Chatham last week.  FILE PHOTO

Cluster From Chatham Party Rises To 13

CHATHAM – The cluster of positive COVID-19 cases stemming from a July 12 party in town stood at 13 Tuesday, but the number could climb depending on results from a pop-up testing clinic Monday.

Thirty-four people were tested at the clinic held at the town hall annex on George Ryder Road. Director of Health and Environment Robert Duncanson said results were expected in 24 to 48 hours.

The clinic was sponsored by the town's health department, Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment and Cape Cod Healthcare for anyone who attended the party and those who were in close contact with anyone at the event. Restaurant workers from Chatham, Harwich, Orleans, Eastham and Brewster were also invited to attend. A number of people at the July 12 party worked in the food service industry.

“They seemed to be the hardest hit by what happened and the fallout from that event,” Duncanson told selectmen Tuesday. Several local restaurants closed last week after employees tested positive for the virus, although Duncanson said it was unclear if those cases were related to the party. “We're trying to be as proactive as we can because that segment of the economy has taken such a hit,” he added.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Selectmen Chair Shareen Davis addressed what she called “frustration, and yes, anger” in town over the gathering and the town and the restaurant community “being painted in a light that is not accurate.”

“Rumors have been flying targeting businesses or individuals that are not based on fact,” she said. “This party occurred at a private residence and was attended by individuals from a variety of towns.” Contrary to rumors, “all attendees did not work at one business or even in one business sector and the gathering itself had nothing to do with our business community. Cape restaurants and other businesses — as we as state and local authorities — have continually shared very clear guidelines with employees about what is expected during work hours and reminders of the importance of following these guidelines in all aspects of life.

“For anyone to ignore the current mandates and guidelines is reckless and dangerous,” she said.

Duncanson said 44 people initially signed up to be tested; several left who could not wait, and several who tried to register after the Saturday deadline were referred to Cape Cod Hospital's field testing station in Hyannis.

Initially planned as a drive-through clinic, it was moved inside the annex because of the heat, Duncanson said.

Two of the 13 people who initially tested positive were Chatham residents. Three live in Harwich. According to Harwich Health Director Meggan Eldredge, two work in the hospitality industry in Chatham and Dennis, and the third is unemployed.

Harwich is working with the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment and Cape Cod Healthcare to put together a testing clinic for hospitality workers later this week or next, but no time or date was set as of Tuesday.

Three Chatham restaurants closed briefly last week after an employee tested positive. All three – Kreme N' Kone, Del Mar Bistro and the Talkative Pig – reopened after deep cleaning. Staff at the Talkative Pig and Kreme N' Kone tested negative, according to the restaurants' Facebook pages.

Between 30 and 50 people were at the July 12 party, the location of which has not been disclosed. The Visiting Nurse Association is doing contact tracing of those who were in attendance and tested positive, according to Duncanson.

“We don't have any other real information about the event,” he told members of the board of health Monday.

The Chatham cluster caught the attention of Gov. Charlie Baker, who referred to it in press conferences Friday and Monday. Keeping the virus transmission rate low depends on “the individual decisions that get made by all of us,” he said Monday. The clusters show what happens when we don't.

“Most of the time if people do the right things, we should continue to be successful in containing this,” he said. When they don't, “obviously that’s another story.”

Young people in their teens and 20s are driving clusters not just here but nationwide and “are not taking the pandemic seriously enough,” Davis said at the selectmen's meeting.

She asked the public's help in “impressing upon these individuals, their families or inner circles, what the impact of their actions may be. When drinking is involved, inhibitions are diminished and judgment is impaired, and we think it is worthwhile reiterating reminders and warnings of the dangers of ignoring necessary COVID-19 precautions and protocols in this young community.” Those who don't take precautions not only put themselves at risk, Davis said, but also their loved ones, friends and family, and could impact their jobs should their employer be required to close.

“Health and safety are everyone's top priority, but we also must consider the economic impact of these actions on businesses who have waited to reopen and done so carefully, and in many cases at additional expense,” she said. “It is unfair to direct frustration solely at visitors or summer residents, or businesses who provide summer job opportunities to young people, as we understand at least some of the attendees at this gathering are full-time Cape residents.”

Anyone who was tested or was at the party who experiences symptoms should contact their healthcare provider and self-quarantine for two weeks, she said.

“And finally,” Davis concluded, “for anyone to ignore the current mandates and guidelines is reckless and dangerous.”

State and local requirements for face covering, social distancing and crowd limits only apply to public spaces and not to private property, such as where the party was held, Duncanson said. Police also had no complaints about the gathering, he added. And while the state department of public health has notified the town of the cluster, local officials are only told about local residents who tested positive. Out-of-town residents who test positive are reported to their local health department, not to Chatham. Officially, Chatham has had 23 residents test positive for COVID-19.