All Tested Negative At Chatham Clinic

By: Tim Wood

A testing clinic was set up at the community center in Harwich Tuesday for area restaurant workers. KAT SZMIT PHOTO

CHATHAM – All of the 33 people who attended last week's pop-up clinic at the annex tested negative.

The town originally reported that 34 people were tested, and that all were negative with one pending. In a press release issued Wednesday, officials said that the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod (VNA) and Cape Cod Healthcare verified that 33 people were tested.

The results come as a relief to local officials and restaurant owners. A July 12 party created a cluster of 13 positive COVID-19 cases, many of them restaurant workers. Several local restaurants had to close for extensive cleaning after employees tested positive. Last week's clinic was expressly for those who were at the party or had come into contact with anyone who was there.

On Tuesday, Harwich held a testing clinic for food service workers from Harwich, Chatham, Orleans, Dennis, Brewster, Eastham and Wellfleet. The clinic was targeted to those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 10 days or were in close contact with someone who tested positive, according to Harwich Health Director Meggan Eldredge. Chatha Health and Natural Resources Department Director Robert Duncanson told selectmen Tuesday that 156 people were tested at the Harwich clinic.

Three restaurants in Chatham and three in Harwich closed after workers tested positive for the coronavirus. All reopened after deep cleaning and disinfecting. Because of privacy laws, it was uncertain if any of those employees were among the 13 positive cases from the July 12 party.

“I know it's frustrating for everybody,” Duncanson said at Monday's board of health meeting, but the delay is a reflection of lab capacity nationwide. “We're just sort of caught up in that for the moment.”

Duncanson said Tuesday that local health officials will be asking the state to host a free “Stop the Spread” clinic on the Cape, as has been done in other regions, due to the recent uptick in cases. He noted that Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that he's considering revising the state's reopening “to try to bring this back under control.”

In a news release Tuesday, Chatham officials said the information available about the July 12 party is limited, other than that approximately 30 to 50 people attended and were not wearing masks, according to the Visiting Nurse Association, which is conducting contact tracing on the incident. Private gatherings such as the party are not subject to many of the emergency regulations put in place by the state to combat the pandemic, including gathering size limits and face covering and social distancing requirements.

“The town strongly encourages all residents and visitors adhere to state guidelines, governor's orders, and the local board of health orders regarding COVID-19, including wearing masks when social distancing cannot be maintained,” officials said in the release.

In her weekly community update Tuesday, Town Manager Jill Goldsmith wrote, “While I am relieved by the results, the anger, fear, and anxiety the party caused throughout our community cannot and should not be forgotten. Everyone must remain vigilant and follow the CDC recommendations — wash your hands, wear a mask when in public, and practice social distancing.”

Duncanson advised people to avoid “large, out of control parties that have hit Chatham very hard. Those things are not appropriate.” People should wear masks “even if you're having a barbecue in your backyard,” he said.

Both the Chatham and Harwich clinics were done in cooperation with the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment and Cape Cod Healthcare.

Alan Pollock contributed to this story.